The Unknown Power
Yule Ball to Early Christmas Holidays
Harry / Ginny ship and Ron / Hermione ship
Life settled back down into routine for Harry and Ginny. If you don't count interviews, photos, occasional gifts, and frequent requests for autographs or dates, that is.
Despite being in her fifth year and studying for OWLs, Ginny spent as much time with Harry as she could. Much of it was actually spent studying with the older student, but not all of it. Harry's private quarters were a sore temptation for the young couple, but they managed to control themselves despite a few close calls.
Due to the abbreviated and out of sequence Quidditch season, Gryffindor only played one game before the Christmas holidays. Ron was thankful that their first game was against Hufflepuff. He hadn't trained them all up into the team he wanted, but they still handled Hufflepuff's team quickly and won two hundred and thirty to twenty.
The other early game pitted Slytherin against Ravenclaw. Slytherin went their usual route and played dirty against the vastly superior Ravenclaw team. After two hours of rough play, Cho easily beat Malfoy to the Snitch for a Ravenclaw victory of three hundred and ten to one hundred and eighty.
The date of the Yule Ball finally arrived, bringing excitement in its wake. Even the fifth and seventh years took breaks from their studying for the entire day. Most of the girls spent three or four hours getting themselves ready. The boys spent most of that same time chatting in the common rooms or playing games, feeling that even one hour of preparation was a bit extreme. After Ron beat Harry for the third time in chess, the two boys went their separate ways to get ready for the Ball.
Harry took a long, relaxing shower in his rooms before donning the emerald dress robes that Ginny had purchased for him in Hogsmeade just after Halloween. After five minutes spent trying to tame his hair, he abandoned the fight and left it to its own devices. Patting his robe pockets to make sure he had his wand and Ginny's gift, he made is way back to the Gryffindor common room. The Fat Lady made an appreciative noise as she opened up for him. Harry felt himself blush. Was the painting really whistling at him? Harry found most of the male Gryffindors above fourth year standing around the common room, reassuring each other.
"Hi, Ron. Any of the girls come down yet?" Harry asked as he slid in beside the redhead.
"The fourth years came down in a group and already left. Parvati blazed through a while back, muttering something about meeting her date in time. I haven't seen anyone else come down, though." He tugged nervously at his (frill free) collar. "Does this robe look okay on me?"
Harry gave his friend a half-smile. "You look fine, Ron. Hermione will be here. Don't worry so much." When and how the two had agreed to attend the Yule Ball together was a mystery to everyone, but after the initial "teasing incident", the two had rapidly grown closer, much to everyone's relief. There were even rumours a couple weeks previously of a snogging session between the two that had been interrupted by a third year.
Natalie McDonald stepped daintily down the girls' staircase, resplendent in a turquoise gown. She looked at the shuffling and nervous group of wizards in amusement. "Don't worry, boys, all the ladies are coming down soon. Nobody's gotten cold feet yet." She glanced at Harry with a grin. "Several of us tried to talk Ginny out of attending so one of us could snatch Harry, but she wouldn't budge."
Harry grinned at her as a wave of nervous laughter made its way around the room.
Natalie glided over and took Colin's proffered arm, the two fifth years heading immediately down.
Ginny was the next one to come down. Harry felt his breathing stop but couldn't be distracted enough to restart it. She was simply the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen. Her long hair had been done up in some sort of intricate braid, though a few wisps had escaped to frame her face. Her gown was strapless, leaving the creamy skin of her neck exposed. Her magical focus pendant was the only jewellery she wore. The gown's colour was a match to his own, sweeping down her trim waist and flaring out at the bottom. She didn't walk so much as glide along. Once her eyes found Harry's, her attention didn't shift again while she crossed the room to stand before him.
"You are the most beautiful . . ." he trailed off, eyes still devouring her.
She smiled demurely and dropped her gaze. "Thank you," she whispered.
Harry's mind came back into focus when Ron bumped him and whispered, "That's my sister you're drooling over."
Harry and Ginny's heads snapped over to glare at Ron.
He smiled blandly back at the couple.
Ginny broke first and giggled, her nervousness easily showing.
Harry smiled at her and reached into his robe. "That outfit is missing only one thing. Fortunately, I happen to have something that I think will help." He held out the small jewellery box and opened it.
Ginny caught her breath in a soft, "Oh!" before reaching forward gingerly. "They're gorgeous, Harry, thank you." She pulled the emerald earrings out and quickly fastened them in place.
"Bloody hell, Potter," one of the seventh years said in amused aggravation. "You're making us all look bad."
Harry looked up in surprise to find the entire common room looking at the two of them with smiles. Blushing furiously, the two linked arms and made their way out among the light laughter.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The staff had pulled out all the stops to decorate the Great Hall. Mistletoe hung at strategic locations. Multiple Christmas trees were scattered around the room, each decorated in differing but still beautiful styles. Real fairies floated above everyone's heads, their subliminal laughter causing high spirits all around. An enchanted snowfall appeared to come out of the ceiling, stopping less than a foot above everyone's heads. As usual at the Balls, the house tables had been replaced with many smaller tables. Harry gently led Ginny toward the table with Natalie and Colin. He held the chair for her and then seated himself. They were quickly joined by a slightly star-struck Ron and Hermione, trailed closely by Neville and his date, Eloise Midgen. Neville remembered to hold the chair for his date, but Ron did not. This didn't appear to bother Hermione but did result in a bit of good-natured ribbing by Harry, Neville and Colin.
The eight students spoke their dinner orders and ate the fine meals thus provided. The conversation started with questions about the DA and Harry explained some of the topics to be covered in the new year. After that, it shifted to the upcoming OWL exams. The sixth year students assured the younger ones that they were indeed difficult, but that with proper study they could actually be survived.
Eloise, the lone Hufflepuff at the table, appeared to be quite nervous.
Trying to comfort her, Neville told about how he had had to have a Calming Draught AFTER the Potions test was completed. This little bit of embarrassing trivia seemed to help calm her.
After dinner, Dumbledore bade everyone stand and cleared all the tables away to make a dance floor. Music was provided by a relatively unknown band called Liquid Moonlight. They had a large repertoire of songs and a singer whose voice lived up to the band's name.
Harry and Ginny were on the floor for the first three dances before taking a break. Chatting for a few minutes with DA members, they sipped punch and traded comments about the other couples on the dance floor.
One song ended and instead of another beginning immediately, the singer said, "This next song is Wizard's Choice. Gentlemen, please find a dance partner, but it cannot be the witch you brought." A moment of puzzled silence before everyone started shifting around when the next song started.
More than one wizard moved toward Ginny, but she had already accepted the offer from Ernie Macmillan. Harry, meanwhile, had the attention of nearly every witch in the room. They were all hoping he would ask them, but he was instead moving toward where the staff was standing. He stopped and gave a half-bow, holding out one hand. "Professor Tonks, may I have the honour of this dance?"
Tonks, hair in an impossible braid and a mix of silver and gold, smiled and took his hand, allowing him to lead her to the dance floor.
Once they were comfortably moving, he chanced a quick look around. They were one of the first couples to the dance floor, so Harry quickly spotted Ernie and Ginny comfortably chatting. He was also somewhat surprised to see Remus wearing golden robes and dancing with Professor McGonagall. His attention was forcefully brought back to his own partner when she stepped on his foot.
She winced at the expression on his face. "Sorry," she whispered.
"S'okay," he said after the pain subsided. "I should have remembered."
"You're the one who kept tripping over that umbrella stand, weren't you?"
She laughed and inched herself further into his arms. "You got me there. So, how do you like the Ball?"
"It's wonderful. Much better than the Yule Ball during my fourth year."
