The Unknown Power
Mid July to Early September
Harry / Ginny ship and Ron / Hermione ship
A big thank you to my betas: Cami for having a finer comb than I and Dale for pointing out that the trees I kept stumbling upon WERE the forest.
I borrowed the names Prophylaxis and Nonpater Potions from Barb LP and Pete Murray with their permissions.
Coming through a cloud that left yet another layer of cold moisture upon his body, Harry Potter gave a relieved smile. The reason for such an unlikely reaction was simple: the Burrow had just come into view below them.
Just like the previous year, a detachment from the Order of the Phoenix had shown up at his uncle's home and spirited him off into the night. Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody led a group that included Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt and Remus Lupin. Harry didn't recognise the rest of the half-dozen witches and wizards. The Order had clearly been recruiting.
Giving a hand signal to the other broomstick riders, Remus led Harry toward the front door, Moody in close pursuit. The rest of the ad hoc group landed a short distance away, outside of the new Anti-Apparition Wards, and Disapparated after a quick wave.
Harry helped Remus retrieve his trunk, which was suspended from Lupin's broom, while Moody studied the surrounding land intently. As the three wizards approached the door, it swung open and Mrs. Weasley approached, arms wide open in invitation.
"Harry!" she greeted her de facto seventh son, burying him in a massive hug. Remus received a similar welcome, but Moody got merely a nod and a smile. That was probably just as well. Harry didn't want to contemplate what the paranoid, grizzled old Auror would do if he were on the business end of one of Molly Weasley's ferocious hugs.
"Come in, come in," she bid the three. "Warm yourselves in the front room. Go ahead and drop that trunk there. Hot tea in half a moment."
After dropping his trunk and broom in the indicated corner, Harry stiffly made his way into the living room of the Burrow, shucking his sopping wet cloak in the process. Once there, his smile blossomed as he spotted his best friend.
"Blimey, Harry," Ron said with a grin. "I think you missed a spot there. Part of your back is still dry."
Harry groaned as he spread his cloak in front of the fireplace. "In case you didn't notice, it's kinda raining right now."
Remus snorted in humour has he spread his cloak near Harry's. "That's not rain, Harry. That's called a thunderstorm. Repeat after me. Thun-der-storm."
Harry looked at Remus in mild amusement. "Just because you were named my guardian, Remus, doesn't mean that you can treat me as a child."
"Sure he can," Ginny corrected him cheerfully as she came down the stairs. "It's his parental prerogative."
"Thank you ever so much for the support, Ginny," Harry said in mock aggravation as Remus gave her a grateful bow.
She smiled and curtsied back to her one-time professor.
"So how's your summer been, Harry?" Ron asked carefully.
Remus and Ginny also paused what they were doing to hear the answer to Ron's question. Harry had been corresponding with many people, but nobody was quite sure of his emotional state after losing his godfather in the running battle in June.
Harry sighed as he rubbed his hands in front of the fire. "Better, Ron, better," he finally murmured, staring into the dancing flames. "Thank you for the letters. They really did help."
"No problem, mate," Ron said softly.
Ginny was the only one to hear him. She gave her brother a smile as their mother came out of the kitchen.
"Tea is ready, everyone," she invited.
Harry let everyone else get ahead before falling into line behind Ginny. "Thank you, too, Ginny," he said quietly. "I've been thinking on the advice you gave me."
She smiled back at him, but it was brittle.
Entering the kitchen, Harry saw Moody talking to Lupin for a moment before Mad-Eye walked out after a sharp nod toward Harry.
Remus moved around the table to hold a chair out for Ginny beside where Harry had already seated himself.
Smiling at the courtesy, Ginny primly sat down before turning to her brother. "See how that's done, Ron?"
"Whazzat?" Ron asked, looking up from his tea and a biscuit.
"Holding the chair for the girl," she patiently explained. "You could learn something about how to treat Hermione."
Ron sputtered for a few seconds before regaining use of his tongue. "What makes you think -"
"Oh, give it up, Ron," Harry said in exasperation.
Ron, for his part, clamped his mouth shut and refused to respond to the teasing.
"And you," Ginny rounded on the snickering Harry, "should be paying attention as well."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry replied with a gleam in his eye. "I'm taking mental notes on how to properly treat a lady, never fear."
"What's this?" Remus asked, accepting a mug from Molly with a smile.
"Ginny has been giving me girl advice all summer," Harry explained.
"He refuses to tell me who he's interested in, though," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
"It's not Cho again, is it?" Ron asked in trepidation.
"No, it's not," Harry assured him. "It IS someone you know, though."
Ron frowned slightly for a moment, clearly running through a list of Hogwarts students in his mind. "Who -"
He stopped at Harry's raised hand. "That's all I'm going say for now about it. If I decide to do something about it, I promise that you'll be among the first to know."
"So long as it isn't Pansy," Ron teased.
Harry snapped his fingers in disappointment. "Darn, you've figured us out."
Ron looked horrified. Ginny started coughing after she attempted to swallow and laugh simultaneously.
Harry rolled his eyes as he patted Ginny on the back. "Relax, Ron. It isn't a Slytherin."
Ron breathed a sigh of relief before going back to his biscuit.
Remus and Molly shared a smile.
A pop sounded behind Harry, startling him into drawing his wand, standing and aiming at the unexpected noise so quickly that his chair fell over backwards. At that, he beat Remus by less than a second and Ron and Ginny by little more than that.
Albus Dumbledore blinked at the four wands suddenly pointed at him. "Pleasant afternoon, all," he calmly said.
"Merlin, Albus, don't do that to me," Remus muttered, slowly lowering his wand.
"I thought there were Anti-Apparition Wards up," Ron frowned, also stowing his wand.
"Indeed," Dumbledore cheerfully agreed, completely ignoring the fact that he'd just gone through them.
Relaxing, everyone reclaimed their seats, Molly bustling off to get another mug and more biscuits for her newest guest.
Dumbledore took a seat and studied Harry over the top of his glasses. "Hello, Harry."
"Headmaster," Harry coolly replied.
Dumbledore sighed. "So you still have not forgiven an old man his mistakes?"
Harry shrugged. "Not totally, sir. But I am getting better. Nothing is broken yet, after all."
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. "Forgiveness is a long process, and I suppose I should be thankful for where we are."
Harry didn't reply to Dumbledore's words, just shaking his head at Ron's questioning look.
"I see you have not explained all of the events to your friends."
Harry's eyes hardened. "Last summer you made it abundantly clear how dangerous putting anything sensitive into owl post was. I just got here. I haven't had a chance to speak with them about it yet."
Dumbledore said nothing, simply looking at Harry.
"I don't believe you want to be present for that, Headmaster," Harry calmly advised.
Molly sucked in a breath.
Dumbledore immediately raised a hand to her, and she stilled. "He is most likely correct. I have not been without fault in the past year in regards to young Harry here," he acknowledged.
Harry didn't react. Everyone else settled back down, Ron and Ginny with frowns of confusion.
"For what it may be worth, Harry, I do apologise for my behavior towards you for the past year. I believe I explained my reasoning to you?"
"Yes you did," Harry acknowledged, stopping there.
Apparently knowing he wouldn't be getting any further on that front for now, Dumbledore said, "I came for several purposes. First, to learn how your summer has progressed."
He shrugged. "Not too bad. Moody scared Uncle Vernon enough that they all left me alone. You all probably noticed that I was a much more active correspondent than usual. I've even got all of my summer homework finished already, even though I don't know what courses I'm going to be taking for sure."
Ron looked genuinely horrified. Remus smiled.
Nodding, Dumbledore continued, "Secondarily, I have your OWL results." He reached up and appeared to pull two envelopes out of thin air, handing one to Harry and the other to Ron. "Your Astronomy marks took into account the . . . distraction. Harry, you are permitted to re-take the History of Magic exam if you wish due to the circumstances."
When neither boy moved to open the envelopes (Ron was examining his with a decidedly frightened expression), Dumbledore continued, "On to my third topic: What you called the Defense Association. Would you perchance be willing to continue that into the next school year?"
Harry nodded. He'd already thought this subject through and knew what he wanted out of it. "With a few conditions, yes, sir. I need an open pass into the Restricted Section for myself and Hermione to do research for the classes." At Dumbledore's grudging agreement, Harry continued, "I would also like some sort of official status for the DA."
"It will be an officially sanctioned club," the headmaster assured Harry.
Ron and Ginny shook their heads. "Harry should get at least prefect status for teaching it," Ginny stated.
Dumbledore thought about it for a moment. "There have been times in Hogwarts history when a student was granted the title of Associate Professor when they assisted a full Professor. If you are willing, we could make your Defense Association an adjunct to the Defense Against Dark Arts class. Officially, you would be under the direction of that professor."
"Depends on who that professor is," Harry hedged, remembering most of his previous DADA professors with something less than affection.
The twinkle came back into Dumbledore's eyes. "I do not believe you will have any issues working for this individual, though I will not reveal their identity for the moment. Contingent on your acceptance of the Defense Against Dark Arts professor, do you agree to these terms?"
"I have sole and absolute say on who is allowed to join and who is not, fourth years and up only, and they all must sign a magically binding club loyalty contract," Harry stated, not wanting a repeat of the Marietta situation from last year or, even worse, Malfoy to join.
Dumbledore clearly wasn't happy with the conditions but agreed without comment after a few more seconds. "Lastly, I wish to discuss your Occlumency lessons with you."
Harry sighed. He'd also expected this conversation, though he wasn't looking forward to it. Turning to Molly and Remus he said, "I have a hypothetical question for you two. If someone were to attempt to teach you sword fighting by handing you a sword, saying 'defend yourself', never giving you any more instruction than that, and then beating you senseless with his own sword over and over, how would you classify that teacher?"
Molly was glowering, but she didn't respond.
Remus had a raised eyebrow. "Very poor," he simply answered.
Harry turned to Dumbledore. "There you have it, sir. Snape is a very poor Occlumency teacher."
Dumbledore frowned slightly. "Surely you have exaggerated -"
Harry shook his head firmly, cutting off Dumbledore. "'Clear your mind.' That is the ONLY instruction he ever gave me. Nothing on how to do it. Nothing on what he was doing or how to defend my mind. I'm convinced that his 'lessons' did more harm than good."
