The Unknown Power
Christmas to New Year's Day
Harry / Ginny ship and Ron / Hermione ship
Between Apparition training, Animagus training, duelling and holiday studies, the time until Christmas flew by for Harry. Ginny had come over every other day as promised, though she hadn't stayed another night. She thought her mother was softening toward them but hadn't pressed the issue yet.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. Harry stumbled down from his bedroom, still yawning as he entered the dining room. He found a woman whom he didn't immediately recognise listlessly eating breakfast. Her mid-back black hair and grey eyes in a long and pretty face were unfamiliar. Harry blinked at her for a moment before remembering Tonks's promise from the Yule Ball.
Studying her intently, he slowly sank into a chair. "Wotcher, Tonks."
"Wotcher, Harry," she responded, looking at him nervously. "What's wrong?"
Harry almost grinned. "I've never seen you, have I? I can see the resemblance to the Black side of the family, I think. Eyes and hair, especially."
Harry raised a hand. "That wasn't an insult, Dora." He looked at her for a moment longer and gave a sharp nod. "Thank you for showing me."
She looked relieved at his acceptance before turning back to her interrupted breakfast.
After a leisurely breakfast, the two house-mates moved to the tree in the parlour. Remus, stiffly sipping from a steaming mug, was waiting out there for them.
Tonks curled up next to him, running one hand over his arm.
"Happy Christmas, Moony," Harry said, looking at his friend in concern. "Rough night?"
Remus nodded. "Yeah, Cub. I'll be okay. Despite appearances, the potion really does make it better. I'll be good by tomorrow." He gave an exhausted grin. "It's fundamentally unfair for a full moon to ruin major holidays, you know."
Smiling back, Harry handed them the gifts he'd gotten the two of them. Harry had gotten Tonks an unbreakable, ever-full quill. She'd kept spilling her inkpots, so Harry figured it was something she would appreciate. He'd cast an unbreakable charm upon it for the simple reason that it was Tonks. For Remus, he got two cloaks, one mid weight and one heavy, both with all the optional charms that Madam Malkin's offered. Though Harry had been paying Remus for the tutoring and housework for months, Remus's wardrobe still hadn't recovered from the years of poverty.
Tonks got Harry and Ginny a copy of 1001 Things to Do Before You're Ready for That Last Step by Ivana Trialott.
Confused, Harry opened to the middle of the book, only to slam it shut immediately. This was definitely something he wanted to read either alone or with only Ginny in the room. "Erm, thanks," he croaked out, unable to look at Tonks, who was laughing loudly.
Remus sighed and ran one hand down his face in resignation. He waited until Tonks's laughter had died down and Harry's blush receded before he handed over his gift to Harry. It turned out to be a glass sphere with a scene etched within. Prongs and a noble looking stallion were standing side by side, apparently looking off into the distance. Harry smiled up at his godfather. "Thanks, Moony."
Remus chuckled. "You know, I've been trying to think of a Marauder's nickname for you. What do you think of 'Clopper'?"
"Mr. Ed?" Tonks joined in.
"I'm not about to recommend 'Silver'," Remus objected
"Bolt?" Harry offered, trying to get at least something that didn't sound awful.
"BOLT?" the other two chorused in shock.
Tonks shook her head. "Naw, that sounds too cool."
Harry sighed and the other two laughed. Waving his wand, he vanished the boxes and wrapping paper that the three had accumulated. "Hey, what did you two get each other?"
Tonks grinned. "No offence, but do you really think we're going to show you?"
"What, afraid you're going to corrupt my innocent mind?"
Remus picked up Harry's new book and flipped casually through it. "It IS a little late for that, Dora," he dryly remarked, raising an eyebrow at a few of the pages.
Tonks just smirked. "Hey, I haven't corrupted Ginny's mind. I have yet to ask her if he's hung like a horse."
Remus started coughing violently. Harry flushed scarlet.
Tonks roared with laughter over their reactions.
Shaking his head over their antics and fighting the blush, Harry desperately tried to change the subject. "What's your plan today?"
"Staying here and nursing this old wolf back to health."
"Old?" Remus asked in a soft growl.
"Not to put too fine a point on it, Moony, but the morning after a transformation you look like hell."
"Thank you so much, Cub. You're making me feel so much better."
"What, you want me to lie to you? Seriously, any potions I can get for you?"
Remus shook his head and leaned back tiredly. "I've already taken everything I can. I'll heal, Harry. You go along to the Weasleys and enjoy your Christmas." He turned to Tonks.
She shook her head before he said a word. "No. We already talked about this, Rem. I'll see my mum tomorrow. You need me here right now."
Remus's jaw was set in a stubborn line.
"Give it up, Remus," Harry stated authoritatively yet kindly. "Let those of us who love you take care of you when you can't take care of yourself."
Remus sighed and seemed to slump a bit.
"Besides," Harry added maliciously, "this way you can visit Tonks's mum with her."
Tonks grinned widely and threw Harry a wink.
Even Remus grinned a little.
"Come on, old man. Let's get you back up to bed."
"There are some things about his recuperation I really don't want to know."
Tonks threw Harry a dirty look, but Remus gave a dry chuckle.
"I'll be going to the Burrow shortly. I've no idea when I'll be back. Give a shout on the mirror if there's anything I can do to help." Harry hated seeing his godfather in such a state, but he knew there was nothing he could do to help beyond what Tonks was already doing.
Tonks didn't look back from helping Remus up the stairs. "Will do. Have fun. Don't forget to take our gifts for them."
Once he heard their bedroom door close upstairs, Harry raised his wand. "Accio presents." Six flat packages and one squashy package came zooming down the stairs at him.
"Rully, Delly, Borry, Scully, Tarry, Winky, Dobby."
All seven elves appeared. "Master Harry called for his elveses?" Rully asked.
Harry nodded. "I have Christmas presents for you."
Six of the elves looked totally shocked at this. Only Dobby didn't appear surprised.
Harry turned to him and held the lumpy package out to him. "Happy Christmas, Dobby."
Tearing up, Dobby opened the package to find a pair of mismatched socks. Every year he'd gotten the same thing for the elf, and every year Dobby behaved as if it were the most precious gift in existence. This year was no exception. "Master Harry Potter sir is a great wizard," exclaimed the sobbing Dobby. He fell to the floor right there and pulled the new socks on over his old ones, twisting his head around in an attempt to admire them from every angle.
Chuckling over Dobby's antics, he turned to the other six. They were all looking at him with concern. "These are NOT clothes," he stated, holding the six boxes up. They all immediately looked relieved. Looking at the tags, he passed the boxes out and leaned back to watch their reactions.
Winky was the first to summon the courage to open the box up. "Oh!" she squeaked. She looked up at Harry with large tears leaking out of her eyes.
Harry smiled at her and said quietly, "Happy Christmas, Winky."
Sobbing, the elf threw herself at Harry and hugged him about the knees. "Master Harry is being too good to Winky!" she cried.
"Nonsense. You seven are a great help to me. I couldn't live here without your assistance. Winky, your history with the unfortunate choices by Barty Crouch don't matter to me. You are a good and loyal house-elf."
The other elves had by now opened their packages, revealing nearly identical gifts in each. Modelled after the tea towels all Hogwarts elves wore, Harry had produced similar uniforms for his six elves, using the Potter crest instead of Hogwarts's crest. Each elf had two of them, with their name sewn onto the breast. In addition, each elf had a small pendant with their initial and a length of necklace chain.
"Each of you has a choice," Harry explained. When he had their attention, he continued, "You decide on how or if you want to wear those initials. You can do necklaces, earrings, rings, whatever you're comfortable with, if anything. You each have a length of chain to do with as you wish." He turned to Dobby. "Yours is in my bedside drawer. Feel free to retrieve it at your convenience." Harry stood and smiled down at the stunned elves. "Happy Christmas. I'll probably be late at the Weasley's. Remus and Dora are upstairs. Have a nice day." He picked up the bag of presents he needed to take and threw some Floo powder. "The Burrow!"
"Oh, thank you, whoever did this."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked him from her place on the couch. Harry knew she was scheduled to get to the Weasley's sometime during the day for the rest of holiday. She'd apparently preceded him.
Harry picked himself up and brushed soot off. "Someone put a Cushioning Charm on the floor right there."
"You're welcome," Arthur said, entering the room with a wide smile. "Happy Christmas, Harry!" The sentiment was echoed from various points in the house in various voices.
Ginny, looking unspeakably cute with a smear of flour on one cheek, entered the room from the direction of the kitchen. Without a word, she jumped up and onto Harry, forcing him to catch her. "Happy Christmas, love." Before he could say a word in response, she sealed his mouth with hers.
Harry vaguely heard, "She must have missed him?"
"Can't imagine why."
"It's been a whole three days since she's seen him, after all."
"Bloody hell, Harry. Come up for air, mate."
"Lack of oxygen. He's getting befuddled."
"Think we should rescue him?"
"Not on your life, brother mine. Ginny would never forgive us."
"Three days? It's been much longer since I've seen him and you don't see us snogging like that."
"A fact for which I'm eternally grateful."
These last two lines, from Hermione and Ron, were what brought Ginny out with a chuckle.
"Oh, look! There's Harry. I was beginning to think I wouldn't see him today."
"Hi, George," Harry said, turning to the rest of the room but not releasing Ginny.
Amused expressions covered the faces of Arthur, Fred, George, Ron and Hermione.
"Happy Christmas, everyone," Harry greeted them with a wide smile.
Chuckles and reciprocal well-wishes came back.
Ginny stepped back from him. "I'm helping Mum in the kitchen. Put those away and then come in and help us."
He nodded. "Sure."
Ginny turned and re-entered the kitchen.
When the door closed behind him, the three remaining Weasley children chuckled. "Oh, she has him whipped but good."
"Definitely, my dear brother, definitely."
"In the right hands, a whip can actually be a lot of fun," Harry retorted calmly, placing packages under the tree.
Dead silence answered him. When he finished unloading the bag he'd brought, he looked up to the dumbfounded expressions on Ron, George and Fred's faces. Hermione was grinning, and Arthur was shaking his head in amusement.