"Poor thing," she said without a trace of sympathy in her voice. "School champion, forced to dance with Miss Patil." Her face shifted to Parvati, causing Harry to stumble for a moment in surprise, before her face reverted back to her own. "I've heard mention that she's regarded as one of the prettiest girls here. I'm sure it was absolute torture for you."
Harry grinned self-deprecatingly. "So many things went wrong with that date that it would take days to list them all. Most of them were my fault, honestly. At any rate, the circumstances here are much better as well. Voldemort's gone, the Death Eaters are being captured, I'm blissfully in love and I'm about to go to stay at my very own home. How are you enjoying yourself?"
"This is great," she bubbled. "I had a hard time dating when I was in school, so I didn't get to many Balls."
"You are pretty intimidating, Dora," Harry mentioned, trying out her nickname for the first time. He explained his comment at her questioning look, "As a Metamorphmagus, most people don't quite know what to expect out of you."
"Hmm, you may be right. My boyfriends seemed to enjoy it, but they all dumped me when the novelty wore off. So, do you have any requests?"
Harry frowned. "I'm sorry?"
"Anyone in particular you'd like to dance with?" she explained easily.
He sighed. "I asked Nymphadora Tonks to dance. It wasn't because I knew she could look like Parvati Patil, but rather because I wanted to dance with HER. I know you're a Metamorphmagus, Dora. You don't need to wear someone else's face to make me happy."
She blinked rapidly a few times and opened her mouth before abruptly deflating. "Thank you, Harry," she whispered, studying the front of his robes. "Remus has said some of the same things to me. I guess I'm just not used to people liking me just for me instead of this skill I have."
Harry smiled wryly. "I think I can sympathise with that one. Hey, Boy Who Lived here, remember?"
She looked up and gave a genuine smile before laughing. "Okay, you won that one."
"Hey, I just thought of something you could give me for Christmas." At her raised eyebrow, he said, "For Christmas Day, or at least whatever portion you spend at Potter Manor, just be the real you. Don't wear some other hair or face, just be the real Nymphadora Tonks."
She slowly broke into a wide smile. "And just what makes you think I am going to be at your place on Christmas?"
"Because you're invited for as much of the holidays as you want, you know Remus is already living there and I don't do bed checks," he finished with a twinkle in his eye.
Her grin widened. "Deal!"
"I was serious about you spending as much of the entire break at my place as you want, you know."
She nodded. "I may take you up on that. Don't worry, I promise not to do any bed checks either."
Harry began to sputter as the song ended. She leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek then walked away laughing.
He wandered back to the spot he'd been standing earlier in a state of bemused shock.
"Harry? What's wrong?" Ginny asked, having arrived just before him.
He shook his head. "Nothing, really. Just something Tonks said." He gently pulled her back to the dance floor as another song started up. Pulling her close, he whispered the conversation into her ear.
Instead of being shocked, she seemed thoughtful. "I'll have to figure out how to thank her."
Harry's jaw fell open.
"Oh, is the thought that awful?"
Harry clicked his jaw shut and shook his head vehemently. "Not at all. Quite the opposite in fact. It's just that I didn't want to push you into anything you're not ready for." He paused and amended himself, "WE'RE not ready for."
She laced her hands behind his neck and leaned her head comfortably onto his chest. "I agree that we're not ready for that step, but I'm sure it'll happen. When it does, it does. Whether that's tomorrow or not for years yet, it doesn't matter."
"You're serious," he said in wonder.
She smiled softly, though he couldn't see the expression. "You're mine, and I'm yours, Harry. It's as simple as that. Everything else will work itself out."
The next song finished before they broke their warm cocoon. Harry leaned down slightly and gave her a lingering kiss right in the middle of the dance floor before silently leading her back to the mingling areas.
Before they made it, though, they heard, "Witch's Choice. Same rules, girls. Go get 'em."
"Good luck," Ginny said with a mischievous grin before darting off.
When Harry turned around, he found the vast majority of the witches in the room were turning toward him.
Harry gave serious consideration to casting a Disillusionment Charm upon himself and bolting for the door.
Lavender latched onto his left arm just before he could put his plan into action. Before she could say a word to him, she got into an argument with Cho.
Harry's right arm, meanwhile, was the captive of Parvati who was trading words with Hannah and Eloise.
The first one to actually speak to Harry was Susan Bones. "Harry, while these witches argue among themselves, would you care to dance?"
Harry smiled at the Hufflepuff and extricated his arms. "Certainly, Susan. Thank you for asking." Certain that she was receiving venomous glares from many directions, Harry steered her toward the dance floor with a light hand to her back. Once they were moving, he simply said, "Thank you."
Her eyes crinkled up as she smiled at him. "You're welcome. They were arguing over you like you were a choice morsel. You looked like you needed to be saved from the slavering horde."
He laughed. "True enough. This morsel is already spoken for, however."
"Oh, I know that. Anyone with eyes can see it. I just want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I actually danced with you once."
Harry smiled a little in embarrassment. "Please don't make it out to be more than it is, Susan."
"What you and Ginny did IS a big deal, Harry. The fact you're trying to downplay it is just part of what makes you, you."
"Could we change the subject, please, before I start to imitate Ginny's hair?"
She laughed. "Okay, we'll do that. What're you going to be teaching us next term?"
The rest of the evening was spent laughing and dancing. In short, it was a perfect evening for Harry and Ginny.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Hmmph. Go 'way."
"Get your lazy arse out of bed, Harry."
Harry's pillow was suddenly jerked out from under his head and immediately re-applied to his head at much higher speed.
It was moments like this that Harry wished he'd never told Ron his password. "If you want to live to see Christmas, Weasley, you'll leave the room and come back at a civilised hour," Harry threatened in a perfectly level tone from underneath his pillow.
"Pfft!" Ron waved the comment off. "You wouldn't do that to me. Ginny would never forgive you, and Mum wouldn't ever knit you another jumper. Listen, it IS a civilised hour. Why do you think I'm up? Carriages leave in an hour and you still need to pack."
"Aw, hell," Harry groaned, levering himself up and stumbling toward the bathroom.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Glad you could join us, Harry," Hermione teased when Harry dropped into the seat across from her, hair still wet.
"It would've been easier to get him up if he were still living in the tower," Ron mentioned.
Harry just grunted, reaching for breakfast.
"Why are you so cranky?" Ginny asked.
"Had a hard time falling asleep," Harry spoke around his breakfast.
"Looking forward to living at your own place?" Hermione asked, divining the cause easily.
Harry merely nodded.
"Oh, good," Ron said. "I was worried your insomnia was due to mooning over my sister or something."
"That, too, but I figured you didn't want to hear my fantasy with the chocolate sauce in front of the Gryffindor fire."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. Ginny did, too, but in a very different way. Ron merely closed his eyes and winced in pain.
Harry grinned at Ron's reaction.
"Prat," Ron grumbled to the amusement of the other three.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The train ride back to London blurred by in a haze of Christmas carols, Exploding Snap and food off the snack trolley.
"Knight takes pawn," Ginny advised, studying the board while leaning into Harry's side.
"Are you playing, or is it Harry?" Ron asked.
"Doesn't matter," Hermione said, putting the mark into the massive tome she was reading. "We're here."
"Just as well," Harry said, pulling the bag out for his pieces to scramble into. "I was losing. Again."
"I miss you in Gryffindor Tower, Harry. Nobody else is so willing to let me thrash them repeatedly."
"You're welcome. I think."
Ginny merely smiled at Harry's ambiguous response. She stood and stretched out the kinks as the train slowed to a crawl.
Harry indulged in some up close and personal Ginny-watching.
"Hey, Harry, your shoes are on fire," Ron calmly announced.