Molly Weasley looked ready to hex Snape the next time she saw him.
Remus was now looking angry. The sight of an angry werewolf made Harry very glad it wasn't him who was the source of his ire.
Dumbledore's voice was grave, "How have your dreams and visions been, Harry?"
"For the first three weeks, they were awful," he answered bluntly.
Dumbledore and Lupin nodded, already knowing this.
"After that point, I discovered another . . . mental technique that helped. The visions have been manageable since then."
"What is this technique, if I may ask?"
Harry chewed on a lip. "It's somewhat personal, sir. I'd prefer not to discuss it."
"Very well," Dumbledore answered after a short pause. "In that case, I find myself somewhat at a loss with regards on how to shield your mind from Voldemort. There is no other Occlumency teacher available at this time."
Harry didn't blink, simply staring at Dumbledore. "As you say, sir." For a few moments, nobody quite knew how to respond to Harry's words.
Remus hesitantly spoke up, "It's not a perfect solution, but I can teach you some meditation techniques, Harry." At Harry's surprised look, he continued, "With my . . . condition, I need to stay calm. My father was a Muggle and he helped me learn some Muggle methods for keeping my emotions under control. Maybe the same thing will help you."
"Thank you, Remus," Harry said with a genuine smile. He frowned in curiosity. "You're Muggle-born?"
Remus shook his head. "Half and half."
"Very well," Dumbledore agreed. "Remus, I believe it would be a good idea for you to teach Harry those Muggle meditation techniques. Perhaps between his mysterious technique and meditation, Occlumency will not be needed."
Remus nodded his agreement.
Dumbledore stood. "Molly, thank you for the tea. Do have a happy birthday next week, Harry. I shall see you at Headquarters tomorrow, Remus?" Getting Lupin's agreement, Dumbledore Disapparated.
"No, I don't have any questions," Harry grumbled under his breath, so low that even Remus's advanced hearing didn't catch it.
Remus took a sip of his tea, studying the envelopes in front of Ron and Harry. "Are you two going to open those?"
Harry shrugged and opened his, totally unconcerned. He scanned down the page and announced, "Eight. 'O' with merit in Defense. 'O' in Charms and Potions. 'E' in Transfiguration and Creatures. 'A' in Astronomy and Herbology. 'P' in Divination. 'D' in History."
The room broke into a babble of Weasley voices.
Harry calmly folded the note and tucked it back into the envelope.
Remus was studying him in interest. "You don't seem all that excited or concerned, Harry," his guardian commented, voice barely audible to the young man sitting next to him.
Harry shrugged. "Nothing I can do to alter them now. Why get excited about it?"
"Albus said you could re-take the History one," Remus mentioned.
"Why bother? What Binns teaches is a total waste anyway. If he covered the First War or Grindelwald, then I'd pay attention, but the endless Goblin Rebellions are useless to me. I'm not going to fight a goblin. I'm going to fight a dark wizard."
The Weasleys had quieted down, listening to Harry and Lupin. Everyone became silent after Harry's last statement, calm though it was.
He looked around at the solemn faces and just barely managed to keep from rolling his eyes. "Ron, how'd you do?"
Taking his cue to change the subject, Ron reluctantly opened his envelope. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the parchment out and unfolded it, reading quickly. His face fell a bit. "Eight. 'O' in Defense and Creatures. 'E in Charms and Potions. 'A' in Transfiguration, Astronomy, Herbology and History. 'P' in Divination."
"Well done, mate," Harry smiled. "Hermione will be proud of you."
"I didn't do as well as you, and I can't get into the Auror track now." Ron looked distressed at this, whereas his mother looked quietly relieved.
Harry ignored her reaction in favour of shrugging at Ron. "Think of it this way: You don't have to ever have Snape in class again."
Ron grinned slightly. "Nice try, Harry. I guess I'll just have to settle for being the Cannon's Keeper." Everyone laughed.
Molly spoke up, "For what it's worth, I am proud of both of you." She stood and hugged both boys.
"Thanks, Mum," Ron mumbled.
"Yeah, thanks, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said. "Just out of curiosity, Remus, how'd my parents and Sirius do?"
Remus smiled a bit as his mind traveled back in time. "James and Sirius were best in Transfiguration. Lily was a genius at Charms. You're better in Defense than any of them, though. You can't compare yourself to them, Harry. You're all individuals."
Harry nodded. "I know. I was just curious. I guess it makes sense that Dad and Sirius were good at Transfiguration."
Remus chuckled. "There is that. Your mother, on the other hand, was the best in the school at Charms. She was the brains behind one or two of the . . . items we produced."
Harry grinned, thinking of the Marauders Map.
Remus stood. "I'd best be going. I'll be back tomorrow morning to go over some legal stuff with you, Harry. We can also figure out a schedule for me to teach you meditation then. I'll leave you in Molly's capable hands until then and let you settle in, okay?" Seeing Harry's nod, he retrieved his cloak before walking out of the Burrow with a wave.
A comfortable silence fell upon the cosy kitchen, and Harry sighed, settling his hands around his teacup.
"Hi, Harry. How's your summer been?" Ginny asked cheerfully.
Harry turned his head and grinned at the small redhead. "Pretty quiet until Moody and his rescue squad showed up this morning. Thank you for asking."
"Have you had lunch?" Molly asked abruptly, realizing that Harry would have been traveling though lunchtime.
He waved her off. "Not all that hungry, honestly." At her scowl, he explained, "We stopped and had a bite to eat when Moody thought he saw a Roc flying ahead of us."
"How was your flight?" Ron asked.
"Cold and wet," Harry said succinctly.
Molly darted forward to check Harry for fever.
Harry sighed and looked to the two younger Weasleys in the room.
Ginny hid a grin behind taking a sip of her tea. Ron didn't bother to hide his.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Harry, can I talk with you?" Ginny asked hesitantly after Remus had left late the next morning.
"Sure," Harry agreed distractedly, head still spinning with all the information Remus had just given him. More guardianship papers, meditation tutoring, and new Prongs and Padfoot stories all fought for attention in his mind.
Seeing that Harry wasn't paying complete attention to her, she took his unresisting elbow and drew him toward the door. "We'll be near the paddock," she told her mother on the way out the back door.
Harry fully became aware of his surroundings again after Ginny had sat him down in the field and was leaning against a nearby tree, studying him. He looked around at his new surroundings for a moment before smiling up at her. "Kidnapping me so you can have your way with me, Miss Weasley?" he asked, tone somewhere between teasing and nervous.
Raising an eyebrow at his blatant teasing, she grinned back as much as her shock allowed. "In your dreams, Harry."
Harry mumbled something that she didn't hear.
"No," she answered the question instead of pursuing whatever it was he'd said. "I came out here to ask how you're really doing. You may be able to fool Mum and Professor Dumbledore, but you're not fooling me."
Harry sighed. "I AM frustrated with Dumbledore," he acknowledged.
She was momentarily surprised, expecting more of a fight.
"Surprised I admitted anything?" he asked with a grin. "Yeah. I decided early in the summer that I would try to hold fewer secrets. That reminds me, when we get back to school, I need to talk with all of you about the prophecy."
"You're frustrated with Dumbledore?" she prompted, sinking into a sitting position, laying aside the prophecy discussion for later.
"You didn't notice how he treated me yesterday? I don't blame you, really. It was pretty subtle." He started ticking items off on his fingers. "Making me out to be the guilty party for not having forgiven him for what happened last year. Why did he bother to ask how my summer was? You know that the Order had a bodyguard on me all summer, so he already knows how my summer went. Never one word about losing Sirius, despite how much he knows Sirius meant to me. He was expecting me to resume my Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape, despite how he knows Snape and I feel about each other. Once I made it clear how Snape treated me, did he bother to apologise for Snape's actions? Did he offer to discipline him? Did he offer to teach me Occlumency himself? No, he just went on to the next item on his agenda. He also phrased the order to Remus, and it was an order instead of a request, to make it sound like the meditation thing was his idea all along instead of Remus's. I've recently realised how manipulative Dumbledore really is without appearing to be. This is all on TOP of his refusing to tell me anything at all last year." He paused for a moment. "That all makes it sound like I'm angry at him, doesn't it? I'm not, really. That's the only way I could explain how I feel. I guess a better way to explain it is that I'm upset that it's come to this . . . situation we find ourselves in."
Ginny's eyes were slightly wide. "But you seemed so civil with him."
He shrugged slightly. "Being rude or disobedient won't get me anywhere and would only make me look like a petty brat to everyone else. More importantly, though, I still need his help. He does control the Order and Hogwarts, and I will probably need both to help me beat Moldywart."
She nearly choked before laughing out loud. "'Moldywart'? Where did you come up with THAT?"
"I may disagree with some of the things that Dumbledore says and does, but I do agree with his stance on Voldemort's name. I like seeing that, by the way," he added.
She frowned momentarily, "Seeing what?"
"Your laugh," he said with a smile.
She blushed. "You're being quite forward, Mr. Potter."
"More open and honest, remember?" he asked with a nervous grin. "I got in trouble and very upset in June because I wasn't told things. I can't very well withhold information from those around me without being a huge hypocrite."
She studied him thoughtfully. "That bears some thought, Harry. On to the next topic, though. You and Professor Lupin seem to be getting along well."
"Yeah," Harry said quietly, gaze turning inward. His thoughts were not dark, however, as he kept a soft smile on his face. "We met at Mrs. Figg's house twice a week all summer. He says I helped him, and I know he helped me deal with Sirius's death. Don't get me wrong. The letters from you, Ron and Hermione helped, but to have someone else sitting RIGHT THERE who cared about him as much as I did helped a lot. In addition, at the beginning of the month, Professor Dumbledore got him named as my legal guardian."
"I'm glad you had someone there for you, Harry."
He nodded absently.
In a more upbeat tone, she went on, "Meanwhile, I do believe your birthday is on Wednesday, is it not?"
"Yes, I do believe it is," Harry acknowledged, shaking himself into a more cheerful mood.
"Care to toss some ideas out for us?"
His brow furrowed as he thought. His first inclination was to ask for nothing (he was hardly used to anyone recognizing his birthday, let alone giving him presents), but he knew that the Weasleys would insist on doing something for him whether he wanted them to or not. He studied the redhead in front of him for a moment before a sly grin slowly formed. "I have a few ideas. Give me a while to think about it?"