Waving cheerfully, Harry left for the kitchen.
"Happy Christmas, Mrs. Weasley," he greeted the Weasley matriarch.
"Happy Christmas, Harry." She moved away from the bowl she was stirring and enveloped Harry in a hug. "And my name is Molly. We're well past the point that you should be calling me by name."
Harry nodded agreeably. "Ginny said you could use some help in here?"
Molly shook her head. "Not really, but I did need to talk to you two."
Harry and Ginny shared a trapped look.
"Ginny, will you be staying at Harry's tonight?"
Harry nearly fell over. Ginny's jaw dropped open in shock.
Molly chuckled at their expressions. "I do have eyes, dears. Arthur told me some of what he found the morning after your house-warming party, Harry. I can't say I'm surprised, all things considered. Like Arthur, I'm happy that you're taking precautions at this stage, though I would like some grandchildren in the future." She pierced the blushing teenagers with a stare. "The far distant future," she emphasized.
Harry cleared his throat. "Understood, ma'am, err, Molly. As far as where she sleeps tonight, that is up to her, but she is quite welcome at the Manor."
Molly nodded and turned to her daughter with a raised eyebrow.
"If it's okay with you, Mum?" Ginny asked cautiously.
"I wouldn't have asked otherwise," Molly said, turning back to her cooking.
Blinking rapidly, Harry shot a questioning look at Ginny. Ginny just shrugged back.
Gathering his composure, Harry again asked if he could do anything to help. Molly shooed him back out to the living room.
In a state of bemused shock, Harry went back out and took a seat next to Hermione on the couch. She closed the book around a finger and turned to him. She raised an eyebrow at his expression. "What's wrong, Harry?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing's wrong. Just surprising."
He just shook his head. "If you're staying until tonight, you'll find out then, I suspect. It's nothing bad, I promise."
Shrugging away the mystery, she asked, "How are all of your house-elves getting along?"
Harry shot her a concerned glance, but she didn't appear to be in a crusading mood at the moment. "Pretty well. I gave them Christmas presents before coming over here."
"What did you get them? I mean aside from Dobby and his socks?"
Harry explained the presents, and she nodded approval.
"You know, I expected more of a reaction from you, Hermione, what with SPEW and everything in our fourth year," he observed cautiously.
She sighed. "I've been thinking about what you and Ron have been saying about them being happier this way. I got a book on their society and read up on that. I also can't forget how Winky acted after she gained her freedom. Ginny says Winky is much happier now that she's Joined a household again. I can't ignore all of this proof, Harry. I disagree with the situation in principal, but it seems they are truly happier this way."
Harry let out a breath. "You can come over and talk to them about it, if you want to."
"I might do that," she agreed. "So, what are you, Professor Lupin and Professor Tonks getting yourselves into with all your free time?"
"Remus is giving Ginny and I Apparition training," Harry explained.
"Hmm. Good idea. That doesn't cover much time though, Harry."
"Some duelling, too," Harry added.
She looked at him for a moment before saying, "You forgot to mention the Animagus lessons."
Harry gaped for a moment before quickly recovering his composure.
She grinned. "No, Ginny didn't tell me, which is your next question. I was here when you got the notebook from Snuffles, remember? I can't imagine you're NOT training with Remus."
"How do you do that?" Harry demanded.
"I've been practising my mind powers for years."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Funny."
"Seriously, I know you, Harry. It didn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what you're probably doing."
Harry nodded at that answer. "Please don't tell anyone, though, okay? Nobody else knows."
"Sure. Do you know your form yet?"
He frowned. "Probably, but I'm not sure yet. I won't finish until well after term starts, so I'll probably need to go to McGonagall to continue the training. Apparition, though, is nearly done. Ginny and I are planning on taking our exams before the end of holiday."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Charlie and Bill came over a few hours later, just before lunch.
At this point, happy mayhem ensued since the gifts started to be opened. The twins did not try to rig Harry's present this time, much to his relief. They got him an assortment of new Wheezes plus a summary of the store's accounts. Harry was vaguely amused that he was making more money passively from the store than he'd been spending, even considering how much he'd paid to bring the Manor back to a habitable state. Hermione got him a book detailing how to produce a family clock like the one the Weasleys had. Ron got him a box of Chocolate Frogs and the newest Cannons poster. Bill, Charlie and Arthur went together and got him a pair of dragonhide boots. Reading through the informational tag that came with it, Harry concluded that in addition to being more than passable defensive armour, they'd likely last him the rest of his life due to durability and sizing charms. Molly gave him another emerald green jumper and a tin of homemade fudge.
He was surprised to find a small gift from Ginny in the stack. They'd previously agreed that the magical focus pendant plus earrings for her and the formal robes for him would count as their Christmas gifts toward each other. Shooting her a frown across the room, he held the present up in question. She merely waved at the package, eyes sparkling. Removing the wrapping, Harry was shocked and amused to find a jar of chocolate sauce. Realising the questions that would result if anyone caught him with this, he tried to hide it.
"Harry, what's that?" Ron asked from three places down.
George deftly intercepted Harry's hand as he tried to slip the jar away. George pulled it up as Harry sighed in resignation. After examining the jar in confusion for a moment, he looked from Harry to Ginny to Ron. "Chocolate sauce?"
Hermione started laughing. Ron made strangled, gargling noises.
Fred turned to Harry. "Okay, what's the story? Why would our sister get you chocolate sauce? More importantly, why is Ron reacting like that to it?"
Harry clamped his mouth shut.
"Nothing! Never mind. It's nothing," Ron managed to say.
Hermione was laughing so hard that she was forced to hold onto Ron's shoulder to stay upright.
Ginny just smiled at Harry.
And then the pin dropped.
"TMI!" George, Fred, Charlie and Bill all chorused, wide-eyed.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The rest of the afternoon flowed by pleasantly for everyone. Harry was highly amused to find a Ginny Weasley card among the Chocolate Frogs Ron had gotten him for Christmas. He even made a grand presentation out of getting her signature for it, much to Ron's annoyance.
Alicia and Angelina showed up for a few hours, taking the twins with them when they left.
When Bill started making motions to leave, Molly turned to Ginny. "Why don't you pack a bag, dear?"
Movement all around the room stopped. Harry gave a soundless groan at Molly's timing.
"Why does Ginny need to pack a bag?" Ron asked in confusion.
"She's staying at Harry's house tonight," Arthur answered.
Ginny looked at Harry with a clear question in her eyes. He nodded, and she moved toward the stairs to go up to her room. After a moment, Hermione threw a glance at Harry before following Ginny.
"She's staying at Harry's tonight?" Ron asked in a strangely calm voice.
"That's the plan," Harry confirmed warily.
"Where in your house is she staying?"
"That is none of our concern," Molly immediately answered.
Ron whirled in place to stare at one parent then the other. "You're both OKAY with this?" he asked incredulously. "What did she tell you she'd be doing? What possible reason did she give you for doing this?"
"She loves him, and she wants to spend time with him," Molly calmly answered.
Bill and Charlie shared a look and quietly sat down on the couch.
"She says she loves him and wants to spend the night in his house. Do I have to spell this out for you, Mum?" Ron asked with an edge to his voice.
She winced slightly. "No, you don't, Ron. I am not that naÃ¯ve. However, I feel they're both adult enough that they can make this decision without any fight from me. You didn't throw this much of a fit when she stayed after the house-warming party."
"They slept on the couch all night!"
"Not all night," Harry contradicted him quietly.
"WHAT?" Ron roared. "Then where the bloody hell did you end up sleeping with my sister?" Ron asked, voice dropping into a quiet growl.
"My bed," Harry steadily answered.
One of Ron's fists clenched, clearly visible to everyone in the room.
"Ron -" Arthur started.
Harry held up a hand in a silent request for Arthur not to interfere. "Ron, if you want to take a swing at me, then I won't stop you. Just think about two things. First, absolutely nothing is being done against Ginny's wishes. Second, your parents already knew about this, and they aren't objecting." Having said his piece, Harry clasped his hands behind his back and stared his best friend in the eye.
The parade of expressions across Ron's face fascinated Harry. Anger, love, fury, loathing, fear and surprise each made a brief appearance. All emotion suddenly evaporated from Ron's face. "Just remember what we said to you on your birthday," he pleaded in a quiet voice. Getting a nod from Harry, Ron spun on his heel and went into the kitchen.
"He's likely to want to sleep with Hermione tonight just to prove some kind of point," Bill observed calmly.
Harry shook his head, still looking at the kitchen door. "She's too smart to let him do that just because he's pissed at me." He hoped.
"I'm sorry I had to put you through that, Harry," Molly said, wincing at everything just said.
He looked over at her. "You knew he'd react like that."
She sighed and nodded. "He had to be told sooner or later. Sooner, with everyone still here, was probably best."
"Yeah," Harry grudgingly admitted. "I'm still not all that comfortable talking with you all about it, though."
"You think it's easy for US to hear these things about you and Snapdragon?" Charlie asked with a slight grin.
Harry turned to Bill and Charlie. "Are you two okay with this?"
Bill sighed. "I'd rather this hadn't happened until she was older, honestly. Early thirties, maybe."
Charlie snorted in humour while Harry smiled nervously at Bill's joke.
Smiling himself, Bill admitted, "To be fair, though, she stopped being a kid after all that Chamber shit happened her first year."
"Bill," Molly chided her son's language.
"Sorry, but it's still the truth."
Harry grinned slightly. "Yeah. That's one of the arguments I used on you all, remember? Back on All Hallow's Eve?"
Everyone smiled briefly at the reminder of the Order meeting held immediately after Voldemort's defeat.
Bill stood and approached Harry, hand held out that Harry immediately shook. "I'm sure you've already been given a warning or two, right?"
Harry nodded ruefully. "Hardly two, but yes."
Smiling in sympathy, Bill went on, "Just take care of her, Harry. That's all I ask."
Charlie followed right behind his older brother, also shaking Harry's hand. "YOU get to explain all this to the twins."