"Huh?" Harry's eyes didn't shift.
"I said your boxers are about to explode."
Ron shook his head as Hermione snickered. "You're hopeless," Ron pronounced with a theatrical sigh.
Blinking himself back to reality, Harry shrugged agreeably. "Hopelessly smitten, anyway."
From the other side of their carriage door, Tonks tapped on the window, interrupting Ron's groan. When the students were looking at her, she opened the door and stepped in as the train stopped at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. "Ready to go, kids?"
Harry stood and followed the other four out. Once on the platform, they headed toward where they could see Molly and Bill Weasley waiting. Harry gave Ginny a hug. "See you in a few days?"
"Housewarming party is Monday starting at four, right?"
Harry nodded as he released her slowly.
Ginny gave him a peck on the cheek then turned and dashed at Bill, throwing herself into a hug.
Harry waved at the Weasleys and the just united Grangers. "See everyone Monday?" he asked them all.
When everyone nodded and called their goodbyes, he held his arm out to Tonks. "Shall we?"
She threaded her arm through his. "Let's." She led him to an inconspicuous car with a silent driver and waved him in, slipping in right behind him.
The car slid through the traffic easily, finding holes in the traffic that weren't there. The Leaky Cauldron was only a few minutes away, not giving Harry enough time to marvel at the mode of transportation. They got out and entered the pub. The car pulled immediately away again. Greeting Tom the barkeep in passing, Harry and Tonks made their way to the fireplace.
"Potter Manor!" A harrowing trip later, Harry came lurching out and onto his parlour floor. "Oomph!"
Tonks stepped out of the fire moments later and looked down at the sprawled Harry. "And here I thought I was clumsy," she observed in humour.
"You are, Dora," Remus cheerfully assured her, earning a glare that was ignored. "Harry, though, has this problem with Floo or Portkey travel." He turned to the teenager now picking himself off the floor. "How are you, Cub?"
"Better now that I'm home," he grinned, just for being able to use that word. "Thanks for the Cushioning Charm, by the way," he waved at the floor he had just been lying upon.
"Sure. Hey, it was one of the things you asked me for, right?"
Harry nodded agreement.
"What did you call him?" Tonks asked, giving Remus a welcoming hug.
"Cub? Well, as I've been a werewolf since I was four, and he's my godson . . ."
She laughed at the nickname. "And I bet you were a cute little wolf cub, too."
Remus gave her a look of mock annoyance, but Harry could easily see the affection behind it.
Shaking his head at his girlfriend's teasing, Remus turned to Harry and said, "I got the entire list of chores done, CUB," he emphasized, grinning at Tonks. "We can start your tutoring whenever you want," he finished, looking back at Harry.
"Tutoring?" Tonks asked.
"He's going to teach me some of the finer points of seduction," Harry explained.
Tonks and Remus gaped. "I'm WHAT?" the werewolf asked incredulously.
Harry grinned. "Okay, not really. Animagus, Apparition, and duelling," he more honestly answered the Auror's question. He turned to Remus. "Give me a day to get settled and we can start tomorrow? Don't forget we have the housewarming party Monday, too."
"Oh! I know what we can do today," Tonks said excitedly.
Harry looked over at her with a smirk. "Well, I WAS planning on letting you two have some time alone . . ."
Remus blushed lightly.
Tonks grinned. "Oh, don't worry about us. I'll try to remember to use Silencing Charms, but just ignore any noises you may hear tonight."
Harry was impressed that she could say all that and still be totally unembarrassed.
Remus's blush deepened.
Harry guffawed at Remus's reaction.
"No, what I was going to suggest is getting a Christmas tree," Tonks finished her earlier thought.
A slow smile spread over Harry's face. "That is a grand idea, Dora."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Five hours later, Harry stepped back from the tree in satisfaction.
The ten foot evergreen was in the parlour, off to the side of the fireplace. Magically twinkling lights, an assortment of ornaments, and a bit of garland had been added. It's amazing what the right combination of items can become.
"There!" Tonks pronounced, stepping back. She'd appointed herself the "tinsel fairy" and had been spreading bits all over the tree and occasionally the rest of the room and its occupants. Harry had originally worried that she'd over decorate the tree (the Dursley tree always ended up covered with so much tinsel that the fake evergreen itself was totally buried), but the eccentric Auror had good taste. She'd conjured just enough that it added to the effect without taking it over. Remus, likewise, had been hanging wreaths and garland around the room. The scent of pine was everywhere but stopped short of being overpowering.
Harry blinked at the unexpected sound and turned to see a kneazle sitting at one of the doors, intently studying him, Dora and the tree.
"Ah," Remus said, seeing what had Harry's attention. "You told me to talk with Arabella about getting some kneazles. For a manor the size of this one, she recommended not less than four and up to a dozen. In addition to keeping the mouse and rat population under control, they're a good warning system against hostile wizards. They won't do much directly, but they'll warn everyone in the place if something's wrong."
The kneazle twined itself through Tonks's legs, purring loudly.
Remus raised an eyebrow. "He's quite taken with you, Dora. Anyway, I got four for the moment. Two male and two female. If you want more, the Contraceptive Charm can be removed from the two girls easily enough. Kneazle kittens can also be good gifts or sold since these four are all registered animals. This one," he nodded to the kneazle accepting an ear scratch from Tonks, "is Rascal. Tabitha and Shadow are around somewhere. Midnight is here, too, but she's much more shy."
Harry grinned and offered the back of his hand for Rascal's inspection. When he began butting his head against it, Harry rubbed his head. "I'm glad you named them something reasonable. I had awful visions of kneazles named Snowball and Mr. Whiskers or something."
Remus chuckled. "Arabella didn't really name her kneazles that, Harry. Those names were part of her cover as a cat-infatuated crazy Muggle woman."
"It worked," Harry said dryly, standing erect again, and looking around the room. Everything was finished, looking just exactly like his mental image of a picture postcard Christmas scene.
His face slowly fell, however, as memories of the previous Christmas came to him. What he wouldn't give for Sirius to spring from behind the tree and start singing "God Rest Ye, Merry Hippogriffs."
"I know, Harry. I miss him, too," Remus said quietly, gripping Harry's shoulder.
Borry walked in with three mugs and handed them around, looking approvingly at the tree and decorations. The house-elf had successfully eased the melancholy atmosphere without even realising it.
Harry took an experimental sip of the hot, cider like drink. "This is good, Borry. What is it?"
"Wassail!" Remus exclaimed with a smile.
Borry smiled. "Master Remus is right. Rully was thinking it is good for the season." He nodded toward the tree.
"He was right," Harry agreed.
"If masters and miss are done, supper is being ready."
"Good, I'm famished," Tonks said, leading the way toward the dining room, Rascal trotting along behind her.
"Gotta keep your energy up for later, right?" Harry teased.
"You bet. You make sure you eat enough too, Rem."
"Have you no shame?" Remus muttered, blushing spectacularly.
"Apparently not, but it is fun watching her tease you, Moony," Harry observed with a wide grin.
"You realise you're just encouraging the lad?" Remus asked of Tonks as he held her chair for her.
"He's a sixteen year old wizard, Remus. He doesn't need any encouragement," she observed dryly. "At least from me," she added after a moment.
Remus sighed, taking his own seat. "I can see I'm not going to get any help from you."
"You're the parental figure, here. I'm just the older sister who can get away with being a very bad influence." She threw the highly amused Harry a wink.
"Okay, NOW you're making me feel old," Remus pouted.
"Don't worry," Harry interjected. "I'm sure she'll find a way to reinvigorate you later."
Remus dropped his head into his hands as Harry and Tonks broke into laughter.