"Sure," she agreed, vaguely wondering what his expression meant.
"Say," he said suddenly, "when is your birthday? I don't remember anyone ever saying."
Her gaze fell to the grass and she absently picked a wildflower. "There's a reason for that." She didn't appear to want to elaborate, but she eventually got out, "After the twins got me a pink bunny toy for my fifth birthday, I don't like to celebrate it anymore."
"Granted that you're a bit old now for something like that, but what's wrong with a pink bunny rabbit for a five year old girl?" Harry asked.
"It sang lullabies," she grudgingly elaborated.
"I guess I still don't see the problem . . ." Harry trailed off with a questioning look.
She huffed in exasperation, resigned to telling the story. "Remember that singing get well card I gave you?"
Harry quickly suppressed the grin that the reminder provoked and calmly indicated that he recalled the item in question.
"I inherited a good singing voice compared to the twins." She let it sink in enough for Harry's eyes to widen before going on, "Add to that the fact that the bunny sang at high volume and climbed out of any box or closet I put it into in order to sing at my bedside."
Showing his Gryffindor mettle, he kept his composure. "Why didn't you get your parents or maybe Bill to shut it up?"
She groaned and her head fell backwards to the trunk of the tree she was leaning against. "It was also charmed to sing when I was the only one in the room."
Harry lost the fight with his wide grin at this point. "So anytime your Mum came into the room -"
"She couldn't figure out why I was losing sleep over this cute, stuffed bunny rabbit."
"Sang when I was the only one in the room, right? Even if that meant at three in the morning."
Harry started laughing aloud before another thought made him ask, "Wait a second, if it was so loud, why didn't anyone -"
"Did I forget to mention the Silencing Charms that the twins had somehow managed to put up around my room?"
Harry laughed until tears came into his eyes.
She smiled at him despite the humour at her expense. "I like seeing that."
Wiping his eyes, he asked, "What, my laughing?"
She nodded. "You don’t do that nearly enough for a boy your age."
He sighed. "Not to put a damper on the conversation, but I have precious little to laugh about in my life just now."
"We'll just have to do something about that this year, won't we?"
He gave her a strange little smile that suddenly and inexplicably made her nervous.
Trying to change the subject, she asked, "What is this mental technique for stopping Moldywart's mental attacks that you didn't want to talk to Professor Dumbledore about?" When he hesitated, she hurried on, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
He shook his head slowly. "No, actually I don't mind telling you about it." He took a breath and continued, "At the end of the fight at the Ministry, Voldemort possessed me briefly. I think he was trying to get Dumbledore to kill me. Anyway, what drove him out was when I thought about Sirius." His face fell.
"His death was NOT your fault!" Ginny said immediately.
Harry grimaced. "My brain knows that. Merlin knows you, Hermione and Ron beat that into my head all summer in your letters. I just need to convince my heart." He took a breath and continued, "Anyway, my thinking about Sirius is what drove Voldemort out of my mind."
Satisfied that she'd made her point about assigning blame for Sirius's death, she frowned at what he'd said. "Forgive how this sounds, but how would thinking about the godfather you had just watched getting killed drive him out of your mind?"
He nodded in agreement. "That was my thought, too. You'd think my agony would make him stronger, not drive him out. Dumbledore's theory was that it was my LOVE for Sirius that Voldemort couldn't stand. So this summer when my visions and his intrusions got bad, I tried an experiment. I thought about all the people I love. That seemed to help."
This piqued her interest. "Really?"
He nodded, now suddenly blushing and looking down. "Yep. Mum and Dad. Sirius. Your parents, and to a lesser extent Ron and Hermione."
A brief look of hurt flashed though her eyes, unseen by Harry. "More people love you than that, Harry," she whispered quietly but apparently not quietly enough. His suddenly piercing look caused her to stammer quickly, "Professor Lupin, for instance."
An identical look of hurt flitted across his features, unnoticed by the preoccupied witch. "Yeah," he agreed quietly. Shaking his head, he said, "You never answered my earlier question."
Just as glad to avoid such a treacherous conversation, she asked, "What question was that?"
"Oh, that. August eleventh."
He perked up. "That's just two weeks from now!"
"Noticed that, did you?" she asked dryly.
"So what do YOU want for your birthday?"
She waved it off. "I don't celebrate it, remember? Don't get me anything."
All traces of humour fled from his expression, and he looked at her intently. "Some of the best things in life can't be purchased."
Very unsettled by his sudden change in demeanour, she stammered out, "What might those be?"
"Oh, a handmade gift, an action, a favour, something like that," he said quietly, still peering at her searchingly.
"If you feel that way, Harry, then maybe I won't get you anything tangible for your birthday," she tried to pass it off as light-hearted but was seriously unnerved by his attention.
He nodded slowly. "That would be fine."
"So have you decided what you would like for your birthday?" she asked, desperate to get out of the conversation that she didn't think she could control any longer.
"A couple things come to mind," he said, leaning back on his arms to study the passing clouds and incidentally releasing her from his probing examination.
She was tempted to press him on such a vague answer, but the challenging tone he used kept her words unuttered.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"I am a hopeless git," Harry announced, falling back onto his bed in Percy's former room the next morning.
"Good morning to you, too, Cub. Sleep well?" Remus asked with a grin, settling himself at the desk.
"I'm serious," Harry objected.
Remus was momentarily tempted to make the obvious joke, but that wound was still a little too raw for the both of them. Instead he asked, "What's wrong?"
"I told you about being more honest and open, right? Well, I decided yesterday to tell Ginny what I feel about her. The problem is that I keep chickening out at the last moment."
"And what precisely do you feel?" Remus asked, surprised to be having such a candid conversation with a teenaged wizard.
Harry studied the wizard in front of him for a moment before deciding to tell him the unvarnished truth. "An intense desire to learn if freckles taste different than ordinary skin and to count all of them that she may have on her body. Is that precise enough, Moony?"
Remus grinned slightly but held Harry's eye. "More than I necessarily needed to know, but believe it or not, I was almost sixteen once myself. I know what you're going through, though you and I definitely have different situations."
Harry grunted, one hand coming up to rub his temples. "Yeah, I'm the bloody Boy Who Lived. Do you realise how much that actually gets in the way rather than helps? Almost nobody sees ME. They just see this great, bloody title that I didn't do anything to deserve."
"Gets in the way?"
"I can't have a normal conversation with anyone without them expecting me to do something heroic or some such thing."
"It speaks well of your character that you haven't been using that notoriety to establish your own legend among the female students of Hogwarts."
Harry let out a sigh. "Being noble is sometimes a right pain in the ass."
Remus laughed outright at that for a moment before calming back down. "Why Ginny, and how do you know this isn't just a physical attraction?"
"She's one of only two girls that I can actually talk with and treat me as Harry first and all that other nonsense not at all. She's stubborn, but that's actually a good thing for me; she won't run away when I get all moody. I don't KNOW that this is more than just an infatuation. I don't know what real affection feels like, Remus. I don't know if what I feel for Ginny is going to last, but I'd like to find out. Like I said though, my infamous Gryffindor nerve seems to cower in a dark corner anytime the topic comes up between us."
"You've definitely matured, Harry. I can't imagine ever having had this conversation with a sixteen year old James or Sirius."
"Yeah, well they didn't need to deal with a homicidal dark wizard out for their blood, did they?"
"Not until he was nineteen, anyway," Remus agreed calmly.
Harry winced. "Yeah."
"Back to Ginny, though, I can think of two approaches. First is to pass anonymous notes to her through Hermione once you get back to Hogwarts. That's a bit juvenile and may not work, though."
Harry grimaced. "Don't think that I haven't considered that anyway."
"Second is to go into that dark corner and pull the Gryffindor courage back out, kicking and screaming if needs be."
Harry snorted in humour. "Now there's a visual. Getting all metaphysical on me, Moony?"
"Just using your own words, Lil' Prongs."
Harry's head snapped up to glare at his guardian. "If you ever call me that again, I may have to start using you as my Defense sparing partner. After I take your wand away from you."
Remus gave him a wide, dangerous grin. "You're welcome to try at any time, Harry. Do remember that I was once your Defense professor."
Harry grinned back at the challenge.
Remus's smile melted back into something more benign. "If there's anything else I can do to help, please let me know. That's what I'm here for. Not because I promised your parents and Sirius but because I honestly want to help you, Cub."
Harry smiled at his de facto godfather. "Thanks, Moony."
The werewolf nodded once. "Meanwhile, I had some more meditation techniques to teach you, right?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"I am a hopeless git," Ginny announced, falling back onto her bed.
"Good morning to you, too, Ginny. Sleep well?" the newly arrived Hermione asked with a grin, settling herself at the desk.
"I'm serious," Ginny objected.
Seeing that Ginny was not in the mood for her levity, Hermione schooled her expression. "What's wrong?"
"I can't seem to tell Harry anything about how I feel about him." Left unsaid was what she actually did feel for him. Hermione already knew.
"What happened? I thought we'd discussed this and you were going to tell him."
"I was," the younger girl agreed morosely.
"So what's the problem?"
"When he's right there in front of me, I just," she waved her hand vaguely before finishing the thought, "can't!"
"Yes you can," Hermione responded calmly. "We'll just have to figure out a way of doing it."
Ginny was about to sink further into self-flagellation but paused. "He did say he didn't want anything tangible for his birthday," she mused.
"There you go," Hermione said. "Just give him a card, saying you're giving him your heart."
"My heart isn't tangible?" Ginny asked in amusement, ignoring the implications of the suggestion.
"You know what I mean," Hermione huffed slightly but with a smile.
"I can't just SAY that!" Ginny objected, sinking back into her pit of low self-esteem. "I can't do anything until I know how he feels about me. If I say that and he doesn't feel the same, he'll think it just an extension of my silly crush on the Boy Who Lived. But it isn't," she insisted, mostly to herself.
"Whoa, Ginny, I believe you. You don't need to get yourself so worked up about it."
"So what do I DO?" the girl moaned.
"Hmm. He doesn't want a present, but wants something intangible instead, does he? This'll require some thought."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"There's nothing much more I can teach you, Harry," Remus said later. "The meditation technique I use isn't so much learning it as it is practicing it. This is useful not only to hopefully keep Voldemort out of your mind but also for relaxation. For that reason, I'd recommend against thinking about anything distracting before you start," he glanced significantly at the wall between Harry's new room and Ginny's.