Harry smiled faintly. "They won't make me suffer; they'll just kill me outright. Percy, on the other hand, will give me a three hour lecture about responsibility -"
Everyone in the room gave a melancholy little laugh, thinking about the Weasley son who'd long since thoroughly divorced himself from the family.
Hermione and Ginny came down the stairs, a small bag slung over Ginny's shoulder. Both girls looked calm, so Harry was comforted that they hadn't had a fight of any kind.
Ginny started moving around the room, giving everyone a hug goodbye.
Hermione hugged Harry. "Have a good night," she whispered with an audible grin.
Harry nervously chuckled back before sobering. "Ron's torqued off at me for all this," he warned his other best friend quietly. "Don't let him talk you into anything for the wrong reasons."
Hermione pulled back and nodded, following Harry's line of reasoning easily.
"Potter Manor." Ginny left.
Waving to everyone still in the room, Harry followed his girlfriend back to his home.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry slowly drifted back to consciousness. He was warm, comfortable and utterly relaxed, he gradually realised. As his senses started reporting in, he determined that he was lying in bed, eyes surrounded by a haze of red, nose full of Ginny-scent, and a LOT of bare skin pressed up against his arms and chest. This last fact finally forced his mind up the last few steps to full alertness.
He was lying in bed, spooned up with Ginny. A Ginny who was as nearly-naked as he was.
After a few seconds of thought, he decided that this was a very good thing.
"Hmm. I could definitely get used to this," Ginny mumbled.
"I second the motion," he agreed, not wanting to move for the next decade or two.
After getting back to the Manor, they'd curled up with Harry's gift from Tonks. Whereas the twins' birthday gift to Harry was aimed at the wizard trying to court the witch, this book was intended more for established couples who still wanted to stop short of total intimacy. More than one page contained instructions or images that caused the pair to blush, but it did have many suggestions that the two were interested in trying. For their first full night "together", they'd decided to give each other massages. After reading the appropriate chapters and studying the diagrams, the couple changed into boxers and t-shirts before nervously crawling into bed.
Ginny started out rubbing her hands over Harry's back, trying to knead the muscles. After the initial nervousness faded and he relaxed some, she frowned. "Take off your shirt."
Harry tensed right back up.
"I can't massage through the shirt, Harry. Besides, you taking off your shirt isn't a big deal, right?"
After a few more moments, he'd done as she asked. She proceeded to give him a very relaxing massage.
After she was done, they traded. It took only a minute before Harry said, "I see what you mean about the shirt."
She hesitated for a moment before quietly asking, "Would you still be comfortable if I took it off?"
His hands stopped moving. "If you are," he cautiously answered.
After a moment's more hesitation, she silently pulled the shirt off, dropping it onto the floor beside the bed.
Harry was presented with the sight of her bare back. Taking a breath to keep his emotions and libido under control, he started rubbing her back again, finding it much easier without the material of the shirt in the way. He caught himself counting freckles and forced himself to keep his thoughts on massaging with his hands.
Finished with her back and neck, he hesitantly worked his way down her legs and then arms, massaging all the way. The only hitch they ran into was when he discovered that she was ticklish along her ribs.
Unwilling to go any further without some clear sign from her, he leaned over and kissed her back, just below her neck. "G'night, love. Nox." He laid down, carefully pulling the blankets up to cover the both of them. He curled up on his side so he could leave his hand touching the exposed skin of her back.
Lying like this, the two faded off to sleep.
Sometime during the night, they'd ended up on their sides, spooned together, her back pressed against his chest, his hand dangling against her bare stomach.
Which is where Harry found himself as they started to stir the next morning. The problem was that he was having a perfectly natural reaction to having his almost naked girlfriend lying in bed with him.
He hoped that she wouldn't notice.
Ginny slowly stretched, still lying on her side. This caused his hand to bump and rub against various parts of her anatomy. Other parts of his anatomy were also being bumped and rubbed by her motion.
She rolled away under the covers so she was facing him, his hand falling away from her with the movement. Holding the blankets up to her chin, she asked, "So, is that a wand in bed with us, or are you just happy to see me?" Moments later, she burst into laughter at his mortified expression. "Oh, Harry, you are too easy to tease."
He rolled over onto his back with a groan.
"Aw, I hurt poor Harry's feelings? Here, let me kiss and make it better." Scooting over and lying fully on top of him, she started pressing light kisses into the hollow of his neck.
"Ginny?" he asked in a strangled voice, trying desperately to ignore the thoughts of what exactly was being pressed against his bare chest.
"Hmm?" she asked between feathery kisses.
He held himself perfectly still, trying not to scare her away. "Please don't start anything we can't finish," he whispered hoarsely.
She paused and sighed with regret. "I keep doing this to you, don't I?"
Harry didn't answer, still holding himself motionless by sheer force of will.
"I'm sorry," she said, gingerly lifting herself off of him before moving to the side.
Harry's heart rate started coming back down, and he stared at the ceiling as she curled up under the covers again. "It's not so much that I mind it," he started trying to verbalize his confused feelings. "It's just that my self-control can only take so much. I don't want to try to do anything that you're not ready for."
"What about what you're ready for?" she asked calmly.
"I'm the one having self-control issues, remember?"
"You know what I'm asking," she chided him.
"My brain and my hormones are on opposite sides of this fight," he admitted.
"I know what you mean," she agreed, running one warm hand over his near shoulder.
He let out an aggravated breath. "For Merlin's sake, you're fifteen, Ginny. I really shouldn't be thinking and feeling these things," he moaned
"Don't you dare beat yourself up for your thoughts, Harry," she said sharply. "I'm hardly innocent of trying to provoke them."
He turned his head. "You're TRYING to provoke me?" he asked in mock incredulity.
"You mean you haven't noticed? I must be doing something wrong." She made a face at him, and he chuckled along with the joke. She went on, "Besides, you said yourself that we haven't been kids for a long time." She paused before continuing delicately, "It's society that's telling us that I'm too young. Our bodies - BOTH of our bodies - are telling us something completely different. Not to mention our emotions"
A long pause stretched as he thought this over. "What, precisely, are you saying?" he finally asked, trying to keep his tone neutral.
"Age of consent is sixteen," she pointed out. "I'll be there in eight months anyway. However, legally we're both adults, so we could ignore that fact if we wanted to." Harry made an indecipherable noise in the back of his throat that she ignored. "To be honest, I'm uncomfortable crossing that last line, right now." Her hand's motions expanded to cover his chest. "On the other hand, there's an entire book on other things we can try out."
Harry repeated his earlier noise.
She rolled out of bed, making no effort to cover herself from his hungry eyes. She padded to the bathroom door before pausing and looking over her shoulder at him. "I'm going to take a bath, Harry. It's a pretty big tub, though. You're welcome to join me." Throwing him an impish smile, she turned and went into the bathroom, leaving the door open behind her.
The water had just started running by the time Harry gathered enough of his composure to follow her.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The couple, hand in hand and looking much more relaxed about life, entered the dining room two hours later to find plates of food waiting for them.
"Good morning," Tonks said, looking up at the two from a stack of parchment. Rascal was sitting on the table, overseeing her actions.
"Good morning," Ginny cheerfully answered, sitting in the chair Harry held for her.
"Aren't you in a good mood," Tonks observed.
"Why shouldn't I be? It's still Christmas holidays, and I'm with Harry."
Tonks studied the young witch and wizard for a moment before turning a devilish grin to Harry. Timing it carefully, she asked, "Should I ask her that important question today?"
Harry, immediately remembering the question Tonks threatened him with when his Animagus form was discovered, sprayed pumpkin juice across the table.
Unfortunately, the spray caught Rascal's tail in addition to the tabletop. Hissing, the kneazle bolted from the room.
Coughing fit to bring up a lung or two, Harry brought a hand to his mouth, head held down. He didn't dare look at either Tonks or Ginny.
"What in the name of Magic are you talking about?" Ginny asked, eyes full of concern as she watched Harry still going through convulsions.
"Nothing important," Tonks laughingly replied. "Harry will explain it eventually, I'm sure."
"Harry?" Ginny turned her attention to her boyfriend.
Harry, still looking down and trying to breath normally, just shook his head.
Seeing he wasn't in imminent danger of choking, Ginny slowly relaxed.
"So did you two have a good time yesterday?" Tonks asked neutrally.
After a quick look, Harry determined that the question was innocent. Well, as innocent as any question from Tonks could be. "Yep. Ron nearly blew a fuse when he heard Ginny was coming over last night," Harry reported.
"'Blew a fuse'?" Ginny asked blankly.
"Muggle term," Tonks waved it off. "Means he got very angry."
"That's right, your father was a Muggle-born, wasn't he?"
She nodded. "I thought Molly was the other potential problem for you two kids."
Ginny grinned. "Who do you think told him that I was coming over last night?"
Tonks's eyes grew wide. "She didn't."
"She did. Right in front of Bill, Charlie and Ron. Dad already knew, of course, and Hermione didn't act all that surprised."
"And you survived this with all your limbs intact?" Tonks asked Harry incredulously.
"Bill and Charlie were pretty cool about it. Ron almost slugged me, but he calmed down a little before he did that. I just hope Hermione survived the night okay."
Ginny blinked. "Hermione? She was fine with it. She came upstairs to help me pack, after all."
Harry slowly shook his head. "In the words of Bill to your mother, 'He's likely to want to sleep with Hermione tonight just to prove some kind of point.'"
Ginny groaned. "I just hope my git of a brother didn't do something to hork her off."
"That's assuming they haven't already slept together," Tonks pointed out mildly.
Harry shrugged. "True. Like I said, I just hope she's doing okay, one way or another." He turned to the entering Rully and grinned. "Rully! I see you're wearing my gifts."
Rully nodded and smiled. "All of Master Harry's elveses is all wearing them, Master Harry. What would Master Harry and Mistress Ginny want for breakfast?"
"I'm your mistress?" Ginny asked in surprise.
Rully's eyes darted from Ginny to Harry and back again. "Is Miss Ginny not Mistress of Potter Manor?"
"Close enough," Harry agreed, wondering if they really were being teased by a house-elf.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Later that day after Ginny returned to the Burrow and Remus and Tonks went to visit her mother, Harry was left to his own devices.