The entering Scully and Delly, laden with food, blinked at the strange actions of their masters.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
After lunch, Harry sat down at the desk in a small room that Remus had turned into a private study. Taking a quill, he began writing.
You and a guest are formally invited to a New Year's Eve celebration at Potter Manor.
Festivities and dancing (and assorted mayhem if the Weasley twins agree to attend) will begin at eight in the evening. Drinks and appetizers will be provided.
Floo will be open from 7:45 until 8:00. The dress is casual.
Please respond by owl with acceptances or regrets not later than December the twenty-third.
Harry J Potter
Blowing gently on the parchment to dry the ink, he hoped the combination of the formal invitation style he'd looked up at Hogwarts looked okay combined with the bit of humour he'd added.
Leaving the parchment to finish drying, he counted out twenty-five sheets of parchment and stacked them neatly next to the invitation. He placed the now dry sheet on top. Waving his wand over the sheet, he cast, "Scriptus Duplico twenty-five." After giving the charm a few seconds to complete, Harry flipped through the sheets of parchment, nodding when all of them now bore the same text.
Dipping his quill into the inkpot again, he addressed each letter to a different member of last year's DA. To Fred and George's, he added a post script saying that he was going to be keeping this secret from Ron, Ginny, and Hermione until that day.
"Dare I ask what you're up to?" Remus asked, leaning on the doorframe.
"Inviting the original DA members to a New Year's Eve party," Harry calmly answered.
Remus nodded, not very surprised. "Have you thought about security? You have to admit that such a group would be a high-value target for the remaining Death Eaters."
Harry grimaced as he started rolling the parchments up and addressing the outside of each. "I can't even throw a party without worrying that it'll be a target, can I?" Harry looked up in sudden concern. "Hey, what about the housewarming party? Will that be a target, too?"
Remus shook his head. "So few people know about it that there's no chance of it leaking. This," he waved to the stacks of parchment, "is another issue entirely."
Heaving a relieved breath, Harry nodded and returned to writing names, rolling and sealing the scroll with a muttered charm. "I suppose you're right. Considering who all is likely to be here, though, it might almost be amusing for a few Death Eaters to show up. What's left of them wouldn't fill a shoebox." He waved his hand when Remus opened his mouth. "I know, I know. They could attack in force."
"Nice to see all of your Defense lessons haven't been wasted," Remus said in amusement.
Harry grinned. "I'm sure our favourite Auror knows a few good Perimeter Charms."
Lupin nodded. "Now you're thinking. You should inform Magical Law Enforcement about what you're doing. This is a high profile party so they need to know about it in case of emergency. I can create a few Portkeys, too, just in case."
Harry blinked. "You can create Portkeys? Aren't unauthorised Portkeys illegal?"
Remus grinned wolfishly. "Only if we're caught. And even then, a Portkey that saves lives isn't likely to get me into trouble." He sobered. "You realise we should tell Albus."
Harry's face soured. "Yeah," he grudgingly admitted. "If I see anyone inside aside from you and Tonks, though, I'm hexing them on sight." He smirked. "Especially if it's Snape."
Lupin fought hard to keep his expression stern instead of grinning along.
"You and Tonks are more welcome as guests to this instead of guards, you know."
Remus shook his head. "Though I'll enjoy seeing all my old students, we'll be very out of place. We'll probably visit with everyone early and then disappear after a couple of hours. Don't worry about us or the security. Dora and I will handle it."
Harry sighed. "You don't have to be taking care of me like this, Moony."
"No, but I WANT to do it. You're the closest thing to family I have left, Harry. You want to have a party, so I'll help you throw a party. Dora and I weren't going to go anywhere anyway. We may as well do something helpful for you."
Eyes prickling, Harry smiled. "Thank you. Okay, I'll leave the security arrangements in your hands. Just warn me, okay? I'd like to be able to walk around my own home without being attacked by a chimera."
Remus chuckled. "Not a bad idea. I'll see if Hagrid has any of those Blast-Ended Skrewts still." He laughed at Harry's horrified expression. "I was kidding! If anything is going to happen inside, I'll warn you well ahead of time."
Calming, Harry nodded. "Well, I'm going to Diagon Alley. I have a bit more shopping to do, send these out and arrange some of the supplies."
"So long as you stay in Diagon Alley, you'll be safe enough. Have fun."
"Thanks, Dad. I promise to be back before dark."
"See that you do, young man. You're not too old to bend you over my knee for a spanking," Remus grinned back.
Harry snorted and stood, gathering the rolls of parchment. "Wrong person, Rem. Talk to the lovely lady upstairs if you want to spank someone." He grinned at Remus's uncomfortable expression. "I'm going out for a few hours. You two have fun."
Still laughing at how easy it was to embarrass Remus, Harry Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron.
"Harry!" Tom greeted the new arrival.
"Tom," Harry said, pulling himself upright and brushing soot out of his hair. "Sorry Tonks and I buzzed through here so quickly earlier. How've you been?"
Tom waved off the apology and returned to wiping down the bar top in the almost empty room. "Doing well, doing well. How about yourself?"
"Excellent. Listen, I'd like to make an order to pick up New Year's Eve. Can I do that and keep it quiet?"
Tom stopped wiping and turned his full attention toward Harry. "Surely. Throwing a party are you?"
"Considering who all would like to see me dead, let's keep that to ourselves."
Tom nodded, understanding immediately. "Consider it done. What can I do for you?"
Harry thought about it for a second. "Three hundred butterbeers and five bottles of firewhiskey should be about right."
Tom blinked. "That'd be easier, not to mention cheaper, to do kegs if you're talking about that many guests."
After staring for a moment, Harry chuckled. "You're right, of course. Not like I've ever tried to plan a party before. Okay, how about this: forty guests at a minimum, mostly students or just graduated students for a New Year's Eve party. What would you recommend?"
Tom nodded. "Three kegs, fifty mugs, the five bottles of firewhiskey, and ten shot glasses. As you probably don't need that many mugs or shot glasses permanently, I'll rent them to you for the evening. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough. With your permission, I'll come through early on the thirty-first and have one of my house-elves take the stuff to my place. How much will I owe you?"
Tom's face scrunched up in thought for a moment. "Call it a hundred galleons including twenty for a security deposit. The bottles of firewhiskey are yours if they don't get drunk. Otherwise everything else should come back before January fifth. Anything missing or broken beyond repair comes out of the security deposit, Mr. Potter."
"You were calling me Harry earlier."
Tom smiled his toothless smile. "That was before this became a serious business discussion, Mr. Potter. Is that setup acceptable?"
"Sounds good to me. If the number of guests changes significantly, I'll let you know."
"Yes, sir. I'll be seeing you and your elf on the thirty-first, then. Would you like to pay now, or should I use the same account Mr. Lupin used in your name a while back?"
"Take it out of the account, thanks. If I could have a butterbeer to go, I'll be on my way."
Tom pulled a warm bottle from beneath the bar top and offered it over. "After that discussion, Harry, this one is on the house. You have a good day, now."
Chuckling over the barkeep's mercurial demeanour changes, Harry walked out the back. After pulling up the cowl of his cloak and casting a quick Glamour Charm over his face, he stepped through the magical gateway and onto Diagon Alley. He smiled as the familiar sights and sounds washed over him. Diagon Alley was mainly unchanged from when he visited the previous summer. In recognition of the season, there were more twinkling lights than usual and some holiday decorations in storefronts.
Taking sips of the warm butterbeer in his hand, he first went into the post office. Once he'd sent off all the invitations minus Ginny's (Ron and Hermione's were on a time delay to get to them the morning of the thirty-first) for a tidy sum, he left the building full of softly hooting owls and wandered down the street, peeking in storefronts.