Harry blushed. "I'll keep that in mind, thanks."
"I won't be able to be at your birthday party," Remus went on. "Full moon on the thirtieth. I'll send an owl with my gift."
"You don't have to do anything for me, Moony," Harry immediately objected.
"Nonsense," Remus returned. "I want to do something for you, Cub. I just haven't decided what, yet."
Harry smiled, embarrassed, before his expression melted into a more sombre expression. "What can you tell me about Voldemort's activities?"
Lupin frowned. "Not a whole lot. There've been a few dementor attacks, but not widespread. One or two Death Eater attacks, too, but only on isolated homes. He's been pretty quiet all summer, all things considered."
"He's going to hit Azkaban sooner or later."
"Yeah. That's what we figure, too. He has too many loyal followers there not to try to rescue them. Lots of Aurors stationed there, though. Especially as the dementors are long gone. Listen, I'd better get back to Headquarters," he went on, standing up. "As I said, I won't be able to attend your party, but I'll see you before you return to Hogwarts. Take care of yourself until then."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Wednesday the thirty-first arrived all too quickly for Harry's taste. Most teenaged boys enjoyed their birthdays, but Harry was not your typical teenaged boy. Simply put, he disliked everyone making such a fuss over him.
"You'd better go down there before Mrs. Weasley drags you down, Harry," Hermione said in amusement, leaning on his doorway.
"Why are they making such a big deal about this?" he asked in exasperation, looking up from Quidditch Through the Ages.
"They seem to be rather fond of you," Hermione answered. "Personally, I can't imagine why." Harry gave her a sour look that she grinned at. "Seriously, this is what family does for birthdays, Harry. Come on. Take your nose out of that book and come downstairs."
"Who are you and what'd you do with Hermione?" he returned, smiling. "The Hermione I know would NEVER tell someone to stop reading."
She made a face at him that caused him to laugh.
Bowing to the inevitable, he put the book down and followed her out.
"I managed to pry him out of his hidey-hole," Hermione announced as the two came down the last steps few steps into the living room.
"Come in, sit down," Molly told them from the kitchen.
Harry entered to find a place at the head of the table empty with a small pile of presents on the floor next to it. He was tempted to groan at the Weasleys' actions, but he knew that would just hurt them. They were only doing this all for him, after all. Deciding to make the most of it, he plastered a look of curiosity on his face and looked around the room at the sea of smiling faces. "Whose party is it?"
"Mine," announced a feminine voice. Every eye in the room swivelled around to find what looked like Harry's twin sister stand up from beside Charlie (home for a rare visit) and move toward the head of the table. "Oh, you all shouldn't have. Just for little ol' me?" The effect was marred when she tripped, falling face-first into the pile of presents. A muffled pop and a bright purple light sounded from under the girl.
Leaning down to help Tonks get back up, Harry laughingly asked, "Alright there, Harriet?"
"Wotcher, Harry," she replied with a grin, standing and beginning to brush herself off.
Harry took a good look at her and broke into laughter.
She stopped her hand and looked up at him in mild annoyance. "I've been working on this transformation for a while, Harry. I didn't think I'd done THAT badly." She gave him her best pouting look.
He waved a hand. "No, no, it's not that. The likeness is actually pretty good. The only problem is the purple face."
She made an outraged noise and pulled out her wand, quickly conjuring a mirror.
"Err, that was us," George said while Fred raised his hand from beside his twin with a sheepish grin and nod.
"You gave her a purple face?" Charlie asked.
Harriet, now wearing a murderous expression, rounded on the twins with wand raised.
"Not intentionally," Fred hastened to explain. "The gift was set to just get Harry's hands."
"I don't think that explaining it now will help much," George observed to nobody in particular.
"Just tell me how to undo it," Tonks ground out.
As Fred quickly pulled out his wand and cast a series of charms, Hermione said to her, "Don't take it too personally, Tonks. If you spend any time around this family," she shot a quick glance at Charlie, "you're bound to get pranked by these two. It's just what they do."
Fred and George nodded frantically, trying to simultaneously look happy, honest, and contrite.
Tonks gave a wordless growl and returned to her seat next to Charlie, still wearing the face of Harriet.
Chuckling, Harry picked up the crumpled box with purple smoke still coming out of one corner. Turning, he tossed it to George. He had only a moment to see the look of barely suppressed panic on his face before both George and Fred dove out of their chairs, letting it hit the chair back. Another purple flash came from the box. Blinking the spots from his eyes, Harry stared at the two Weasleys and suppressed a snicker.
"At least I can tell the two of you apart now," Tonks observed with a wide grin.
The right half of Fred's hair was now a bright purple, contrasting nauseatingly with his red hair. Similarly, the left half of George's hair was now coloured. They turned to each other simultaneously, eyes going from face to the other's hair. Giving sudden grins, they scrambled to Tonks's still hovering mirror and stood side by side, preening and enjoying their new look. Smiling happily, they sat themselves back down, making no move to restore their hair.
Harry shook his head and looked around at the various Weasleys in attendance. "You realise, we should have guessed they'd react like that."
The entire room broke into laughter, causing the twins' grins to expand a notch.
Harry took his seat and said, "Gred, Forge, thank you for the gift. It's been loads of fun. Especially since it didn't happen to me."
Another wave of laughter swept the room as Harry picked the first gift to open. He quickly had several gifts strewn about the tabletop. To everyone's surprise, Ron had gotten him a book, Sneaky Seeker Strategies. Mr. Weasley gave him the key to the bedroom he was now staying in. Mrs. Weasley gave him a hand for the Weasley clock. These two gifts had caused Harry to choke up for more than a few moments. Tonks, on behalf of the Order, gave him The Auror's Field Guide, Auror Training Manual and a wand holster for his forearm. Harry hid the two books quickly before Ron spotted them. Charlie gave him a complete set of miniature dragon figurines, reminding Harry of the Hungarian Horntail he'd drawn from the bag at the beginning of the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
Just after he'd opened Hermione's present, Hexes for the Vexed, a large barn owl swooped into the room and alighted on the back of Harry's chair.
Tonks immediately jumped up and cast a series of spells on the pouch suspended from the owl's leg. After she gave Harry a nod, he pulled a small notebook from the pouch. The owl left immediately.
Everyone was looking at Harry curiously as he looked at the cover of the notebook in shock. It had the initials S.B. and under it in a different ink, Padfoot. Flipping through it quickly, he realised it was Sirius's personal notes about learning to become an Animagus. A scrap of parchment was tucked into the book.
I just found this journal at Moony's place and thought you'd like to read it. I'm sending it to you time-delayed so you'll get it on your birthday. No worries, though. I'll be getting you something else as well.
"It's from Sirius," Harry said into the silence, his voice barely steady. Taking a calming breath, he laid the notebook down carefully.
Ginny laid a hand onto Harry's arm. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly.
Harry gave a jerky nod, eyes never leaving the notebook.
"It wasn't your fault, Harry," Hermione whispered.
"Yeah," he answered vaguely, still staring down at the innocent notebook. Fifteen uncomfortable seconds later, Harry abruptly tore his gaze from it and snatched up one of the two remaining presents. He unwrapped a small cube of unremarkable black stone. One side was engraved with, Tap me with your wand to play the message.
"A recording cube," Hermione said her expression shifting from concern to interest. "They can record and hold messages, much like a Muggle tape machine."
Harry placed the cube down and tapped it with his wand.
Remus Lupin's voice came out of the air, "Harry, this recording cube is half of my gift to you. I'll bring the instruction manual with me the next time I see you. The second half of my gift is a more personal bit of advice." His voice paused for a moment before continuing, "Harry and Ginny, you are the only two who can hear this part. Ginny, ask Harry to drag it out of its corner, kicking and screaming. He'll know what I'm talking about. Harry, if, after that conversation, you're still mad at me, I'll willingly drop my wand. Happy birthday, Lil' Prongs."
Ginny looked over at Harry in curiosity. "Harry?" she asked.
His face was mottled white and red as he glared at the inoffensive cube. "I'm going to strangle him," he announced. He finally chanced looking up at Ginny. "Later?" he whispered for her ears alone.
At her confused nod, Harry snatched up the last gift and started tearing it open in an effort to distract himself.
Everyone else in the room, not having heard the second half of Remus's recording, was glancing at each other in confusion.
By the time Harry got to the gift, a wide, shallow box, Ginny had paled.
Harry looked at the box in puzzlement as he noticed Ginny start to fidget. He opened it to find a sheet of parchment with fancy script of the style that was typically the result of spell work. Tap to begin. Harry looked up at Ginny. "What's this?"
Ginny debated trying to speak but decided against it. The squeaking noises she'd probably create wouldn't help her cause. She settled for shaking her head and waving her hand at the parchment.
He studied the patient message for a moment more. "Who did the spell work?"
"I did," Tonks answered, now back to one of her normal faces, hair a purple to rival Fred and George's. "I don't know what it says, though. Ginny did the pen work after the first page. I just know it's a series of yes and no choices."
Raising an eyebrow, Harry drew his wand.
Before he could move, though, he heard Ginny whisper, "Please be honest."
He looked up at her again, but she refused to meet his gaze. Curiosity overcoming his hesitancy, he tilted the box so nobody else could see the parchment and tapped the page. The first message seemed to be absorbed, only to come back out as, Do you believe more people than just Remus could love you? Two boxes, marked Yes and No appeared at the bottom.
Harry glanced at Ginny, but she was intently studying her hands. He tapped the Yes box. The message reformed as, Do you believe it's possible for my crush from first year to have grown into something else?
Swallowing thickly and not daring to look up this time, Harry again tapped Yes.
Do you WANT it to have grown into something more? Hardly breathing now, Harry hesitantly tapped Yes for a third time.
Harry, yes I had a crush on you back even before you rescued me from Tom's diary, but that was the star-struck infatuation of a silly little eleven year old over the Boy Who Lived. I've watched you for the four years since then and come to several conclusions. You don't want all the notoriety of being the Boy Who Lived. You are an often scared young man, angry at how the world occasionally treats others. You will do anything you can to right such wrongs, often at your own expense. When you cannot act to fix such things, you take such a weight of undeserved guilt that it's a wonder you've not been broken by it.