With the free time, he started a project that he hoped to be able to complete before the holidays finished. He sat down in the parlour and opened his copy of Constructing a Family Clock.
He rapidly learned that these clocks were easy, if time consuming, to produce. Each hand required no less than ten separate charms to work properly plus a drop of blood to tie it to the person in question. The clock itself was actually the easiest part to charm.
Taking the blank carriage clock that Hermione had also given him, he started casting all the appropriate charms upon it. For the initial categories, he put Home, Hogwarts, Work, Travelling and Unknown. He left a few spots blank, knowing that more could be added later and the clocks themselves occasionally added categories. Once that was accomplished, he sent Hedwig off with an owl order for six clock hands.
Not being able to advance further with the clock, Harry went up to his room and pulled his father's school trunk out of his closet. He left it sitting on the floor and sat down on his bed. It innocently sat there, representing such a large emotional subject to the young wizard staring at it.
Finally deciding he'd rather do this by himself and not wait for Ginny or Remus, he reached down and pushed the trunk open.
His first thought was that the contents of this trunk weren't all that different than his own. It had the same mish-mash of textbooks, loose parchment, broken quills, small cauldrons and a broken telescope. Harry smiled at this. He started sorting through the items, looking for anything of interest.
The textbooks were merely previous editions of the same ones he had in his own classes. His father had apparently taken Muggle Studies where Harry had taken Divination, however.
Opening the copy of Standard Book of Spells: Year Seven at a loose sheet of parchment, Harry found just the kinds of things he wanted. In the margins of the chapter on conjuring metals, his father had apparently played two games of hangman against someone. Whoever was playing had gotten the word "Animagus" but hadn't gotten "apothecary". Harry vaguely wondered if it was his mother who had taught his father about the Muggle word game.
On the facing page's margin, a simple heart contained the inscription JP & LE.
Smiling at the inconsequential little doodlings of his father, he looked at the loose sheet of parchment in his other hand. It was a letter to his father from his mother, thanking him for the wonderful time she'd had at Hogsmeade.
Harry spent hours thumbing through the textbooks and reading the asides and looking at the doodles. He found Quidditch plays, an artistic drawing of a Snitch, several sketches of the Marauders in animal forms, one letter from Sirius complaining bitterly about the detention he'd had to serve with McGonagall, several half-formed prank ideas, plans of exploration during full moons and all the petty thoughts, gripes and dreams of a teenage boy.
Silent tears fell at the glimpse he finally had of his father.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Over the week between Christmas and New Year, Ginny stayed over at the Manor as often as not. Though their relationship certainly wasn't what one could call totally platonic, it never crossed the point of no return. It wasn't so much that they didn't want to as they were waiting until the time was "right".
The clock hands arrived and Harry enspelled each of the six hands as far as he could. He then drew one drop of his own blood, dripped it into the indentation on the back of one of the clock hands and sealed it with another spell.
The clock hand glowed for a moment before dimming again.
Harry turned the hand over and found a small portrait of himself, smiling in contentment. He put the hand upon the clock and cast a final spell to integrate the two. The hand spun around the entire face three times before stopping at Home. Hardly conclusive, but at least it appeared to be working. He laid the other five hands down in front of the clock and made a mental note to speak with Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Remus and Dora when he next saw them.
With nothing else to do for the next few hours, Harry wandered outside to a spot that he'd been avoiding, consciously or not, since Remus told him about it after moving into Potter Manor.
He stopped in front of a pair of headstones in a small, family cemetery.
"Hi, Mum, Dad," he whispered, looking back and forth from one stone to another.
He gave a sudden nervous chuckle. "It's funny. I don't even know what to say. I mean, it's not like you can talk back, so why should -" He stopped and took a breath. "I'm babbling. Sorry about that. Never done this before, so I don't really know how to act.
"Anyway, I dreamed of meeting you for years. I suppose all orphans dream of meeting their parents, though. I just wanted you to show up out of the blue and rescue me from the Dursleys.
"Sorry, I'm rambling again. If you've talked with Padfoot recently, he can give you some of the highlights of my life over the past few years.
"Since he joined you it's been even more active, amazingly enough, what with falling in love with Ginny and then killing Voldemort and all.
"Ginny's great. Another redhead, Mum. Ginny Weasley. Remus told me that all Potters fall for redheads. Something like a family curse, but falling to this curse is just fine with me. She's stood by me through everything. Doesn't let me sink into my moods. Helps me stand up to her brothers, which is a bigger deal than it sounds like. And she was the only one who could help me kill Voldemort.
"Yes, I said kill. I killed a man. Well, not so sure he was a man, but you know what I'm saying. It was self-defence, so I'm not in legal trouble for it. Besides, this IS Voldemort we're talking about. Got and Order of Merlin out of it, even. But that doesn't help, you know? I look down at my hands and can almost see the bloodstains on them. The whole bloody world is celebrating what I did and I cry myself to sleep sometimes over it. How's that for irony?
"Remus is dating. I think you knew her. Nymphadora Tonks. Sirius's first cousin once removed or something, but her mother was disinherited from the Black family so she's okay. Metamorphmagus, which can be a lot of fun, but she's a good person. Auror, of all things, and teaching us Defense this year. Anyway, she's good for him.
"What else? The Manor is in good shape. Got most of the house-elves back except for Rarry. She died defending Granddad, I understand. The other five are here again, plus Dobby and Winky. Those two are stories unto themselves, though.
"I suppose I should explain Dumbledore. I keep acting like I'm mad at him. When I tried explaining it to Ginny or Remus, I don't think they believed that I'm not mad at him. I suppose I can see how they would think so, though. Mostly it's to show him or those around us what he's doing, though.
"Sorry, maybe I should back up. Ever since he had Hagrid pull me from the wreckage of Godric's Hollow, he's been dictating my life. Making me live with the Dursley's, which has been awful for all involved, let me tell you, was only the first step. Yeah, he told me, eventually, why I had to live there. Your sacrifice, Mum, and the blood link to Aunt Petunia. He didn't bother to explain it, though until the end of fifth year.
"Anyway, he keeps telling me things but never the reasons for them. Occlumency, no owls over the summer, keep going back and living with Dursleys and all that. He only tells me as much as he thinks I should know. If he'd told me everything . . . Well, that's one of the reasons Sirius is up there with you guys.
"Hey, if you see Padfoot, tell him that we caught Wormtail and stopped Voldemort, okay? Bellatrix is still loose, but I think she's the only ranking Death Eater left running around. If she's ever caught, I can't quite decide if I'd like to strangle her myself or let Neville do it and cheer him on.
"Sounds strange, huh? I'm complaining that I still have nightmares over killing Voldemort but then turn around and say I'd like to kill her. Come to think of it, maybe just locking her into a room with dementors and throwing away the key is better. If there's anything closer to hell on Earth, I haven't heard about it.
"I know, Mum. I shouldn't want to hurt someone that much. She killed Sirius and effectively orphaned Neville, though. Who knows what else she's done.
"Much as I'd like to say I'm ashamed of what I want to do to Lestrange, I'm really not.
"Fortunately, though, I have Ginny, Remus and all my friends. I've finally found love. Amazing how you can go years without it and then when you have it, wonder how you lived without, isn't it?
"Dad, I'm really not ignoring you. Everyone says I look like you, so I get stories from everyone about you. Professor McGonagall especially has some pretty good ones." Harry laughed aloud. "Some of them are even complimentary.
"Prongs is also the form of my Patronus. Actually, that's kind of weird. I didn't even know who Prongs was at the time and yet my Patronus is you? Did you have anything to do with that, Dad?
"Oh, you'll be pleased, though Mum might not, that I'm studying to be an Animagus myself. Horse Animagus, I think.
"Anyway, I'm living here now. It's Christmas holidays of my sixth year, so I'll have to be leaving again soon. When I'm here, I'll try to come out and visit you.
"It's been great finally talking with you, but I think I need to be going in now. Love you two. Bye."
Shortly, Harry Potter was slowly trudging back toward the Manor, leaving behind a single conjured lily.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
First thing in the morning of New Year's Eve, Harry and Ginny visited the Ministry to apply for their Apparition licenses. Per normal security procedures, their wands were weighed at the reception desk before they made their way toward the magical licensing department. For the next few hours, they were directed from one line to another, filling out paperwork for indifferent Ministry workers.
The Ministry itself was calmer than usual, as Fudge was out of the building campaigning for his re-election. Why he was bothering was a mystery to Harry. Ever since Halloween, Fudge's approval rating had never made it above ten percent of the wizards and witches of the United Kingdom. The avalanche of scandals that Harry had triggered had rendered Fudge effectively powerless. The next day's election would merely make it official.
Finally through the gauntlet of paperwork, the two took the written test. When that was turned in to the examiner, they were given directions to a large examination room.
A middle aged witch entered from the other side, looking immensely bored. She glanced up at Harry and Ginny and the boredom vanished as if a switch were thrown. She blinked rapidly a few times before abruptly shaking her head and reaching for the paperwork they were carrying.
"Is something wrong, ma'am?" Ginny asked, referring to the witch's reaction on seeing them.
"I'm sorry, dear. It's just that you're younger than I'm used to seeing here for this test. I was about to throw you both out before I recognised you. Thank you, by the way."
"You're welcome," Harry said politely, used to such reactions.
"Mr. Potter, let's begin with you. Please Apparate from the circle here to the square on the floor over there. You can walk over and examine it if you wish. After the short range accuracy is verified, we'll move on to distance testing. The first test needs to be completed within two minutes, starting NOW." She turned a small hourglass over and waved Harry to begin.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Pop-pop. Harry and Ginny grinned at each other, arriving exactly where they had planned, on the lane to the Burrow.
Harry took her hand and leisurely started walking down the lane, stepping around the snow and ice that was still on the roadway. "I wonder if our auras being so close matters in Apparition," Harry absently wondered.
"We can ask Remus," Ginny suggested as they approached her home.
The door to the Burrow swung open. "Harry, Ginny! What are the two of you doing out here? Why didn't you Floo in?"