He spent some time browsing in Flourish and Blotts, finally selecting the most obscure book he could find (on South American magical practises) to give to Hermione for Christmas.
Back outside, he went down a few stores to Quality Quidditch Supplies, picking up a new set of Keeper gloves and pads for Ron.
He considered poking his head into the Weasley Wizard Wheezes store but found it to be full near to overflowing with holiday shoppers, mainly under twenty years of age. Chuckling and shaking his head, he went on his way.
He stopped outside a jewellery store and stared at the display of rings, hesitantly considering.
"Is there anything you would like to announce, Mr. Potter?" a voice softly asked from beside him.
Startled, Harry turned, pulling out his wand in reflex.
Beside him, the man rapidly raised his hands and backed up, eyes on the wand suddenly pointed at him.
Harry relaxed and re-holstered his wand when he recognised Simon Firthquill, the reporter who'd done the post-Halloween interview for the Daily Prophet. "Merlin, Mr. Firthquill. Don't DO that to me!" He shook his hand where the remaining butterbeer had sloshed out during his sudden movements.
Slowly lowering his hands but still breathing a little heavily, Simon said, "Do that to YOU? You just scared a decade off my life, Mr. Potter!"
"Yeah, well you shouldn't have snuck up on me like that. My reactions are a little on the tense side."
"How'd you recognise me, anyway?" Harry wondered. The Glamour Charm he'd used earlier had changed his hair and eye colour, which he thought would have been enough to disguise him.
Simon smiled. "Don't worry. I saw you coming out of the Leaky Cauldron before you cast the Glamour Charm. I wouldn't have recognised you otherwise. Anyway," he waved at the display of jewellery in front of them, "is there an announcement you'd like to make?"
Harry smirked. "Not at this time. Rest assured, though, if there IS such an announcement, you'll be in the first hundred people I tell."
The reporter rolled his eyes. "I'm so honoured."
"Actually, you should be; you'll be the first reporter I tell. Thank you for how you did the article in November, by the by."
He nodded, looking much mollified. "Any other quotes I can get from you, then?" he asked hopefully.
"Nothing new, sorry. Have a Happy Christmas."
Nodding in response, the reporter took his leave.
Harry turned back to his shopping, making various small purchases before he made his last stop of the day in the garden nursery, which was attached to the apothecary. Considering what he was about to buy, he figured he'd better go as himself and removed the Glamour.
"How may ah help ya, lad?" the saleswoman asked from behind the counter. Her eyes flickered to Harry's scar before moving back to his face without changing expression. Harry found himself very thankful that she wasn't going to make a big deal out of this.
"If I wanted to make a very large purchase of seedlings of various kinds, how much lead time do you need?"
"That depends on which plants and how many ya'll be needin'."
Retrieving a list he'd meticulously researched from an inner pocket, he handed it over.
She read down the list before looking up at him with a suspicious frown. "Mistar Potter, unless ya're planning on poisonin' half the country, thar's only one other use for this here combination of plants that ah'm aware of."
Harry nodded. "That is not known to anyone else at this point. I will be very upset if this information gets out before I make a public statement."
She understood the request and threat rolled into one. "'Kay. When would ya like all of this available?"
"Is the beginning of this summer acceptable?"
She stared off into space for a few moments. "Aye," she answered. "Ya realise this is going to be very 'xpensive."
"Buying seedlings and growing it all in my own greenhouse will be less expensive in the long run than buying all the ingredients as they're needed."
Her mouth quirked into an acknowledging smile. "'Deed."
After re-applying his Glamour, he went to Gringott's for a full accounting of his assets and property listings.
The next step in his plan would be recruitments and then possible real estate purchases.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"I thought you said you put an Anti-Apparition ward up?" Harry asked the next morning. He was following his teacher into the large room in the basement that Remus had said was a duelling chamber.
"I did. I also left this room uncovered by the ward."
"So someone can Apparate into this room if they wanted to?" Harry asked in concern.
Remus grinned, but it had a wicked edge to it. "Not if they wanted to arrive in one piece. James and Sirius told me about this place. The walls and floor are constructed from a special form of basalt. There's also a copper mesh in there and it was received multiple Magic Dampening Charms. All of this means that they will absorb a LOT of magic before being damaged, no matter what you throw at them. As a side effect, any magic trying to get into the room from outside, like an Apparating wizard, will get . . . scrambled."
"This room was designed to be a duelling chamber, then?" Harry examined the wall with interest. To visual inspection, it was unremarkable black stone.
"Yep. That and a safe place to test unknown charms. James thought there might be a more private vault down here somewhere, too, but he could never find it." He let Harry get a feel for the room before continuing, "Within the room, we can Apparate just fine. This is where I'm going to teach you and Ginny how to do that over short ranges. Long range will have to be done outside later. Now, did Ginny say she wanted to do duelling and Animagus training, too?"
Harry shook his head. "Not now. She doesn't think she'll have the time, what with OWLs and everything. She feels that the DA covers enough duelling for her. She may want to do the Animagus later, though."
Remus nodded. "Probably a good decision. You remember what the OWLs were like." Harry grimaced, causing the other man to grin. "Just you wait until next year's NEWTs. At any rate, we could start Animagus training, or we could have a duel."
"Why not both? Duel for a bit, talk about that, then start the Animagus stuff? From what I read of Sirius's notebook, the early stages were pretty calm. Getting a firm mental picture of your left hand and all that."
"So you want a bit of excitement to offset the boring stuff?"
Harry chuckled a little self-consciously. "I suppose so. I can safely study my hands without you around, I think. So if you can just point me along the right path, I can do that for a few days in spare moments without wasting your time."
"Makes sense. Just promise me you won't try to go on to the next step without me present, okay?"
"I think this makes it the fourth time you asked that, Remus. I promise, alright?"
"Just making sure. I don't want you to get hurt. I'm kinda fond of you, Cub."
Harry grinned back, a little embarrassed.
"Before this gets too mushy for us, how about a duel?"
Harry laughed and drew his wand, saluting before assuming a proper duelling stance.
Remus mirrored his actions. "Everbero!"
"Protego." The spell ricocheted into the ceiling, absorbing into the stone without visual effect. "Come on, Moony. You can do better than that," Harry said challengingly.
A gleam came into Remus's eye. "Ah, so you think defeating Voldemort means you're good? We'll see about that. Conjunctivus! Stupefy! Petrificus Carpus! Impedimenta!" Four spells were cast rapidly.
Grinning wildly, Harry threw himself into the fight.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"There you are," Tonks said from an armchair, putting her book down. Rascal was in her lap, purring contentedly as she absently ran a hand down his back. For whatever reason that particular kneazle had taken to the Auror. "I was about to go looking . . . Great Merlin, what happened to the two of you?"
Harry looked at Remus with an expression of innocence. This was rather difficult considering his black eye and shredded robes. Remus looked scarcely better with an oozing cut on his forehead and favouring his left leg.
As one, the two wizards turned back to Tonks. "What do you mean?"
She made an impatient sound and stood, dropping the annoyed kneazle to the ground. Dora drew her wand, approaching the pair. She cast a quick series of charms, clearing up most of the injuries. "What did you two do, get into a fight?"
"Yeah, well, we were fighting over you," Harry deadpanned. "You'll be happy to know that he successfully defended your honour."
She smirked. "I'm glad to see that he thinks I have some."
Harry smothered a grin.
"Seriously, what happened?" Tonks persisted.
"Duelling practise," Remus explained calmly.
"Who won?" she asked, taking her seat again.
"I went easy on him," Harry responded.
"Excuse me? Who ended up with whose wand? Who ended up on the floor, petrified?"