The Boy Who Lived is expected to defeat Voldemort. Harry will do it because it needs to be done.
The rest of the world sees the Boy Who Lived. I see Harry.
And so for your birthday, I offer you the intangible gift of my heart. You first stole it five years ago on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Now that we're both a bit older, I'm willingly offering it to you.
Harry read through the page more than once before the full magnitude of what he was seeing sunk in.
"Well?" Ron asked in his usual blunt fashion.
Harry slowly rolled up the parchment before looking up at Ron. He needed the extra time to compose his face. "Well what?"
"What did she get you?" Ron asked in exasperation.
"She wrote a poem, if you must know," Hermione informed Ron.
Ron looked from Hermione, to Ginny (who had yet to look up), to the pensive Harry. "To get these reactions, it must have been some poem."
"Thought provoking," Harry agreed with a far-away stare.
"Can we read it?"
Harry shook his head, and Ginny looked up suddenly. "No, it was to Harry."
Ron folded his arms and leaned back in his chair in a clear expression of dissatisfaction.
Charlie and Arthur were studying Harry with slightly narrowed eyes.
Tonks and Molly were looking back and forth from Harry to Ginny.
Molly suddenly stood. "Dinner in half an hour." She headed to the stove, a sudden flurry of activity.
Her movement broke the spell holding the rest of the room. People started to stand and move around, some coming over to study Harry's new gifts.
Tonks started strapping the new holster to Harry's forearm without his even noticing. Once she had his attention, she explained that it shrunk the wand for comfort as well as concealment. She also showed him how to draw the wand quickly.
Harry tried it a few times. It was little more than a flick of his wrist, but the timing was crucial else the wand ended up flying away. He finally got it to work right after nearly putting Charlie's eye out once.
Tonks praised his success after the laughter died down.
"Thanks," he said wryly. "That was a good Harriet look, by the by. Just out of curiosity, why do it? So long as you're clearly Harriet and not Harry, it's not like you can be a decoy for me."
She nodded. "That was the original goal, you know. No, now I mostly use it for personal amusement. Everyone knows what you look like, Harry. Especially after your picture was all over the Prophet during the Tournament. Harriet gets some of the most peculiar looks when she walks into the Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron."
Harry and Hermione chuckled. "Should I ask for royalties? You're using my image, after all."
Tonks grinned cheekily. "Naw, I'll just block the curse Malfoy throws at your back eventually, and we'll call it even."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Excellent meal as always, Mrs. Weasley," Harry praised, finally putting his fork down after his second piece of birthday cake. Everyone else at the table chimed in their own thanks and appreciations.
She blushed faintly at the praise. "Harry, you and Ginny should go for a walk. Boys, if you could help me clean up?"
"But, Mum," Ron objected, looking significantly at Harry and Ginny's matching blushes.
"But nothing. You get in here, Ronald."
Tonks looked torn for a moment.
Harry, realizing what she was thinking, spoke up. "Tonks, you can come along and chaperone, which is what Ron wanted in the first place. Since you're my assigned guard for the moment, that covers that responsibility, too." He turned to Ron. "Okay by everyone?"
Ron didn't even blush at the accusation, merely nodding with a barely concealed smirk.
Ginny didn't look happy, but she followed along quietly as Harry held the door for her.
Once outside, Tonks spoke up, "I'll stay out of your way and out of earshot. Yell or shoot sparks if you need me."
"Thank you, Tonks," Harry said with a grin.
Ginny smiled at the Metamorphmagus as well.
Giving a cheery wave and smile, Tonks walked a short distance away from the youngsters, giving them a degree of privacy.
For their own part, they walked slowly toward the paddock, close but not quite touching each other.
"My prat of a brother," Ginny grumbled. "I can't believe he wanted us to have a chaperone."
Harry shrugged, eyes on the stars above. "I think he wants us to be together, but not TOGETHER, if you catch my meaning." He blushed at his own insinuation.
Ginny made an unhappy noise. "He wants me to stay at the 'hold a boy's hand' stage until I'm thirty."
"He's your big brother."
"He's a big prat."
"No argument from me on that one." Harry chuckled.
They lapsed into silence again, walking slowly until they were in a small clearing among the trees. They took seats in the grass.
"I think your Mum suspects something," Harry broke the silence eventually.
Ginny shrugged uncomfortably. "My feelings aren't a surprise to her."
"Hermione and Tonks, too," Harry mentioned.
"Hermione knows. She helped me figure out how to do that scroll. Tonks is just . . . Tonks is Tonks."
Harry chuckled. That was all that really needed to be said about the Auror.
"You haven't answered," Ginny blurted out.
"About my . . . gift," she explained, eyes never leaving the blade of grass she was slowly shredding in her anxiety.
"I'm going to tell you two little stories first, Ginny," he said.
She had a brief moment of panic when he didn't give an immediate answer but sternly commanded herself to listen.
"The first is related to what Remus said to us in that recording cube. 'Drag it out, kicking and screaming.' He was referring to a conversation we had a couple of days ago. You know what I've been trying to figure out how to say something to a girl I know. I've been owling you for advice all summer, after all. I asked him the same thing. He gave me two options. First is to pass anonymous notes to her. The second is to find my Gryffindor courage and drag it back out, kicking and screaming if needs be, and just talk with her."
"Good advice," Ginny concurred, voice barely above a whisper.
"Yeah. Anyway, the second story is actually an addition to something I've already told you. Remember when I was telling you that thinking about those people that I love helps keep Voldemort out of my mind?" He caught her miniscule nod before continuing, "I didn't tell you the whole list. The one thought I had that helped the most was of a certain redheaded Gryffindor a year younger than me."
Ginny stopped breathing.
Reaching forward, he tilted her head up to look at him. In a whisper, he continued, "I gladly accept the gift, Ginny." He held his free hand to his chest for a moment before presenting it to her as if it was holding something. "As an early birthday present, I'd like to present my heart to you."
Swiping at the tears suddenly leaking out of her eyes, Ginny lunged at him, knocking him to his back with her lying mostly atop his prone form.
"Does this mean you accept?" he asked in a quiet, teasing tone.
She smacked his shoulder lightly. "Git," she grumbled around her happy sniffles.
The new couple luxuriated in the hug for several seconds.
"There's something I need to ask," Harry hesitantly whispered.
"No, I won't share you with your fan club."
"Funny. I thought you were the president of that, anyway."
Ginny didn't answer, which was an answer of its own.
"No, what I wanted to ask is whether you think we should keep this a secret."
She pulled back a little so they could both sit up. "Secret?" she asked in a wounded tone.
"No!" he answered immediately. "I am NOT ashamed of you, so get that thought out of your cute little head right now. No, what I was asking is whether you think we should keep the relationship a secret for your safety."
She smacked his arm again, this time it wasn't light. "Don't you dare suggest that, Harry Potter! I am not about to hide how we feel." She raised a hand to his gathering frown. "I'm a Weasley. I'm already in this fight, Harry. After the Chamber of Secrets, I'm even more of a target than usual. Being your girlfriend won't change anything."
Harry sighed, equal parts relieved and worried. He wasn't so much worried over her becoming more of a target than she already was (she was probably in the top five anyway), but rather for more selfish reasons. If she were kidnapped, what would he be willing to risk to rescue her? On the other hand, whether they made their relationship public or not, it wouldn't change his feelings.
He was relieved at her answer because he wanted to shout it from the rooftops, he was so happy.
She was watching his face as he thought. "Don't try to protect me from the cold, cruel world, Harry," she whispered. "You know I've faced things that are as bad as what you've faced. Don't treat me like a child. Let me make my own decisions. Right now, that decision is to be your girlfriend publicly."
He smiled and pulled her into another hug.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The couple re-entered the Burrow, hand in hand.
Molly took one look and smiled widely.
Arthur, from his seat at the table, saw the same thing and sighed tiredly. He stood and waved Harry back out the door, picking up a light cloak against the chill coming with nightfall.
A now nervous Harry nearly bumped into Tonks as she tried to enter the Burrow. It took a half second for the Auror to realise the situation. She stood back and waved Harry on past, a sympathetic smile on her face.
"Do you two know what you're getting yourselves into?" Mr. Weasley asked directly after the door closed behind him.
"We love each other, and we want to be together," Harry answered simply. In the way all young men did, he knew that not acting as an adult now would be the worst possible move.
"Forgive me, Harry, but you're barely sixteen. Ginny isn't quite fifteen."
"True," he acknowledged. "On the other hand, we've each had to grow up quite some time ago. Both in our first years, as a matter of fact."
Mr. Weasley winced at the truthfulness of the statement. "Okay, you have a valid point. It's just . . . I don't want to see my little girl hurt," he finished.
"Mr. Weasley, a war is about to start. I don't want to be in it, but I'm going to be anyway. It could very well end up killing me. I don't like to think about that, but it's the truth, and we both know it. Nearly your entire family is in the Order, which means they'll be on the front lines. Ginny could again get caught in the crossfire. Even if Ginny and I weren't together, she might still get hurt in one way or another. I don't like those facts anymore than you do, sir, but we both know that those are all facts. All I can promise is that I will do my best to not hurt her."
"You've grown up," Arthur said, giving Harry a sideways glance.
"Living in denial doesn't do anybody any good. Fudge has and look where it's gotten us. I can't afford to do that."
"You're right, of course. On all counts. Whether you're together or not, she'd be devastated if you got yourself hurt. Just promise me that you two won't . . . do anything you're not ready for."
"Yes, sir," Harry agreed, blushing slightly.
"Has anyone, err, spoken to you about -"
"Remus," Harry interrupted before the conversation got too embarrassing. He did NOT want a repeat of that conversation. ESPECIALLY with Ginny's father.
Arthur nodded, looking faintly relieved. He studied the young man in front of him for several seconds more. Giving a decisive nod, he held out his hand. "Treat my daughter right, Harry."
Harry nodded solemnly and took his hand. "I intend to, sir."
Arthur turned and entered his home after Tonks, who'd been standing right there the entire time, opened the door for him.
Harry turned to her, blowing out a relieved breath. "Thanks for not interrupting at any stage tonight, Tonks."
"Interrupting what?" she asked in an overly innocent tone. "I'm your bodyguard for the night. I've been looking outward for dangers. I haven't been watching anything you've been doing."