"Hi, Mum. We decided to Apparate instead," Ginny explained.
"You both passed on your first try?" Molly asked excitedly, ushering the two in.
"Passed what?" Ron asked, entering the kitchen. He smiled a greeting at his sister and best friend.
"Apparition license," Molly explained.
Ron's eyes widened. "You can both Apparate? Legally?"
Harry nodded with a wary look. It was always hard to guess what things Ron would get angry over. He just hoped this wouldn't be one of them.
"Is THAT why you've been going over to Harry's house all holiday?"
Ginny's lip twitched. "Mostly, yeah. Remus trained us both."
"Good to hear you two didn't spend all your time snogging."
Harry was staring in astonishment. "Is that what you thought we were doing every time she came over?"
Ron shrugged, a bit embarrassed. "That was the polite version, yeah."
"Ronald!" Molly said again, rolling her eyes.
Ginny chuckled. "You didn't see me taking my textbooks every time? I do a lot of OWL revision over there, Ron. It's quieter there than it is here. Harry, Tonks and Remus are all good teachers as well."
"Hmm. Good point. Err, points," Ron acknowledged.
"I'm so relieved that I have your permission," Ginny said dryly.
"Oh, you know what I meant. Hey, Harry, could Remus teach me how to Apparate?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't see why not, but you need to ask him, not me. I hired him to tutor me in various things. He was kind enough to include Ginny in the Apparition portions. If you want private tutoring, you need to speak with him about it. It's not like I own him, you know. Even so, you can't get your license until you're seventeen."
"Charms class covers it at the end of seventh year," Molly interjected. "Most everyone just waits until then to learn it."
"Hmmph," Ron was disappointed.
Turning his head slightly, Harry asked, "Molly, may I speak with you for a moment?"
Ginny gave him a curious look, which was ignored.
"Certainly, Harry," Molly agreed, shooing the two others out.
Molly held up a hand when Harry opened his mouth. Grinning, she counted down silently on her fingers from five. On zero, she pointed her wand toward the door. "Accio Extendable Ears."
An indignant squawk sounded from the other room, and two Extendable Ears flew into Molly's open hand.
Smiling, she turned her attention to Harry. "What would you like to talk about, dear?"
He broke into laughter. "Now I know where Fred and George get it." He wiped the tears from his eyes.
Molly didn't answer, simply smiled wider.
Calming himself, Harry explained what he wanted to talk to her about. "Ron will be receiving an invitation today to a party that I'm throwing tonight. I'll be inviting him, Ginny and Hermione to spend the night if they want, since the party probably won't get out until late."
She nodded. "I won't expect any of them back until late tomorrow morning, then." Her face fell into a melancholy expression. "When you said you wanted to talk with me privately, I must admit that I had hoped it would be a different subject."
Looking at his girlfriend's mother, Harry didn't have any problem divining what she subject she had hoped for. He smiled, a little nervously. "It has occurred to me, Mrs. Weasley," he admitted.
"You are supposed to call me Molly," she reminded him.
"For this conversation, calling you Mrs. Weasley is more appropriate," he pointed out. "As I said, I've considered it. Still am, truthfully. But what do I know about love and long term commitment? I certainly didn't have any good role models growing up."
She nodded. "Since then, however, I'd like to think you've seen a few better examples. You've heard about your own parents. You've seen Tonks and Remus."
"You and Mr. Weasley," Harry added, nodding. "Yes, I've SEEN stable marriages and relationships. I'm just not used to it or how to be in one."
She looked sadly at him. "She's not going anywhere, dear. If you need more time to become comfortable with it, that's fine. At your ages, it's probably for the best. It's just the mother in me hoping for something else, I suppose."
He smiled nervously.
"For what it's worth, you have my blessing, Harry. Now," she went on in a less emotionally charged tone, "I'm sure you have a thousand and one things to do for tonight. Are you taking Ginny with you now, or should she come over later with Ron and Hermione?"
"I'll probably be taking her now if that's okay with her. Please don't tell Ron or Hermione about the overnight offer, okay?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Why are we going to Diagon Alley?" Ginny asked her boyfriend.
"I have some things to pick up," Harry easily answered, twining her fingers in his.
She peered at him closely. "You're hiding something from me."
"Yep," he cheerfully admitted.
She huffed in exasperation. "Are you going to tell me what it is?"
"Maybe," he teased. "What'll you give me if I tell you?"
"I WON'T hex you if you tell me."
"Jeez, love, no need to get violent. To answer the question, I'm picking up the supplies."
"Supplies?" she asked in a leading tone.
She sighed. "Harry, I'm going to hurt you very badly if you don't tell me what you're talking about."
"For the party, of course," he went on, unfazed by the threat.
"What party?" she asked through gritted teeth.
Instead of answering directly, he withdrew a rolled up parchment from his robes and handed it to her.
Biting back the growl of frustration, she saw that it was addressed to: The gorgeous redhead beside me. Losing some of her ire at the blatant compliment, she unrolled the parchment and read the invitation. "You prat," she grumbled half-heartedly, no longer truly angry. "Who all is going to be there?"
"Last year's DA plus dates. Everyone's responded except Ron, Hermione, Colin and Dennis."
"Ron and Hermione haven't responded?" she asked in surprise.
"Well, that's probably since they're just now getting the invitation . . ."
"Prat," she muttered again before tucking herself under his arm. "For the record, I'd be delighted to attend. So where ARE we going?"
"I already told you: we're getting the supplies." As they got past the particular fence post that marked the outer edge of the Apparition Ward, he dropped his arm. "Diagon Alley Apparition point?"
She nodded and disappeared. He appeared next to her at the designated incoming Apparition zone near the portal to the Leaky Cauldron. Instead of heading down the street, he went toward the pub. After a few quick words with Tom, he called Dobby and pointed the appropriate items out to the elf. The liquid refreshments taken care of, the young couple headed back to Diagon Alley.
"Now where?" Ginny asked, eyeing the mostly empty street. One or two witches recognised Harry and moved toward him, but a poisonous look from Ginny turned them back.
Oblivious, Harry was answering her question, "The family business. I'd like to talk with your two favourite prankster brothers."
Harry was relieved to find an empty store on this trip. Last time it'd been wall to wall customers. This time it looked like he'd actually be able to talk to the two owners.
Fred looked up when the front door announced a visitor (by sounding a loud raspberry). Smiling, he turned toward the half-open door behind him. "Oy, George! We have distinguished guests! Put away those ledgers and get out the fake ones!"
Laughing, Ginny threaded her way through the tricky maze of moving shelving that was the WWW store and gave him a hug. "Is that anyway to greet your favourite sister?"
"Our only sister but who's counting?" George laughed, coming out from the back, followed by Lee Jordan. The two Weasley boys each hugged their sister.
"Still planning on coming over tonight?" Harry asked the three.
After glancing at Ginny, Fred nodded.
"Is there anything I should be warned about?" Harry asked calmly.
The twins grinned in a way that any Gryffindor who went to school with them would recognise and fear.
Ginny and Lee snickered.
Harry winced. "Okay, let me re-phrase that. Is whatever you're planning to do going to require a trip to St. Mungo's or major structural repairs to my house after you're done?"
The twins laughed.
Lee shook his head. "Naw, not that bad. They DO have something planned, but it isn't dangerous."
Ginny asked, "Is this 'not dangerous' in the same way that Hagrid's pets are 'cute and misunderstood'?"
Lee and Harry laughed.
The twins shook their heads. "Nothing at all dangerous."
"On our word of honour."
"We wouldn't do that to our favourite sister's main squeeze, after all."
"The fact that he's our major investor has nothing to do with it, either."
"It's just the first in our line of party entertainments."
Harry figured he should've expected something like this. He did, after all, invite them and even indicated his expectation of their antics in the invitation. "How much time do you need to set it up?"
They shook their heads. "No time at all."
"Well, unless you need us to take something back with us, we'll be on our way. See you before eight?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
With Remus and Tonks standing guard over the fireplace, all of the expected guests arrived without incident that evening.
Everyone exclaimed over the Manor, and the party slowly spread out until it covered the entire floor.
It didn't take long for several enchanted sprigs of mistletoe to appear at various locations, courtesy of Tonks.
Games sprung up in different rooms. Hermione and Padma had teamed up and were taking on all comers in a magical version of Trivial Pursuit. Ron was nearby, playing chess against Terry Boot and Ernie Macmillan simultaneously. Most of the remaining Quidditch players took over half the parlour and engaged in good-natured ribbing of each other's houses.
Harry and Ginny spent most of the time floating from one discussion to another, rarely spending a lot of time in any one place. When Harry suggested she could spend time in whichever group she was most interested, she merely kissed his cheek and stated that she was where she wanted to be.
Remus and Tonks circulated among their students and former students for several hours before they quietly left and started patrolling the grounds.
Once they left, Fred stood on a coffee table in the parlour. Raising his wand, it gave a series of five musical tones. After a moment of stunned silence, every Muggle-born in the room broke into laughter, recognising the tones from a popular science fiction movie. Everyone from the other rooms drifted in to see what was up, almost everyone carrying a drink of one variety or another.
"Now that all the responsible adults are gone, we can have some fun."
"With the permission of our gracious host," Fred nodded to Harry, "Weasley Wizard Wheezes would like to introduce our newest product: the Cup of Companionship."
"Dare I ask?" Harry wondered aloud.
"I'm so glad you did."
"Even though he didn't," Neville muttered.
Oblivious, Fred went on, "Each person only needs to write their full name and date of birth on a slip of parchment."
"All the slips go into this Cup," George held up a wide-brimmed chalice.
"Named, ironically enough, the Cup of Companionship."
"Who would've guessed?" Ron observed blandly.
Ignoring the snickers, George continued, "After all names are put in, my devastatingly handsome identical twin will cast a charm."
"Out of the Cup will come a list for each person."
"These are the best personality matches within the group."
"Now, there are a few rules."
"Full names only."
"Accurate birthdays are a must."
"Otherwise, the results will be messed up."
"How does it work?" Hermione asked.