"I was lulling you into a false sense of security," Harry responded as if offended.
"Uh, huh. Get out of here and change robes before we talk about the early Animagus steps."
"Sure thing," Harry cheerfully agreed, moving toward his rooms.
"How did it go really?" Tonks asked once Harry was out of earshot.
"He's good," Remus reported, dropping into a chair tiredly. "For a student he's very, very good. Not yet in our league, but he could probably give most Aurors a good fight. Or Death Eaters, more to the point."
"There's a reason he's the leader of the DA, Remus, even if he is only a sixth year. Besides, after having the two of us as teachers, he's bound to have learned SOMETHING," she said teasingly.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Early Monday afternoon, Remus lifted the security restrictions on the Floo, explaining every step to Harry as he went. The Master of Potter Manor figured he needed to know about the security on his home, after all.
The first one to arrive, half an hour early, was Ginny. The young lady immediately launched herself onto Harry, kissing him deeply. "Hi, Harry," she said breathlessly once they came up for air. "Missed you."
"Missed you, too."
Tonks groaned. "Two days. It was only two days!" she lamented to nobody in particular.
The younger couple ignored her. Harry steered her to the loveseat and sat, pulling her back down against his chest. They started talking about nothing in particular, waiting for the appointed time.
Midnight made one of her rare appearances and spent some time on Ginny's lap, much to Harry's amusement and Ginny's delight after she was introduced to the very intelligent creature.
Once the guests started arriving, Harry stood and performed his host duties, Ginny and Remus supporting as necessary.
Arthur, Molly, Bill, Charlie, Fred, George and Ron all came through the Floo, Alicia and Angelina on the twins' arms Harry was pleasantly surprised to see.
Shortly thereafter Winky entered the room from the direction of the front door, leading Hermione and her parents. Hermione's eyes flickered from Winky to Harry, accusing.
He sighed. He expected to get an earful about his elves later. On the other hand, Winky had cleaned up rapidly after Joining. Even to Hermione's eyes, the house-elf had to look happier than she did at Hogwarts.
Ginny, hearing the sigh and following his line of sight, moved toward Hermione and pulled the older girl aside for a whispered conversation.
Arthur Weasley engaged John Granger in a quiet conversation of their own. At first Harry was concerned that Mr. Weasley's fascination with all things Muggle was going to overwhelm Mr. Granger, but it was quickly clear that they were trading questions.
Jane Granger and Molly Weasley moved together and admired the tree.
Harry was absolutely sure Molly would eventually try to take over the kitchen, but he had already warned Rully about that.
Ron wandered away from his siblings and their dates, snagging a butterbeer from the drinks table. "Hiya, Harry." He looked around appreciatively. "Nice place you've got yourself here."
Harry shrugged modestly. "Built by my great-great-grandfather, or so I've been told. It's a great place. Even has its own Quidditch pitch out back."
Ron's eyes lit up. "THAT is something we'll have to use this summer."
Ginny and Hermione made their way over, Hermione looking a bit perturbed but holding her peace. Ginny threaded her arm through Harry's, not looking the least bit upset.
After a few seconds of silence, Harry offered, "You two want to have a tour?"
At their affirmative answers, the four made their way toward one of the exits.
"Gred, does it appear to you that the four youngsters are trying to sneak off?"
"Yes, Forge, that is what it seems. What do you think they're off to do?"
"Escaping?" Alicia suggested.
"Tour," Harry answered, grinning at the twins' perpetual good humour.
"I'm wounded," Fred made a dramatic gesture.
"You wouldn't invite us along -"
"- to such an event?"
"I'm not sure I trust you not to leave some 'surprises' scattered about," Harry dryly explained.
"Oh, that hurts."
"Our very own Harry doesn't trust us?"
"With good reason," Ginny interjected.
"I'm surprised, nay, shocked at such accusations!"
"You have besmirched our honour!"
"Did you notice that they haven't denied it?" Angelina observed to Alicia.
Harry sighed. "If you all want to come along, you're welcome." He pinned the twins with a stare. "Best behaviour, guys, if you don't want coal in your stockings."
Both twins crossed their hearts and nodded solemnly.
"I just KNOW I'm going to regret this," Harry muttered to Ginny as they started the tour with Bill and Charlie tagging along.
As Harry didn't show them more than one guest room and left several rooms out of the tour, it didn't take terribly long aside from having to physically drag Hermione out of the library.
"Stairs to the attic and the master suite down there," Harry finished, waving further down a short hallway.
"There's an absolutely huge bathtub in the master bath," Ginny added.
Five Weasleys, a Granger, a Spinnet, and a Johnson all turned to stare at her.
"How do you know that, Snapdragon?" Charlie asked carefully.
"Oh, she's been here before," Harry said dismissively, knowing Ginny was setting them up. Setting them up for what, he didn't know, but he was sure it was for something. She wouldn't have said anything in the first place, otherwise.
Charlie and Bill shared a look and moved down the hall, opening the door to the master suite.
Harry sighed dramatically and headed after them, the rest of the gang following behind him. By the time he made it to his bedroom the two oldest Weasleys had entered the en suite bathroom.
"She's right," Bill announced. He came out of the bathroom just in time to see Ginny enter the room and curl up on the bed as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. He stared.
"What's wrong, Bill?" Ginny asked, head propped up on one arm.
"Munchkin, you realise that that is HARRY'S bed?" he asked carefully.
"Yes, Bill, this is Harry's bed, and this is Harry's house," Ginny agreed, absently running one hand over the comforter.
The Weasley boys gaped. The three girls looked on with grins, recognising Weasley-baiting when they saw it.
Harry tried to keep his composure when the Weasleys wheeled to glare at him. "Yes?" he asked them after a few moments of silence.
"What is our sister doing in your bed?" Ron gritted out.
"What, you think I should throw your sister out of my bed?" Harry asked innocently.
"Yes, I bloody well do!" Ron exploded.
All traces of humour fled from Ginny's expression. She rolled off the bed and walked right up into Ron's face. "Whether I want to lay on Harry's bed, fully clothed and in full view of my family, or not, is my own business, Ron! I don't ask what you and Hermione get up to in that broom closet on the fourth floor," looks of unholy glee formed on six of the faces in the room, "so I would appreciate it if you stay out of my business. If and when I want to be in Harry's bed, it isn't any business of yours. Am I perfectly clear?"
Flustered, Ron answered, "I just don't think -"
"THAT is blindingly clear," Ginny acidly cut in, earning guffaws from most of the room.
"What's this about a broom closet, little brother?" Bill asked as he and Charlie flanked Ron and steered him out of the room.
"Err . . ." a very frightened male Weasley managed.
"Do tell," Angelina bade Hermione as she and Alicia escorted an equally flustered Hermione.
Once those six had left, the twins slowly approached Harry, scrutinizing him.
Harry warily watched them.
George looked at Ginny. Fred looked at Harry.
George looked at Harry. Fred looked at Ginny.
Harry tried not to squirm.
"Take care of our little sister, Harry," Fred said, perfectly calmly.
"We meant what we said on your birthday," George added.
"You're good for each other. We just don't want it to go sour."
"So be good to each other. Don't do anything we wouldn't do."
"Would that really restrict us from much?" Ginny asked wryly, totally unaffected by their theatrics.
"No, not much," George cheerfully acknowledged
"Not really anything, come to that," Fred admitted.
"Shall we, dear brother?" George asked, holding out an arm.
Linking his arm with his twin's, Fred responded, "Let's." The two pompously marched out of the room, leaving Harry and Ginny alone.
"Did they just give us their blessing?" Harry asked, staring after the pair.