Harry grinned at the pretty Auror and Order member. "After I defeat Moldywart and become the star Seeker for the English team, I might just have to hire you permanently."
"Promise?" she asked with a grin, waving him into the Burrow.
Harry was chuckling as he entered the home, only to stop when he was confronted by four Weasley males standing shoulder to shoulder, staring at him. He studied their impassive expressions for a moment before saying, "Um, Tonks? Help."
She just walked past them, chuckling.
"Traitor," he called after her. "That job offer just got revoked."
She laughed louder and threw a wave over her shoulder.
Pasting a friendly smile onto his face, he said, "Hi, guys."
None of them so much as blinked.
Smile faltering, he said, "Uh, please say something."
Charlie said, "It's come to our attention that you're now dating our little sister. Is this true?"
Shifting awkwardly, Harry gave serious thought to drawing his wand. "Yes, that would be true."
"What about Dean?" Ron asked.
Charlie waved that aside. "She just said that to wind you up, little brother."
Harry vaguely wondered where Charlie had heard that story, not that Harry hadn't come to the same conclusion.
Turning back to Harry, Charlie continued his interrogation, "What are your intentions?"
For a brief moment, Harry considered answering, "Snogging her as often as humanly possible," but figured it wouldn't go over very well with her four brothers. "Treat her as a lady. One whom I happen to love with everything I am," he answered instead.
Fred nodded fractionally, apparently satisfied with that answer. "Do you know what will happen to you if you hurt her?"
"Not specifically but I can guess."
"We will make the remainder of your life very painful," George said with perfect composure.
Harry Potter, who'd faced trolls, acromantulas, dementors, Umbridge, Death Eaters, and the most powerful dark wizard in living memory more times than he cared to recall, swallowed nervously at the steady expressions on the four wizards facing him. "I understand," he said as calmly as he could.
Charlie's sudden room brightening smile released the tension coiling in Harry's stomach. "Take care of her, Harry. Welcome to the family." He took a step forward and pulled Harry into a manly hug, followed by the twins and lastly Ron.
"Don't hurt her," Ron whispered, his voice somewhere between an order and a plea.
"I'd rather die," Harry vowed quietly.
Ron gave one nod and headed up the stairs.
Charlie poked his head into the kitchen and called out a goodbye before quickly leaving.
Seeing that the coast was clear, George pulled a book from somewhere. He presented it to Harry with a flourish as Fred said, "Considering everything, here's our gift to you. Stop by the store sometime and we can go over the business stuff with you, okay?"
Harry agreed, taking the book from George's hand. Wise Words for the Wooing Wizard. He looked at the twins in shock.
They grinned and nodded cheerily. Repeating Charlie's words of goodbye, the two left to return to their flat.
Somewhat stunned, Harry slipped the book into an inconspicuous spot in the front room before heading to the kitchen. Seeing Ginny, Hermione, Molly, and Tonks sitting around the table, he dropped into the chair beside Ginny.
"So you survived the Weasley gauntlet?" Molly asked in amusement.
"I guess," Harry said, still somewhat dazedly.
"Wow," Tonks said in amusement, looking at Harry's glazed eyes. "Must have been some shock. Do you want to bring him back to reality, Ginny, or shall I kiss him?"
This snapped Harry out of his stupor. "Thank you, no, Tonks."
"Drat," Ginny pouted. When everyone looked at her in surprise, she explained, "Now I don't have an excuse to kiss you."
"Should I act stunned again?" Harry offered with a nervous little grin.
"Great Merlin," Hermione groaned. "You two are going to be impossible, aren't you?"
Tonks smirked impishly at her. "If you want to join in the fun, I'm sure there's a young wizard upstairs you could convince to help you out."
Hermione glared at the Auror, ignoring the snickers from the other two students at the table. "Your own source of fun just left, didn't he?"
Tonks smiled innocently to raised eyebrows from the others at the table. "On that note, I think I shall be leaving. Night, all." She stood and left after a quick wave.
"Well, that was unexpected," Molly said, staring at the door. She suddenly smiled and looked at Harry and Ginny. "But not the least unwelcome, much like the two of you. Congratulations. Just behave yourselves properly. That's all I ask."
Harry nodded quickly as Ginny said, "Yes, Mum."
Nodding in satisfaction, Molly stood and placed her mug next to the sink before heading upstairs.
Hermione also stood. "Harry, you may have a room to yourself now, but remember that I'm sharing your room, Ginevra." She turned and followed Molly up the stairs.
"What was that supposed to mean?" Ginny asked.
"She'll know when you come up to bed," Harry answered in amusement.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "How were the boys? They didn't scare you too much, did they?"
"Other than the varied death threats, no," Harry said with forced nonchalance. "I'm kidding," he assured her when she looked ready to start hexing her siblings. "They didn't say anything really unexpected. Just to take care of you. Fred and George gave me a book after that, saying it was my birthday present."
He stood and led her into the front room, retrieving the book he'd partially hidden and handing it to her.
She flipped it to a random page toward the back, only for her eyes to widen. She slammed the book shut and handed it to Harry quickly.
"What's wrong?" he asked in concern.
"Nothing," she said in close to a squeak. She gave him a quick hug, a peck on the cheek, and fled upstairs.
Bewildered, Harry went into his room and got himself ready for bed. Once sitting in bed, he flipped through the book quickly. Chapters on flirting, first dates, later dates, proposing and so on. Toward the back, there were chapters on charms and potions useful for the couple upon consummating their relationship. Plus one on various techniques and positions. With moving pictures.
Red faced, Harry slammed the book shut.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
It was the next week when the Order plus selected others held the wake for Sirius.
It was held at Grimmauld Place, of course. Harry, Remus and Dora wore traditional grey robes that marked them as family per Sirius's direction. Everyone else wore black. It was the first time Harry had ever seen Dumbledore in black.
Without a body, the ceremonies were much abbreviated, but each of the "family" lit a special candle that had been pre-spelled. The smoke from the three candles melded and formed a hazy image of Sirius's face, smiling at the three.
Harry very nearly came unglued at that point, but with Remus gripping one shoulder and Ginny holding his other hand, he rapidly pulled himself back together.
Most of the Order members came up and offered a word or two of condolence to Harry during the later mingling.
"How are you?" Hermione asked, sympathy in her eyes.
Harry nearly replied with his traditional, "I'm fine," but held himself back at the last moment. "It hurts," he whispered, more honestly.
Ginny laid her head against his arm, prompting him to pull her around in front of him. He enveloped her into a hug and buried his face into her hair to hide the threatening tears.
"It'll be okay," Ginny said, running her hands over his back.
The crowd created a bubble of space around the pair, respecting Harry's grief.
"Why?" Harry asked in a choked voice, for once unmindful of the others in the room.
Ginny sighed but didn't even try to answer that most unanswerable of questions. Instead, she rubbed one hand up and down his back. It took more than a few minutes, but he eventually regained his composure.
"Do you know what Sirius used for his Patronus?" a voice asked at Harry's elbow nearly an hour later as Harry was nibbling on some crackers.
He turned to find Remus looking at him in a melancholy way. "I didn't realise he could produce one," Harry honestly answered.
"Oh, yes. All of the Order members can. He had the devil's own time producing one after Azkaban, of course. That is, until he found the happiest memory he had gained since. Actually, it was just after you'd met him. We all were coming back from the Shrieking Shack. Before the moon came out, do you remember what you and Sirius were talking about?"
Harry frowned, trying to remember a conversation that had taken place two years previously. "We were discussing the thought that he'd be free."
Remus nodded. "Yes, and he offered to let you move in with him. Your reaction, your instant and total acceptance of him, THAT was his Patronus memory."
Harry began to tear up again.
Remus smiled sadly and reached a hand out to grip Harry's shoulder in what was already a comforting gesture to the both of them. "I didn't tell you that to sadden you, Harry. Just a happy memory for the both of us to have regarding that loveable, mangy mutt."
Harry smiled at the description and slowly started to chuckle until he was making enough noise to garner attention from some nearby guests.
Remus nodded. "There. THAT is the sound Sirius would like to hear at his wake. We should be remembering him with happy thoughts, not sad ones."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The remainder of August was calm at the Burrow, if one didn't count the merciless teasing Harry endured for dating Ginny.
Harry, with Ginny and Remus's support, came to fully accept the loss of Sirius. It was still an ache on his heart, but Harry was slowly moving on.
There were a few Order meetings during this time, but none of the students were invited. Harry was expecting this and didn't make a big deal about it as opposed to Ron's vociferous complaints.
August thirty-first eventually came around and with it, the students' preparing to board the Hogwarts Express the next morning.
"I absolutely forbid it," Molly Weasley stated in a tone of utter finality. Out of her line of sight, Ron was failing in his attempt not to look smug.
"Why ever not?" Ginny asked reasonably. "All I'm asking is to continue to attend some harmless DA classes."
"You were hurt in connection with those 'harmless' classes," the Weasley matriarch responded. "In the Department of Mysteries both of you were seriously hurt!" She turned to the only non-redhead in the room. "No offence, Harry dear, but association with that club is downright dangerous. I will not have my little girl continue meddling in such obviously dangerous activities." She folded her arms and gave a sharp nod that clearly conveyed her opinion that the topic was closed.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Ginny's eye take on a hardness that he'd only rarely seen. In the past it'd always involved a trip to the hospital wing for the witch or wizard on the receiving end.
Taking his life in his hands (literally and figuratively), Harry grabbed Ginny's elbow and steered her toward the back door of the Burrow. "If that's the way you feel, Mrs. Weasley, then I promise you that I will keep Ginny out of all future DA meetings. We'll be in the paddock if anyone needs us."
Only her shock at such a staggering betrayal by her boyfriend kept her silent until they were well out of earshot of the Burrow.
"I can't believe you just agreed to that, Harry James Potter!" she bellowed, jerking her arm out of his grasp and rounding on him. "What gives you the right to make such decisions for me? I can't believe she even asked such a thing from me. As if I'm a CHILD that must be protected from the big, bad world! How many times have any of THEM faced the senior Death Eaters?"
"Once," Harry promptly answered, leaning against a tree, out of easy reach of her wildly flailing arms.