"It compares personalities for compatibility."
"My personality can be determined by my name and birthday?" Harry asked dubiously.
"According to the ancient and honoured art of astrology, yes."
Three quarters of the room burst into laughter. Parvati and Lavender, each on the arms of young wizards that Harry didn't immediately recognise, glared around the room, insulted by the slight against their favourite subject.
"Seriously, the charm and the Cup of Companionship magically determine your five best matches."
"No astrology charts are harmed in the testing of this charm."
"No astrology charts are used in the casting of this charm, either."
"It determines our five best friends?" Susan asked dubiously.
"Friends, significant other or snogging buddies, yes." A few snickers ran around the room.
"Just write our name and birth date?" Harry asked.
Both twins nodded, heads moving at the same rate, but offset. One head was down when the other was up. It was strangely disconcerting to watch.
Curious, Harry took one of the offered slips of parchment and wrote:
Harry James Potter
July 31, 1980
He dropped the slip into the Cup where it promptly vanished. He moved to stand beside Fred as Ginny moved forward with her slip of paper. "I'm curious to see what you've cooked up," he whispered as, one by one, everyone else came forward when their curiosity overcome their hesitancy.
After all the names were in the Cup, Fred waved his wand over the Cup and muttered a long incantation. Once he was done, the Cup glowed bright white for a few seconds. Once it was back to normal, Fred reached in and withdrew a slip. Clearing his throat dramatically, he said, "According to the Cup of Companionship, my best matches in this group are as follows: George, Angelina, Lee, Alicia, and Ginny."
Harry supposed that made sense. The first four were his best friends and then another family member.
Parvati, apparently coming to the same conclusion, gave a little squeal and reached in and withdrew a slip. There was a minor rush as everyone else also withdrew their own slips.
Harry withdrew a little and read his own slip.
Cup of Companionship December 31, 1996
Matches for Harry James Potter
1) Hermione Jane Granger
2) Ginevra Molly Weasley
3) Neville Frank Longbottom
4) Padma Inra Patil
5) Michael Frederick Corner
"So how'd I do?" Ginny was looking down at her own slip.
"Second after Hermione. Me?"
"Third. Hermione, Hannah surprisingly enough, then you."
"Oooh, guess what, Harry?" Lavender gushed, rushing up and batting her eyes.
"The stars have fated that we're to be together?" Harry asked in such a bland voice as to be sarcastic.
The sarcasm was totally lost on her, however. Lavender squealed, causing Harry to wince and Ginny's mood to rapidly darken. "See, you DO believe in astrology!"
"Not necessarily," Hermione smoothly interrupted. "He's on my list, too, Lavender."
"Mine, too!" Parvati added with a pout.
Turning to Harry and rolling her eyes where only he and Ginny could see her, Hermione raised her voice, "Fred, George, what does it mean if multiple people all have the same person on their lists?"
One of the twins answered, "Then he or she gets along well with many others. Who is it?"
"Harry!" Parvati and Lavender chorused.
Harry blushed deeply when everyone in the room turned to him with grins. He shrugged to Parvati and Lavender's dates.
Fighting his smile, Fred walked over. "Harry, my fine young man. Are you happy with your results?"
He nodded. Some of them were unexpected, but he had no objections.
"Regardless of the results, do you still intend to date my one and only sister? As you answer, please keep in mind that there are three male Weasleys and one female Weasley in the room who are very interested in your response."
Harry nodded solemnly amid the chuckles running around the room. "I have every intention of continuing to date her. Ginny is second on my list, incidentally."
Fred nodded. He turned to Parvati and Lavender. "These lists are potential only I'm afraid, my dear. My first match is George. That doesn't mean I should marry him."
"I should hope not!" Angelina, Alicia, and George shouted amid the general laughter
Now grinning, Fred went on to the room at large. "You're under no obligation to disclose your lists to anyone you don't want to. It doesn't take current friendships into account."
Harry interjected innocently, "You're saying that just because Hermione is first on my list, I shouldn't start snogging her?"
"NO!" Ginny and Ron chorused.
The room laughed.
"There you have the verdict rendered, Mr. Potter," Fred rendered in his best courtroom voice. Going back to his regular voice, he went on more seriously, "This is just a party trick, folks. Don't think of it as 'should be', think if it as 'could be'."
"That was entirely too serious for a party!" George objected. Before anyone could react, he'd pulled his wand and hit his brother with a spell.
Blinking away the spots, Harry looked at the young man standing nearby and broke into laughter, along with most of the rest of the audience.
A spotlight came out of thin air above them, showing a much changed Fred. His hair was up in a heavy wave, his pants were form-fitting black, tucked into what Harry recognised as black and white leather cowboy boots. His shirt was now very wide necked, the sleeves (ending in lurid ruffles) extended to his fingertips, and the shirt itself was covered in so many silver sequins that he was dazzling to look at with the spotlight trained on him. In short, he looked ridiculous.
He looked around the room and gave all the girls saucy smiles and winks. "Witches and wizards, it's a pleasure to be here. Shall we get the dance started?"
Fighting back his tears of laughter, Harry called out, "Dance floor and wireless are down the stairs located in the kitchen."
Most of the crowd started moving in that direction. Harry was astonished to see the spotlight follow Fred's movements. He made his way toward Lee Jordan in the flow of people. "What DID George do to him?" he asked quietly.
Lee smiled widely, teeth showing clearly against his dark skin. "Nothing. They set this up ahead of time. It's just an illusion. Fred's playing the part voluntarily."
Chuckling over the twins' antics, Harry stepped out of the flow of people in the kitchen momentarily. He gestured Rully toward him as the last of the students filed past and the wireless started up downstairs accompanied by Fred's surprisingly good singing.
"Master Harry wishes to speak with Rully?" the elf asked.
"Is everything going okay?"
Rully nodded. "Everything is well, Master Harry. Master Harry's elveses is making and delivering the food as it is being eaten by Master's guests. Nothing is being broken. Mistress Tonks told Tarry that all is well outside."
Grinning, Harry patted the elf on the shoulder. "Let me know if there's a problem, okay?"
Surprising Harry, Rully solemnly shook his head. "This is Master's party. Master and Mistress should enjoy their time and not worry. Rully will take care of it all."
Harry thought for a second. "If a security threat from outside occurs, have one of the elves tell me, even if Remus or Dora tell you not to bother, understood? Any other problems I'll leave to your discretion."
Rully bowed, humbled by the trust being shown him. "It will be as Master says."
"You're the best, Rully!" With one final smile, Harry went downstairs.
Someone had created a small platform on one end of the duelling chamber cum dance floor and Fred was standing there, crooning along with the wizarding wireless. Harry was glad to see that the spotlight that had followed Fred had dimmed to an appropriate level for the now darker room. Only a few glowing balls of light in strategic locations provided more illumination, leaving the room with low light appropriate for slow, romantic dances.
Harry found Ginny standing beside the drinks table, laughing along with something Hermione had just said. "Would the lovely lady honour this humble wizard with a dance?" he whispered into Ginny's ear from behind.
She shivered at his breath over her ear. Rapidly composing herself and turning in place, she smiled at him. "The lady accepts the gentleman's gracious offer. Lead the way, milord."
Chuckling lightly, Harry led her by the hand to an empty spot among the dancing couples. Pulling her into his arms, they started gently swaying to the song. After enjoying the feel of her soft body pressed against his, he quietly asked, "I thought you said the twins had bad singing voices."
She didn't look up from her head tucked under his chin, but he could hear the amusement in her voice. "They do. He isn't singing, he's faking it along with the wireless."
The song ended and another started up. It was a Celestina Warbeck song that Harry vaguely recognised. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Fred continue his lip-synching, ignoring the fact that the most definitely feminine voice contrasted with the male singer.
"Your brothers are crazy."
She laughed. "This is just now occurring to you?"
They danced three more slow songs before the music changed over to a faster pace.
"I'm going back upstairs," Harry whispered. She nodded, so he led them up the stairs. As he went, he saw George modifying the light globes to pulse along with the faster tempo.
Neville and Eloise came up right behind Harry and Ginny. "You aren't up to the fast dances, either?" Neville asked Harry.
At Harry's enthusiastic agreement, the two girls caught each other's eye. In unison, they rolled their eyes and muttered, "Boys!"
All four had a good laugh.
Once they were back up in the kitchen, Harry said, "Neville, Eloise, I actually needed to talk with you. Is now a good time?"
After looking at each other for a moment, the two shrugged. Harry nodded and waved them toward the stairs. "Ginny, you are certainly welcome to come along if you want to, or you could stay here and enjoy the party instead."
She shook her head. "I know you're planning something big, but I don't know what. I'm curious."
Nodding agreeably, Harry pulled out his wand and temporarily brought down a barrier ward, allowing the four to go up the stairs.
"You're keeping everyone downstairs?" Neville asked.
Harry smirked. "With so many couples, don't you think I should keep the party away from the spare bedrooms?"
Neville and Eloise chuckled nervously.
Ginny pouted. "You're no fun, Harry."
Harry snorted in good humour. "I'm just afraid Pomfrey and McGonagall would have my hide if I didn't take SOME precautions."
The other three laughed as Harry opened the door to the study, ushering them past. Once everyone was comfortably arranged on conjured loveseats, Harry pointed his wand at the door. "Colloportus." As the room sealed, the noise from outside dropped to nothing.
Neville raised an eyebrow. "What's with all the secrecy, Harry?"
Eloise, though still shy around the Gryffindors she didn't know well, looked equally interested.
Harry leaned comfortably back, gently pulling Ginny's head to his shoulder. "Before we left Hogwarts, I asked Professor Sprout for the best Herbology students for a project I had in mind. She gave me two names. It shouldn't surprise you two to learn that you're the best herbologists in the school."
The young couple smiled a bit timidly at the praise.
"She added something interesting, though," Harry continued. He smiled at Eloise. "It seems that YOU are also a gifted potion brewer, which is something else I'll be needing."
Eloise, now blushing spectacularly, dropped her gaze to her hands.
Neville turned to his date in surprise. "You're good in Potions?"
She gave an embarrassed little shrug but looked pleased.