"Yep," Ginny agreed, turning Harry toward the door and gently getting him to move.
"Oh, and what was that you said earlier?" Harry asked, heading down the hall with his girlfriend by his side.
"If and WHEN," he emphasized, "you want to be in my bed?"
"Oh, did I say that out loud?" Ginny asked with an innocent expression.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Dinner was a roaring success. The elves had outdone themselves with a selection of foods that just seemed to keep getting better. No matter how much everyone had eaten, they all managed to find room for the hot apple cobbler a la mode at the end.
Everyone then retired back to the parlour, unwilling to let the evening end. After a few sofas and chairs were conjured, everyone took seats and various conversations sprang up.
The twins were restrained (for them) in their antics. They also managed to discreetly inform Harry that they, with Angelina and Alicia, would be attending the New Year's Eve party.
Elsewhere, Harry was amused to watch Remus try to speak with Andromeda Tonks while Dora was looking on in barely concealed concern.
Hermione spent some time explaining many magical items and ideas to her mother.
Arthur and John continued their earlier discussions with Harry as an occasional bridge between the magical and Muggle worlds.
Bill and Charlie spent their time teasing Ron mercilessly.
Molly had to be forcefully evicted from the kitchen by Scully and Delly, much to everybody's amusement.
Andromeda Tonks was the first to call it a night, to Remus's quiet relief.
The Grangers' Portkey, contracted through the Department of Magical Transportation at the last moment, was set for nine. Once they'd made their rounds of goodbyes, Bill and Charlie began to make their excuses.
Fred, George, Angelina, and Alicia were the next to leave as it approached ten.
At that same time, Molly moved toward Ron, who was playing wizard's chess against Remus.
"Come along, Ron. It's time to go," Molly said.
"Just a second, Mum," Ron said in distraction, still studying the board.
"Go on," Remus said, leaning back. "I concede this one. Great game, Ron."
Ron looked up and grinned. "You, too. Finally someone who challenges me."
"Hey," Harry quietly objected.
Arthur, Remus and Ron chuckled. "I taught him how to play eight years ago, Harry. I haven't beaten him in five," Arthur observed. He looked down at Ginny, sleeping with her head pillowed on Harry's lap and Midnight curled up by her feet. Smiling, he herded his wife and youngest son toward the fireplace. "Good night, all. Thanks for inviting us to the party."
Harry smiled at the three and waved, careful not to jar his sleeping girlfriend.
"Ginny can just stay here?" Ron asked in surprise.
Molly shushed him, throwing a fond look at Ginny and Harry. "Good night." She threw a pinch of powder into the fire. "The Burrow."
"But -" Ron objected. Arthur shoved him through the fire.
With a last smile at Harry, Molly Flooed out.
Arthur turned back to Ginny, studying the sleeping girl. He heaved a long, resigned sigh. Looking up, he speared Harry with a penetrating look. "Take care of my little girl, Harry. Good night," he concluded quietly.
After Arthur had Flooed out, Tonks walked over with a blanket, gently spreading it over the sleeping girl. "Good night," she mouthed to Harry with a fond look. Remus also smiled at Harry as he wrapped an arm around Tonks's waist, steering her toward the stairs. Thirty seconds later, Harry heard a thump and then a thud, followed by a muffled, "Dammit," in Tonks's voice from the upstairs hallway.
Chuckling, Harry settled himself comfortably back and stared into the fire as he gradually fell asleep.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry's eyes slowly opened as his mind tried to start functioning again after a very deep sleep.
"Yeah?" Harry asked groggily, sitting up and pushing his comforter to the side.
"Master Remus asked Rully to bring breakfast to Master Harry's room."
"Thanks," Harry mumbled, reaching for his glasses on the bedside table. Rully bowed and left with a muted crack. Getting his glasses on, Harry began to remember the previous evening.
Blinking hard as those memories came flooding back, he looked around the room, eyes stopping on the fan of red hair spilled over the other pillow atop a Ginny-sized lump under his comforter.
Harry stared at Ginny's hair for fifteen solid seconds, trying to remember how they came from sleeping in front of the parlour fire fully clothed to sleeping in his bed wearing - he checked himself - only a pair of boxers.
My, oh, my.
After ten more seconds of consideration, Harry couldn't decide if wearing clothes was a good sign or not. After five more seconds of thought, the fact that Ginny was still here indicated that it was a good sign.
Now he just had to decide how bad a lack of memory was going to prove to be.
Harry stood and walked around the bed, kneeling on the other side to see Ginny's face. Still asleep, she looked downright angelic. Her face was relaxed, hair fanning around in a russet halo.
Unable to stop his hand, Harry reached forward and cupped her cheek in one hand, thumb tracing lightly over her bottom lip.
She shifted slightly, head turning into the hand and making the cutest purring noise Harry had ever heard.
Unable to help himself, he leaned forward and kissed her lightly.
"Hmm. What a nice way to wake up," Ginny said in a husky voice.
"Yeah, about that," Harry said as she languidly blinked her eyes open. "I hope this doesn't sound really bad, but what happened last night? I remember falling asleep on the couch in the parlour, only to wake up here."
"You mean you don't remember?" she asked in slack jawed disbelief.
Harry's eyes were suddenly as big as saucers.
She screwed her eyes shut. In a broken whisper, she said, "I can't b - believe you don't remember, Harry." She sniffed.
"I . . ." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I can't remember anything, Ginny."
Visibly composing herself, she started in a fragile voice," I woke up around three, all nice and warm. It was the safest feeling I think I've ever had in my life. I woke you up enough to get you to walk upstairs with me. I helped you take your clothes off, then we crawled into bed. Then we . . ." She paused, swallowing thickly.
Harry discovered that he wasn't breathing anymore.
"We fell asleep," she finished in a whisper.
As her words penetrated his shocked mind, she opened her eyes, twinkling mischievously. "Gotcha."
"Why you little -" he started in outrage. He jumped toward her, his momentum rolling the two of them over a few times before they came to a shrieking stop on the other side of the bed, tangled in the blankets.
Still giggling, Ginny evaluated their new circumstances. "Harry, if you wanted a roll in bed, all you had to do was ask."
Harry groaned at the innuendo, letting his head fall back upon his pillow. "You're absolutely impossible, did you know that?"
"Yep," she cheerfully agreed, chin resting against his chest, eyes sparkling up at him.
The door burst open, causing both teens to look over quickly.
Tonks stood there, wearing only a long t-shirt, wand out. Her eyes scanned the room quickly, wand sweeping along with her eyes. The wand came down and her attention returned to the couple on the bed when she didn't identify any dangers in the room. "Good morning?" she asked with a wide grin.
Flushing crimson and desperately trying NOT to look at the young Aurors exposed legs, Harry stammered, "Uh, Tonks . . ."
"It was until we were so rudely interrupted," Ginny said tartly, lying her head back down on Harry's chest.
Tonks nodded, eyes gleaming in mirth. "In that case, I'll just be leaving you two kids alone. Do have fun." She turned but paused before closing the door behind her. "I've found it's more fun if there are fewer layers of blankets between the two of you, incidentally."
She quickly shut the door to the twin shouts of, "Tonks!"
The couple could hear her laughter down the hall.
Harry tried to free his arms, but found that they were cocooned too tightly. "Uh, Ginny? We're going to have to roll back out of here before we can get free."
"Why?" she asked, head still resting on his chest. "I'm quite comfortable right here."
"Because Rully brought us breakfast," he answered.
She sighed. "Fine. Just so long as you promise we can get wrapped up in your bed again."
Harry groaned. "You're a wicked witch, did you know that?"
Ginny snickered. Being on top, she started rolling them back toward the edge, unwinding the blankets as they went.