"That's RIGHT," she snarled in agreement. "ONCE. Ron comes out of it seriously hurt, can't afford running the risk of getting hit with ANY charms that could possibly affect his mind. What happened to me in that very same fight? A broken ankle that took fifteen seconds for Madam Pomfrey to fix. That doesn't even count the OTHER time I faced Tom. I've faced the bloody Dark Lord more times than the rest of the bloody lot of them put together, and she has the incredible gall to try to keep me SAFE! What an absolutely absurd idea! Doesn't she realise that you and I are safer together than not? If I can't be in those DA classes, how in the name of Magic can I help? I'm FIFTEEN. She has NO RIGHT!"
"You're right," Harry calmly confirmed.
"YOU!" she snarled, rounding on him. "You have no bloody right, either, agreeing with her!"
"I never said I agreed with her," Harry corrected her. "I merely said I'd keep you out of the DA."
"And what, pray tell, is the difference?" she asked in a low tone, still seething.
"I said I'd keep you out of the DA, something that would be easy for Ron to keep track of. I never said I wouldn't help you learn to fight. If necessary, I'll just tutor you separately after the main DA meetings."
Ginny's mood cooled when she realised that Harry was not in fact against her trying to help.
"Not that I think you need it," Harry continued. "You're as good as I am in Defense, after all."
Ginny blushed. "No, I'm not. I couldn't teach DA as well as you do, Harry. You know so much more than I do."
"You COULD teach it at least as well as I do," Harry disagreed. "I just have a year's more education to draw on, a new pass to the Restricted Section, and Hermione's research skills on my side."
Ginny couldn't disagree with that. She'd been one of the first to catch on to all new charms that Harry had taught the previous year and usually ended up helping out the other students after she'd mastered that session's material.
"The other reason that I interrupted your conversation with your mother was because of what you were about to say. You were about to ask why it was okay for me to actually lead the DA when you weren't even allowed to attend, right?"
Ginny grudgingly nodded. That was the only problem she could see with them becoming closer over the past five years and especially since beginning a relationship a month ago. They knew each other too well. He could predict her actions with frightening accuracy. As she could his.
Harry continued his train of thought, "If you'd said that, you would just accomplished two things. First, you could well have gotten Ron barred from the DA as well, and we need him to stay in it to confirm that you're not. Second, it would have made her feel bad. Everyone knows I have to do this. Your mum deals with it by ignoring it. If we forced her to think about it, it would drive her crazy with worry. No sense in that."
"I suppose," she grumped, the last of her boiling anger dissipating.
"Have I told you lately how cute you are when you pout?" Harry asked her with a smile.
Ginny attempted her best Weasley Glare, but the look on Harry's face made her want to melt instead.
"Much better," Harry pronounced, gathering her in his arms.
"How can you do that?" she asked in curiosity.
"Do what?" he asked, fitting her head in the hollow of his neck.
"Get me out of such a horrid mood."
"Many years of practise dealing with the infamous Weasley Temper," he teased.
She rolled her eyes, even though he couldn't see it. "Funny."
"Back to the conversation, though, I have a plan."
"Will this one work better than your last one?" she asked with a malicious grin.
Harry flinched, thinking of how his plan from a week past had backfired dramatically. And the de-gnoming duty that resulted. How Ginny managed to avoid any punishment for that failed prank against the twins is something that still eluded his understanding. "Okay, I'll tell you what it is and you tell me. While I'm doing the DA classes, I'd like you and Hermione to be in the library, researching a couple things for me: New material for the DA and a way for us to defeat Tom. Afterwards, we trade information. This will keep all findings confidential and has the added benefit of keeping Ron and your mother happy."
She thought about it for a few moments before realising it was the best offer she was going to get.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
On September first, they all made it to the Hogwarts Express after their usual morning rush. The security, Auror and Order, at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters was as high as the students had ever seen.
Harry kept his head down and tried to ignore it all, knowing it was for the safety of everyone now that even Fudge-for-Brains had admitted to Voldemort's return.
After the train started moving, Harry was left by Ron, Hermione and Ginny in a compartment by himself as they went forward to the usual prefect meeting.
Harry had just settled down with the latest Defense textbook when he heard a timid knock. Harry looked up to find Neville smiling hesitantly at him through the door's window. Harry smiled back and waved his fellow Gryffindor in.
"Hi, Harry. Mind if I share your compartment?"
"Not at all. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny are all off at the prefect meeting, so I'm alone for the moment."
"Ginny made prefect?" Neville asked, heaving his trunk to the rack.
"Yup. Mrs. Weasley nearly had kittens, she was so excited."
Neville grinned at that mental image before asking hesitantly, "How have you been, Harry?" When they'd parted, Harry had just lost his godfather at the Ministry fight and Neville was honestly worried about the mental state of his friend.
Harry smiled a little, touched. "Well as can be, Neville. Thank you for asking. How was your summer?"
Neville grinned. "Really good! I worked at Uncle Algie's greenhouse most of the summer. Had a great time and made a bit of pocket money, even after buying a new wand." He pulled it out and proudly said, "Twelve and a half inches, ash, unicorn hair."
"Good on you, Neville! I'll have to keep an eye on you in the DA. Don't want you showing up the teacher, after all," he teased.
Neville blushed. "That'll never happen, Harry. The DA is going to continue?"
Harry frowned. "Probably. I talked with Dumbledore about it, and depending on who the Defense professor turns out to be, I'll keep the DA going. Openly this time."
Neville nodded firmly. "Good." He brightened. "Hey, I almost forgot. Thank you!"
Harry blinked. "What for?"
Neville looked bashful. "An 'O' in the Defense practical."
Harry smiled. "Great! I keep telling you, Neville; you're better than you give yourself credit for."
Neville, clearly embarrassed, pulled out the NEWT Herbology book and started reading.
Harry went back to the Defense book until the door opened and Hermione and Ron entered and sat, clearly disgruntled.
Ginny came in, equally upset but brightened when she spotted Harry. She unceremoniously dropped into his lap.
Luna seemed to drift into the compartment behind them, taking the empty seat next to Neville.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, seeing that three of his friends were upset.
"Malfoy's still a prefect, despite being part of Umbridge's Inquisition Squad," Ginny grumbled, making herself comfortable in Harry's lap.
"Inquisitorial Squad," Hermione corrected absently, rummaging in her bag for something or other.
"Whatever," Ginny sighed. "I'd rather not talk about it, frankly."
Neville was looking at Ginny's position in clear interest. "Something you'd like to tell all of us about your relationship to Harry?" he asked.
Ginny pondered the question for a moment. She then turned to Harry and gave him a kiss, lingering long enough to make Ron shift in embarrassment. Slightly breathless, she turned to Neville and shook her head. "Nope," she said cheekily, lying her head back onto Harry's shoulder.
Neville chuckled and even Luna gave a small, dreamy smile at the new couple.
Harry looked around at everyone. "Before I forget, there's something I'd like to talk to you all about. After the Welcoming Feast, could you all meet me in the Room of Requirement?"
"The prophecy?" Luna asked directly.
"Finally," Ginny said. At four questioning looks, she elaborated, "I've been trying to talk with him all summer about it, but he refuses to say anything until we're all together."
"I just didn't think it'd be fair to the others," Harry explained to her.
"It's not that," she objected, momentarily ignoring everyone else. "I just wanted to help you deal with it. Ron's told me you're still having nightmares, and you get all quiet every time Mum or Dad talk about Order business. It's obviously tearing you apart."
He smiled at her and sadly nodded. "Yeah, you're right. It has been bothering me. However, for reasons that will become obvious, I wanted to tell you all at once."
The other five agreed to his request without any hesitation.
"Luna, congratulations on making prefect," Harry went on, having noticed the silver badge, hanging upside down, on her robes.
"Why, thank you, Harry," the Ravenclaw answered, pulling a Quibbler out of her bag and holding it sideways to read.
Neville hesitantly spoke up, "Err, Luna? I thought you read the Quibbler upside-down."
"I didn't like how my horoscopes were coming out, so I'm trying it this way," was the simple answer.
The other five exchanged glances but nobody commented.
The door suddenly crashed open, shattering the glass in the window.
Harry's wand didn't get drawn only because his lap full of Ginny slowed his hand down enough to let his mind catch up. "Malfoy," Harry sighed in resignation.
"Well, well," he drawled, flanked by his two automatons. "Potty, two weasels, a mudblood, Loony, and Longbottom. Somehow, you just seem to deserve each other."
"Thanks, we think so, too," Ginny said as Hermione laid a restraining hand on Ron's arm.
"How's your Daddy doing, Malfoy?" Neville asked, surprising everyone.
Draco stared in surprise at the normally timid Gryffindor.
"I've heard that the dementors are absolute hell to live with," Neville added.
Malfoy growled before a light seemed to come to his eye. He turned to Harry. "Why don't you ask your godfather that question, Potter? He knows, after all." He made a mock expression of shock, "Oops, he's dead, isn't he?"
Harry nodded, swallowing the instant rage trying to come into his mind. "Yes, your Aunt Trixie killed him. And yes, he did know what dementors were like, but he escaped after twelve years to come and protect me."
"Aunt Trixie?" Neville asked in confusion.
"Didn't you know?" Harry asked. "Bellatrix Lestrange is Malfoy's aunt on his mother's side."
Neville turned and glared.
Malfoy smirked at Neville for a moment before turning back to Harry. "I think my father won't take nearly so long until he's out of Azkaban."
"Please notice that I said Sirius escaped. Not rescued by his half-blood master."
It took a second before Neville asked, "Half-blood?"
"Yep. Voldemort's a half and half. His father was a Muggle. Interesting how he's so keen on killing Muggles when he's half Muggle himself, isn't it? Somehow, I don't think that he mentions his parentage to his Death Eaters, though."
Crabbe and Goyle were staring blankly as this new information slowly made its torturous way though their thought processes.
Malfoy paled. "You're lying."
Harry shook his head. "Tom Marvolo Riddle. Slytherin house, Head Boy, class of 1945. Look him up when we get to Hogwarts."
Malfoy gaped for a few moments before pulling himself together. Giving a half-hearted sneer to the room in general, he turned and left, his personal bookends shuffling along behind.
Harry flipped his wand out of its wrist holster and pointed it at the glass shards. "Reparo." The glass practically leapt up and reformed the window, solid once again.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Wonder who that is," Ron idly commented, indicating the unknown, stunningly beautiful woman at the head table while the new first years were being sorted.