Harry raised his wand. "Accio Moste Potente Potions." The thick book jumped from its place on the desk and flew through the air at him. He caught it easily and handed the tome to Eloise, who was staring in astonishment. "I marked a page. Given the ingredients, do you think you could learn to brew that potion?"
Eloise blinked a moment at the book title before shaking her head and opening it to the mark Harry had left in it. She stared at the potion name for a moment before looking up at Harry. "You're kidding me, right?"
Harry calmly shook his head.
Neville's face slowly cleared of the shock that the potion had instilled in him as well. He gave a solemn nod and smiled. "Where'd you get the book, Harry? It's really rare."
Harry gave his friend a humourless grin. "That is one of the more benign items I got from the Black Estate."
"What is it?" Ginny burst out, finally out of patience.
"Wolfsbane," Eloise breathed, reading avidly.
"Wolfsbane? But Remus already gets Wolfsbane from Snape," Ginny objected, looking at Harry.
"Yes, by Dumbledore's orders. Now that the war is all but over, how long do you think Snape will continue? You know how much he hates Remus." Harry sighed. "Remus is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though." Taking a breath, he revealed his full plan. "I want to help all werewolves, not just him. The quickest way to help them is through Wolfsbane. I just inherited more money than I know what to do with. I figure I can buy someplace, set it up right, and have a single place for werewolves to go every full moon. That's just in the short run, though. I'm also going to try to get the laws changed. With a few precautions around the full moon, there's no reason to continue to treat werewolves like they're being treated right now. The restrictions Remus has to live with are beyond inhumane."
"Sounds like you've found your crusade," Neville observed simply.
Harry let out a breath he didn't even realise he was holding. "Yeah, I guess I'm a little worked up over it. Remus is the only link I have left to my family -"
"No need to say more," Neville quietly interrupted. "So, you need me to grow the ingredients and Eloise to brew this every month, is that the idea?"
Harry nodded. "That's the idea. The mark she took out is a list of the plants. Neville, I'd like you to begin making a list of what you'd need in order to grow those in the quantities I've indicated."
"If you're serious about changing the laws," Ginny said thoughtfully, "you'll need to bring Hermione into the conspiracy. Her work with SPEW two years ago shows that she cares. She could easily run that end of the project. With your fame, you can certainly bring the issue the attention you'll need."
Neville grinned. "His fame? How about both of you? You helped bring down You-Know-Who, you know."
Ginny made a face.
Chuckling, Neville started looking over the list.
"Maybe," Eloise finally said.
"Maybe? What does 'maybe' mean?"
"This is a very difficult potion to make, Harry. I'm not sure I could get it right the first time." She took a breath. "Honestly, I'd feel better if Professor Snape helped me the first couple times I brewed it."
Harry grimaced. "I was afraid you'd say that. I suppose it makes sense, though. I wonder how I could get him to help . . ."
"Let me work on that?" Eloise suggested. "No offence, Harry, but I think he likes me better than you."
Neville laughed out loud. "Eloise, Snape likes Blast-Ended Skrewts better than he likes Harry. Why is that, anyway?" he turned to Harry with a questioning expression.
Harry sighed. "Remember me telling everyone on Halloween that Snape was in Peter Pettigrew's year at Hogwarts? Well, Snape had a blood feud going against a group of Gryffindors in his year. One of them was my father, another was my godfather, and the last is Remus. Considering that, is it really surprising he would cheerfully use me as one of his finely diced potion ingredients?"
Eloise's lip twitched. "No, I suppose not."
"Getting back on topic, I'd like to hire the both of you over the summer. I'll provide all the supplies. You, Neville, grow everything on that list and harvest it at the appropriate times. Eloise, you brew Wolfsbane for full moons."
"If you're going to have a full greenhouse setup, since I assume you'll want to do this year-round, there are other things you can grow at the same time as all of this," Neville waved the list slightly, "that will pull in some sort of income for you."
"Grand idea, Nev. Could you put together some possible lists? Better yet, could you and Professor Sprout get together and figure out exactly what, and in what quantities, we'll need and then what will be the most cost effective after that? You have carte blanche to list anything and everything you'll need."
"They haven't agreed, Harry," Ginny dryly remarked.
Harry looked momentarily sheepish. "Sorry, I got carried away. Would you two be willing to work for me doing this?"
Neville and Eloise broke into laughter at Harry's enthusiasm.
"If I can get Professor Snape to help me, yes," Eloise said, calming herself.
Neville nodded his agreement as well. "The lists you want me to put together depend on how much greenhouse space I have, Harry."
"Whatever two herbologists can deal with," Harry answered, eyes shifting back and forth between him and Eloise.
"Anything else?" Harry asked after a brief pause. When they shook their heads, Harry stood and helped Ginny up. "Incidentally, please don't mention this to anyone except Professors Sprout and Snape. I'd prefer this project doesn't go public quite yet. I'll be bringing more folks into the plans, Hermione and Remus for instance, but if this leaks out then the Werewolf Regulation Department will probably get in my way."
"My lips are sealed," Neville offered.
The two girls nodded agreement.
Harry removed his privacy spell and led the four back downstairs. Without any real direction, they ended up clustered around the tree in the parlour.
"Ten minutes until midnight!" Fred's amplified voice came from the dance room.
Slipping his arms around Ginny, Harry asked, "Are there any wizarding customs about New Year's that I should be warned about?"
"Have you heard about New Year's Resolutions?"
"There's one more, but I'll wait until midnight to explain that one to you."
"So long as it involves kissing a devastatingly cute redhead, I'm all for it."
"I'll be sure to let Ron know," Ginny teased.
Harry made a face that caused Neville and Eloise to chuckle.
Everyone started drifting toward the stairs. By the time everyone from the party had packed into the dance floor, the live Wizarding Wireless feed from Diagon Alley was announcing it was only one minute until the new year. The excitement gradually picked up until everyone was counting down the seconds.
" . . . Three . . . Two . . . ONE . . . HAPPY NEW YEAR!" Sparks of every colour imaginable came from all directions. Fred and George used their wands to create loud bangs for a few seconds before Alicia and Angelina pulled them into searing kisses.
Harry turned to the young woman in his arms. "What's this tradition you were talking about earlier?" he asked quietly.
"This," she breathed, pulling his head down for a long, sensuous kiss of their own.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Great party, Harry," Ernie complimented him an hour later. Things were slowly drawing to a close and Harry was saying goodbye to each of his guests as they Flooed out.
"Thanks for coming, Ernie, Hannah," he nodded and smiled at the couple.
Rully entered the room unobtrusively and tugged at Harry's pant leg as Ernie and Hannah left.
Harry knelt down. "Is everything alright?"
"Master Harry wished to know if anything happened outside?"
Harry gave a sharp nod, eyes suddenly hardening.
"Mistress Tonks was telling Delly of an attempt by dark wizards to enter Potter Manor. Mistress Tonks is saying everything is under control, but Mistress Tonks wishes for some assistance."
Harry nearly panicked. If Tonks was asking for help, it must be pretty bad.
"Master Harry," Rully quickly squeaked. "Mistress Tonks is saying all of the invaders is being taken care of. Mistress Tonks is asking for the help in moving them. There is no fighting being needed, Master Harry."
Harry sighed, knowing that he couldn't leave unless it was a true emergency. Absently thanking Rully, Harry looked around the room. Stepping to Hermione quickly, he whispered into her ear, "Get Fred and George up here right now. Don't cause a panic, but I need 'em up here."
Hermione nodded and moved toward the kitchen without a word.
Harry bid a distracted goodbye to Luna before Fred and George appeared, sans costume. Their merry expressions evaporated as they caught sight of Harry. Pulling them to a secluded corner, he told them what he knew, sending them out the front door to help Tonks and Remus. Fortunately, they left without anyone having taken great note of it.
"What's up?" Ron asked quietly, Ginny and Hermione looking worriedly on.
"I don't know, completely. Tonks asked for a hand outside." Harry pulled out his mirror. "Remus Lupin."
Remus came onto the other end immediately. "It's under control, Harry. We just need a hand moving the bodies."
"Bodies?" Harry asked in alarm.
"Stunned bodies," Remus assured Harry.
"Fred and George are on their way. Do you need more help than that?"
"That'll be fine. Enjoy the rest of your party, Harry."
Harry made a face but put the mirror away without argument.
"Why'd you send them?" Ron asked.
Hermione shot him a reproving look. "They're Order members. We're not."
Harry nodded. "Let's start working on clearing the folks out. You three please stay, as well as Alicia and Angelina."
The remaining guests only put up token resistance as Harry good naturedly shooed all of them home. Every one of them thanked Harry for a good party and said they looked forward to seeing him back at Hogwarts.
Finally everyone else had left and Harry collapsed into a seat.
"We've been patient, Harry," Alicia said, still standing. "NOW will you tell us where George and Fred are?"
"With those two, it's hard telling," Ginny said humorously, curling up next to Harry and trying for a bit of misdirection.
"Then why did you ask us to stay?" Angelina calmly asked.
"Because he can't bear to have us leave?" George guessed as he strode into the room.
"We are, after all, two of his favourite people," Fred said, coming in just behind his twin.
"Yeah, that must be it," Harry agreed in good humour. "No, actually, I would like to invite you all to stay the night. I've more than enough guest rooms, and it's getting late."
Harry said, "Molly is okay with it, Ron, Hermione. I told her about it earlier."
Ron waved that off. "Where's Ginny sleeping?"
"Harry's bed," Ginny answered with a growl, causing skyrocketing eyebrows from Alicia and Angelina. "Is that quite alright with you, RONALD?"
Ron's face fell into a mulish expression.
"On second thought, I don't care if it's okay with you," Ginny decided. She turned to Harry. "I'll be in bed, love. Come on up after you have everything taken care of here. I'll be waiting." She turned and strode regally up the stairs.
"Bloody hell," Alicia whispered, wide eyes still tracking Ginny.
George chuckled and draped an arm over her shoulder. "It isn't news," he assured her. "She's been coming over here all holiday." He turned to Harry. "Spare rooms?"