She was the only new face at the table. All of the rest of the Hogwarts faculty was present. Even the centaur Firenze was standing at the end of the table. Harry supposed that meant the centaur was still teaching at least some of the Divination classes as Trelawney was also present.
Harry shrugged at Ron's question. "I'm sure Dumbledore will be mentioning her name in a minute. I just hope she's better than most Defense professors we've had."
"She could hardly be worse," Hermione commented.
"Shh!" Ginny hissed. "Don't say that, or you'll jinx us."
They looked forward again just as Ken Woolverton became the newest Hufflepuff, finishing the year's sorting.
Dumbledore stood, drawing all eyes to him. "I am gratified to see all the returning faces and would like to welcome the new ones I see before me. A few announcements before we begin our feast. The Forbidden Forest is aptly named and therefore remains out of bounds for all students. Our Caretaker Mr. Filch has categorically banned all items sold under the Weasley Wizard Wheezes name."
Ginny and especially Ron seemed to puff up a bit in pride at this.
"Due to the recent public acknowledgement of Voldemort's," almost all students either flinched or gasped, "return, this year's Quidditch Cup must be cancelled." Dumbledore raised a hand at the angry mutterings from most of the school and the outraged shouts from each team. "I am quite aware how unpopular this action will prove to be; however, in the interests of safety it is a decision that I must make. In a small attempt to regain some goodwill with you, there will be a Yule Ball again this year." Excited whisperings started up, mostly by the girls.
Dumbledore was still speaking. "All of the so-called Educational Decrees from last year have been revoked. Due to the . . . retirement of Professor Umbridge -" he paused as a wave of muttering passed through the students. "As I was saying, due to her retirement, we have a new professor. She is an Auror, on temporary loan from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. Let us welcome Professor Nymphadora Tonks."
Tonks stood and waved a little timidly to the assembled students.
Ron and Ginny gaped in open astonishment. Harry bit down on a knuckle to suppress the laughter.
After a moment, Hermione stood and led the rest of the slightly confused Gryffindor house in applause. While she was doing this, Dumbledore looked at Harry with one eyebrow raised in query. Knowing what he was being asked, Harry nodded with a wide grin.
Dumbledore continued after the applause died out. "This past year, a number of students formed a club called the Defense Association." He was again interrupted, this time by shouting and cheering from various spots on three of the four house tables. Harry flushed in embarrassment at the display of loyalty. "It may interest you all to know that the lowest OWL or NEWT in the Defense Against the Dark Arts practical earned by a member of this association was an Exceeds Expectations." Harry smiled happily at this news as Dumbledore went on, "So it bears some thought by each of you whether you would care to join this club, which will be open to all students in fourth year and above. Relevant information will be posted in all common rooms in the next few days. Due to its nature, this club will be under the supervision of Professor Tonks, but will not be taught by her. Instead, the club's founder will continue to lead it." Cheering started from the same locations that had previously made noise, and Dumbledore had to raise his voice to finish, "Associate Professor Potter."
All the former DA members were stamping their feet and cheering wildly. The Slytherins appeared to be in shock.
Snape had such an expression on his face that Harry momentarily wondered if the twins had somehow slipped him a "Super Sour Sherbet".
Finally realising what it meant, most of the other Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws started clapping and buzzing with the news
"WHAT?" Malfoy's voice bellowed, nearly drowned out by the continued noise.
Unheard among the near riot the news had caused, Dumbledore clapped, causing food to appear at all the tables.
Malfoy, ignoring the food, stomped up to the head table and started yelling at Snape.
For his part, the head of Slytherin house simply glowered at Harry.
Harry himself was being showered with well-wishes by all the former DA members and all the Gryffindors who could reach him. "Get off, get off," he laughingly ordered. "First meeting in a couple days. Notes will be in the common rooms in plenty of time."
"What about the coins?" Justin asked.
"Keep them as souvenirs," Harry offered.
The DA members eventually drifted back to their own tables, leaving Harry to finally turn back to his dinner.
The next half-hour was a pleasant time of laughter, catching up with friends, and excellent food. Once he was finished eating and reduced to sips of his pumpkin juice, Harry decided to take care of one order of business immediately. He stood and rounded the Gryffindor table near the head table, garnering more attention with each passing second. Stopping beside Ginny's spot next to Hermione, he lowered himself to one knee. In a carrying but not over-loud voice, he said, "Ginny, gorgeous creature and light of my heart, will you deign to accompany this humble wizard to the Yule Ball?"
Ron had a nauseated look on his face at Harry's theatrics. Hermione looked somewhere between amused and wistful. Most of the other girls in earshot were envious.
Ginny somehow managed to keep a straight face. "Yes, good sir, I do believe I shall accept your most gracious offer to accompany you to the Yule Ball."
Smiling widely, Harry stood and leaned in for a tender kiss, causing most of the girls in the room to sigh.
"Alright, break it up," Ron said impatiently.
Hermione smiled at Harry. "You're getting really good at this whole boyfriend thing, Harry." She turned her head to glare at Ron. "You could learn a thing or two about how to treat a lady, Ronald Weasley." She stood up with a sniff and stormed off.
Ron watched her go before turning back to his best friend. "Mental that one. Mental."
Harry shook his head sadly as he took the now vacated seat next to Ginny. "Ron, if you don't ask her in time this year, I can't be held responsible for any results."
Ron sputtered for a moment before applying himself diligently to his steak and kidney pie, earning giggles and snickers from the nearby students.
A minute later, Harry spotted Tonks walking down the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. She stopped across from him and nodded. "Professor Potter."
"Professor Tonks," he returned, barely keeping the amusement from his face. Now that she was closer, he recognised most of the elements of her face, but the long, brown hair in a conservative style was well out of character for her.
"Please stay after class tomorrow, and we can discuss your DA."
"Of course, Professor," he acknowledged with a slight nod.
"Tonks. Where have I heard that name before?" Neville asked, watching her walk away.
"She was one of the Aurors in the fight last June," Harry explained to him quietly.
Neville looked over at Harry past Ginny's grinning face. "I don't remember any of the Aurors being that good looking," he objected.
"She's a special case," Ginny answered in amusement. "If she doesn't explain it in the first week, we'll tell you about her."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
" . . . is what we're going to be studying this year here in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Questions?"
"You're an Auror?"
"Yes, for a bit over two years now."
"With those looks, you can't possibly be an undercover agent," Malfoy drawled. He cocked his head and added with a leer, "Unless you're truly an experienced UNDER COVER agent."
"Ten points from Slytherin for insulting a professor," she said calmly.
"You can't do that," he objected, sitting up suddenly.
He clamped his mouth shut and slumped back in his seat, glaring malevolently.
"Give up, Malfoy," Harry advised. "She's one of the Aurors that helped put your father away. You can't possibly scare or intimidate her."
"Five points for insulting a prefect," Malfoy snarled back.
"Ten points for overstepping your authority," Harry returned. "Prefects can't take points, remember?"
Malfoy flushed brilliantly and folded his arms across his chest in a clear pout. Most of the class laughed, including some of the Slytherins.
"Let's not get too carried away, Harry," Tonks chided with a smile.
"Back atcha, Tonks."
"That's inappropriate familiarity and therefore preferential treatment!" Malfoy jerked upright in his seat again.
Harry sighed. "Why would she be giving me preferential treatment, Malfoy? After all, YOU are family to her."
"You're kidding," Seamus blurted, staring at Harry. He turned to Tonks. "He's kidding, isn't he, Professor? I mean, you're way too nice and good looking to be -" He abruptly stopped and blushed.
Again nearly everyone laughed, this time at Seamus.
Taking pity on the Gryffindor, Tonks said, "Yes, actually I am related to Mr. Malfoy here. We're first cousins. My mother and Narcissa Malfoy are sisters, though my mother was disinherited from the family when she married a Muggle-born wizard. As for my appearance, Mr. Finnegan, it's an illusion of sorts. I'm what's called a Metamorphmagus, meaning I can alter my appearance almost at will." She shot Harry a mischievous grin and suddenly morphed into Harriet, scar and all. Almost the entire class gasped, heads swivelling from Harriet to Harry.
Sighing, Harry stood and walked so he was standing beside Tonks. "Show off," he whispered.
She winked at him and let the class study the two of them standing side by side for a minute.
Going back to her previous appearance, she said, "Twelve inches on the advantages to having a Metamorphmagus among your available forces during low intensity conflicts, such as the one we're currently undergoing against Voldemort." She ignored the shudder that most of the students displayed at the name. "Dismissed."
"Clever idea," Harry mentioned as the last student was leaving. "Having the students come up with more ideas on how to use your abilities."
"Shh," she said with a twinkle in her eye. Her entire demeanour changed as she studied him. "How are you doing, Harry?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, looking up from packing his book and parchment away.
"Something was wrong with you today. I just can't figure out what it is."
"I told Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Luna the prophecy last night after dinner," Harry sighed. "I figured I owed them at least that much seeing as how I drug them to the Ministry that night." Neville's reaction was just as extreme as Harry had expected, not surprising, as he had nearly been the chosen one.
Tonks nodded slowly. "How'd they take it?"
"About like you'd expect."
"Actually, I have no idea what to expect, seeing as how I don't know the second half of the prophecy."
His eyebrows rose. "Whaddya know; Dumbledore really HASN'T told anyone," he mused to himself. To her, he added, "I don't have a problem with you, Moody, and Remus knowing, if you want."
She shook her head. "I don't need to know, so don't bother. I'm only worried about the repercussions on you."
He waved it off. "I'll be alright. They're all still speaking with me, after all."
"If you need to talk, you have friends, Harry," she offered.
He faintly smiled. "I might take you up on that one of these days. Meanwhile, you needed to talk with me about the DA?"
"Some. I'm officially responsible for it, so I have to take some interest. I'll be attending most of the meetings, just so you know. Don't worry, I'll always be overt unless I tell you otherwise. I heard about the loyalty contract they'll have to sign. I'd like to know what all goes into that before people start signing. If you need anything specific, come through me first and we can go to Professor Dumbledore if needs be. Any problems?"
He shook his head. "It'll be Friday and Saturday evenings after dinner in the Great Hall. Flyers will be going up tomorrow."