Harry nodded. "Upstairs, first two rooms on the right are available."
"Well, that'd be the four of us, then," Fred said, wrapping an arm around Angelina and steering her toward the stairs. "Night, all."
The girls called their own good nights, Alicia blushing faintly.
"Don't forget your Silencing Charms," Harry added, trying to get a rise out of the twins.
Their laughter echoed back.
Harry turned to Ron and Hermione. "Second and third rooms on the left are available upstairs as well." He paused. "Or you could share a room if you'd prefer."
They both flushed but didn't react otherwise.
Smirking, Harry turned toward the front doors. "Good night, you two. Do have fun," he tossed over his shoulder.
Outside, he looked around for a moment, quickly spotting someone walking across the lawn with a body floating along in front of them under control of the wand held up. Advancing cautiously, Harry recognised Remus and called out for him to stop as he caught up.
"Hi, Harry. Happy New Year, by the way. Everyone go home already?"
"Happy New Year. Hermione, Alicia, Angelina and the four Weasleys are staying the night. Everyone else has left."
"Purely out of curiosity, how many rooms are they using?" Tonks broke in, directing another floating body.
"We're all paired up, if that's what you're asking," Harry said mildly. He looked at the two bodies, not surprised that they were both wearing black robes. Their heads were hanging forward far enough that he didn't see either face. "What happened?"
Tonks grinned evilly. "Ten of 'em. They tripped one of my Perimeter Charms at the east edge of the property. The spread of Stunning Spells I had got all of 'em, though. Bunch of bloody amateurs, really."
Three of the elves, not immediately identifiable in the low light, were directing the remaining eight bodies with pointed fingers.
"These is the last of the dark wizards, Master Harry."
Harry sighed and looked at Tonks. "How do I get a hold of Aurors at this time of night?"
Tonks's grin ratcheted up a notch, both in size and wickedness. "Don't bother. Let's stash 'em in the duelling chamber. Take their wands and seal the room, and none of 'em'll be able to do anything except scream at each other. That is if any of 'em wake up before dawn, which I really doubt."
"Then turn them over?" Harry asked, becoming concerned about her expression.
Remus shook his head with a chuckle. "No. While they were helping us find our stunned guests here, Fred and George had a good idea. Dora and I will take care of them. Don't worry about it."
Harry frowned at Remus. "Do I want to know?"
"We'll explain tomorrow at breakfast," Remus promised, grinning in a way to prove he was indeed a Marauder.
Harry sighed. "Fine." He knew he could trust the two of them with his life, so he wasn't worried about the Death Eaters getting loose.
The werewolf, the Auror, and the three elves moved past and entered the side door straight into the kitchen. Harry followed them downstairs only to find that the remaining four elves had been busy. All the detritus from the party had already been cleared out of the room, restoring the entire space into empty stone walls, floor and ceiling. The ten wizards were laid out on the floor side-by-side, hoods removed.
Harry wasn't surprised to recognise Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Ted Nott, Pansy Parkinson, and Millicent Bulstrode. The remaining four weren't immediately identifiable, but were a bit older. Harry checked each arm, moderately surprised that none of them were Death Eaters.
"Wannabes," Tonks mentioned, holding up a white mask. "They don't have the Dark Mark, but they dressed the part."
Harry's face twisted in disgust.
"Go on to bed, Harry. We'll take care of them for now. Tomorrow, we'll deal with them more permanently," Lupin said.
Shrugging, Harry bid the two of them and all the elves a good night. Walking upstairs, he wasn't all that surprised to find all four kneazles in the kitchen, staring at the doorway leading to the stairs he'd just climbed. Their hair was standing straight up and they were all emitting low growls.
One more flight of stairs, and Harry walked down the silent hallway before entering his bedroom.
He smiled when he spotted Ginny in the bed, her bare arms out from under the comforter as she held Sirius's Animagus notebook.
She looked up and smiled at him. "Hey. You get everyone settled?"
Harry nodded, sitting on the bed as he pulled his shoes off. "Yeah. Our sleeping arrangement sure surprised Alicia, though."
She smiled at that before her face creased in concern. "What happened outside?"
Harry's wand went onto the nightstand opposite Ginny's. He started stripping off his clothes and tossing them down the laundry chute. "Dora's Perimeter Charm and stunning barrage caught ten of the DEiTs. Dora, Remus and the elves have them in the duelling chamber now. They said they have some plan to deal with them. It'll wait until tomorrow, though." Down to his boxers, he crawled into bed as Ginny put the book down beside her wand. "Nox."
As he got comfortable, she rolled over on top of him and started dropping kisses on his neck and upper chest.
With a start, he realised she hadn't worn anything at all to bed, a first for her. He ran his hands along her back, enjoying the feel of the warm, bare skin under his hands.
She continued to rub up against him, wrecking havoc with his nervous system.
"Ginny," he croaked, rapidly losing the ability of intelligent speech, "what are you doing?"
She gave a throaty chuckle. "If you have to ask, Harry, I'm not doing it right."
He cleared his throat. "No, I mean -"
"With your permission, Mr. Potter, I'd like to fulfil one of my New Year's Resolutions," she whispered, gazing up at him.
His eyes pinned her in place, first wide with surprise before softening. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly, one hand coming up to gently trace down the side of her face.
Eyes shining, she nodded.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry and Ginny, arm in arm, entered the dining room the next morning to find everyone else already seated. "Morning, all," Harry greeted them as he held a chair for Ginny.
Answers ranged from Tonks's chirpy return well wish to Ron's semi-intelligible grunt.
Harry said, "As host, I suppose there's one last item, or two as the case may be, that I should offer to my guests to assure they have everything they may need. So with that in mind, do any of you gentlemen need a Nonpater Potion?" Harry fought to keep his face politely inquisitive instead of blushing a shade to rival his girlfriend's hair. He realised making such a straightforward offer was of questionable taste, but he was also insanely curious to see how Hermione, and more importantly Ron, would react.
Fred and George quirked an eyebrow, but both politely declined.
Harry turned to Ron, still holding his questioning expression.
"Huh?" Ron asked. "Nonpater? What's that?"
Clenching his jaw to keep his expression neutral, he turned to Hermione. "Does he need one?"
Her eyes fell to her plate, refusing to look at any of the highly amused expressions aimed at her. She merely nodded.
It was only through sheer force of will that Harry's expression did not change. "Ladies, Prophylaxis Potion?"
Alicia and Angelina shook their heads, still looking toward Hermione.
For her part, Hermione merely muttered, "No, thank you. My last dose is still good."
Nodding and trying to still keep his face under control after the revelations, Harry turned to Borry who was placing his breakfast plate down. "A Nonpater Potion for Ron, please, Borry."
Borry nodded. "At once, Master Harry." The elf cracked out, only to reappear five seconds later to put a goblet on the table next to Ron's breakfast tea.
Ron looked at it then to Hermione and finally to Harry. "What is this?"
"Nonpater Potion, my dear brother," Fred answered, eyes rivalling Dumbledore in a good mood.
"I know that, you prat. I just want to know what it is."
"Nonpater is in Latin, Ron," Harry nudged him in the right direction, savouring the situation.
Sighing in exasperation, Ron leaned back and frowned for a moment. Muttering aloud, he pieced together the puzzle since everyone was refusing to answer him directly. "Nonpater. Non is not. Pater is father. Not father? A potion to cause . . ." He trailed off and his eyes bugged out.
"Yes, it is what it sounds like," Remus confirmed.
Ron's eyes shot from Ginny to Harry and finally to Hermione. Everyone could nearly see the thought processes going on behind Ron's eyes. Sighing in defeat, he took the goblet and tossed it back. "Hmm, not bad," he muttered, blushing furiously.
"No, doesn't taste all that bad, does it?" Harry agreed.
Ron muttered something and went back to attacking his breakfast.
"Well, now that we know we all had such a . . . relaxing night -"
Remus stopped speaking as most of the room broke into laughter.
Ron and Hermione kept their heads down through the commotion, red-faced.
"Sorry, Ron, Hermione," Harry apologised when he calmed. "I didn't mean to embarrass you so."
"What a momentous occasion," Fred mimed wiping a tear from his eye.
"Our ickle-Ronniekins is all grown up," George agreed with a look of pride.
"We should do something to celebrate."
"What is that Muggle custom? Passing out cigars?"
Harry, Tonks and Remus broke into fresh laughter. Hermione appeared to be laughing as well, but she still kept her head down.
Taking a breath to calm herself, Tonks explained to to the pure-blood magicians wearing confused looks, "I think you've got the wrong custom. You pass out cigars at the birth of a child."
Fred and George roared with laughter at the irony of picking that particular custom incorrectly. Even Ron managed an embarrassed smile.
"As I was saying," Remus tried again, "now that we're all awake, we need to decide what to do with our guests."
Alicia and Angelina were confused.
Seeing their expressions, Ginny hastened to explain, "No, not anyone at the table. The ones in the duelling chamber."
The girls continued to look confused.
Remus and Harry looked to the twins.
Fred subtly shook his head.
Without missing a beat, Tonks explained to the two girls, "Last night as the party was winding down, Fred and George helped Remus and I with a little problem. Knowing how high profile the group here was last night, I'd set up Perimeter Charms around the property. We managed to catch ten Death Eater wannabes. They're currently in the duelling chamber."
"I just want to know how they knew about the party," Ginny grumbled.
"Colin and Dennis never responded to the invitation. I can ask them if they even received them. If not, I think that's the culprit," Harry guessed, already having thought about the same thing.
Tonks nodded. "Could be. At any rate," she turned back to Alicia and Angelina, "your boyfriends came up with an idea of what to do with them." She explained on for a few minutes, drawing incredulous looks from the girls and Harry.
"Bloody brilliant," Ron decided.
"It does solve the problem, Harry," Remus said. "Time it right and there's no way it could be traced back to us."
Harry's mouth slowly curved into a grin. "What time does the voting poll open?"
"Well, we'd better get moving so we're there on time, hadn't we?"
Remus stood and moved toward the kitchen. Tonks went to the parlour to make a couple of Floo calls.