Finally free, Harry fell off the edge of the bed and onto the floor with a thud. "Ouch."
Leaning over the edge of the bed, grinning at him devilishly, she asked, "Ohh, want me to kiss it better?"
Harry blushed again. "What's gotten into you?"
Raising one eyebrow, wide smirk fighting for space on her face, she slowly looked him over from head to foot, gaze pausing momentarily at his boxers. Bringing her eyes back to his face, she blandly answered, "Nothing so far. Why?"
Harry groaned and buried his face into the comforter hanging off the side of the bed. "You're killing me here, Ginny. You're an awful tease," he said in a strangled voice.
"Hmm," she answered non-committally, climbing out of the bed right next to where he was still on the floor.
Seeing what she was wearing, his eyes widened. "Hey, those're mine."
She looked down at the modest grey t-shirt and black boxers she'd borrowed the previous night. "Why, so they are. Would you like them back?" She moved her hands to the hem of the t-shirt, preparing to slip it over her head.
She was shocked to actually see his eyes dilate and his nostrils flare. "Yes, but only if you're absolutely certain you know what you're starting." His voice was very low and rough.
Eyes wide at his abrupt change in demeanour, not to mention insinuation, she slowly released the hem of the shirt. "Maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea right now," she whispered, shaken.
Nodding jerkily, Harry stood and walked into the private bathroom. She heard the shower start a few seconds later.
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she stood and pulled one of his school robes out of his closet. Picking up her wand from the bedside table, she cast a couple quick charms to shrink it to approximately her size before she rapidly changed into it. Only then did she turn to the breakfast tray, setting it onto the foot of the bed. Removing the top, she saw two plates, two glasses of juice, and two small potion bottles, marked Harry and Ginny. Not knowing what to make of the potions, she ate her breakfast, feeling bad for her treatment of Harry.
The shower finally stopped and Harry emerged from the bathroom a minute later, hair dripping and sticking up worse than usual and with a large, fluffy towel wrapped around his waist. He walked over to one of his bureaus and started rummaging around for a moment.
"I'm sorry," Ginny whispered.
He stopped. "For what?"
"Leading you on like that."
He sighed. "Yeah. I forgive you. As much fun as the teasing and innuendo is, please remember that I can handle only so much before it becomes unbearable."
"Sorry," her voice was very soft and afraid.
"Like I said, you're forgiven. Besides, the teasing is fun. Especially when it winds your brothers up."
Ginny laughed with him, but it was a little forced.
Harry grinned and held up the boxers in his hands. "I'm going to get dressed. Were you planning on staying here and watching?"
Her eyes widened, but she didn't move.
Shrugging, Harry pulled the knot on the towel, letting it fall to the floor.
Ginny turned barely in time to avoid seeing anything, blushing crimson. Studying her hands intently, she reflected that the teasing limits went both ways. Desperately trying to find a topic of conversation, she asked in a tight voice, "How was your shower?"
"Very cold. How's breakfast?" Harry asked.
She had to clear her throat before she trusted her voice after THAT answer. "Good. Two potions here, though, that I don't know where they came from."
Harry walked over, now wearing one of his Weasley jumpers and a pair of jeans. He looked down at the potions for a moment, before picking up the one addressed to him and tossing it back quickly. "Hmm, not bad."
Ginny stared at him in amazement.
"Rully said Remus sent the breakfast up, so it's probably from him. Besides, it's his handwriting."
Ginny nodded and drank her potion as Harry started his breakfast.
"Shower's free," he offered.
She nodded and quietly went that direction.
By the time he finished breakfast, she was through the shower, still wet hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Harry stood and lifted the breakfast tray. Leading the way, he went downstairs and into the kitchen, handing the tray and dirty dishes over to Winky. The couple then went into the dining room and found Remus sitting with the still eating Tonks.
"Wotcher, kids. Have a good morning?" Tonks asked cheerfully.
"Yes, at least until a crazed Auror stormed into my bedroom," Harry answered dryly.
Tonks chortled and continued her breakfast.
Remus turned to Dora. "You stormed his bedroom?"
Harry held out a seat for Ginny and commented, "It might have had something to do with Ginny's shriek, to be fair."
Remus studied the young couple in front of him for a moment. He wasn't so sure he approved, but knew he had no right to say anything. "So do they?" he asked instead.
They both looked at him in confusion.
"Cub, do you remember what you told me about Ginny after you got to the Burrow?"
Harry blushed fit to rival a Weasley.
Remus threw back his head and roared with laughter.
"What are you two talking about?" Ginny demanded.
Harry groaned and let his head fall to the table in mortification.
"As tempting as it is to tease Harry even more, that's something you'll have to get from him."
Harry sighed, knowing he may as well get it over with. He didn't bother bringing his head up and therefore his words were muffled. "I wondered how your freckles tasted."
Tonks kept quiet, but she looked like she was about to burst, and her hair was cycling colours quickly.
"All you had to do was ask, Harry," Ginny said, eyes glowing in suppressed laughter.
Harry's head came up, and he looked at her. "That would have been an interesting conversation. Hello, Ginny. I know we're not even dating, but I'm curious whether freckles taste any different than skin. Would you mind terribly if I checked?"
The other three broke into peals of laughter.
Joining in the laughter, even if it was at his expense, Harry added, "Ron, turn your back mate. I'd like to nibble on your sister. Purely platonic experiment, you see."
The laughter continued for several more seconds before dying down.
Harry grinned, the embarrassment gradually leaving as he realised that Tonks and Remus weren't completely opposed to his and Ginny's relationship. "Remus, what were those potions you sent up with Rully, anyway?"
Remus blinked at Harry's unexpected question before he stood and exited the room silently. Tarry entered the dining room with a pot of breakfast tea for Harry and Ginny before Moony re-entered the room, flipping through a potions book. Apparently finding the page he was looking for, Remus leaned down between the young witch and wizard to put the book down in front of the two of them. Still leaning between the two, he stopped short, tilting his head to the side. Harry saw and heard him take a deep breath, his eyes closed. Remus then opened his eyes and smiled slightly at Harry with a nod. Remus moved back to his previous seat and waved at the book that Ginny was already reading.
Slightly confused at his godfather's odd actions, Harry looked down and read the open pages. On one page was the description and brewing instructions for the Prophylaxis Potion. It was apparently a contraceptive and "morning after" potion for witches, lasting three months. The facing page contained the Nonpater Potion, a similar contraceptive potion for wizards.
Fighting down the rising blush of renewed embarrassment over what Remus clearly thought they'd done, Harry read the list of ingredients for the Nonpater Potion. He made a face by the end. "Considering what went into this thing, it didn't taste all that bad."
"Agreed," Remus said dryly.
"Purely out of curiosity, did you brew these this morning, or did you have some on hand?"
"Oh, on hand. They both take a while to brew, but they keep for years. Remind me later, and I'll show you where they are."
Tonks quirked an eyebrow at Remus. "You're taking this calmly, Rem. I would've expected you to give them a lecture."
He shrugged. "They're adults. It's their business, not mine." He paused for a moment. "Besides, they didn't do anything."
Harry blinked at him. "How on earth did you reach that conclusion? Especially after the teasing you just subjected me to."
Remus's eyes began dancing. "Two reasons. First, you two aren't acting awkward or hanging all over each other this morning. Second," he tapped the side of his nose, "the nose knows."
"Werewolf senses," Ginny deduced.
"I'll have to remember that," Harry drawled, drawing grins from the other three.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The four spent the remainder of the morning in the duelling chamber. Remus lectured the two students on the fundamentals, tips and tricks of Apparition while Tonks prowled the room, strengthening the anti-magic wards. After the lecture, Remus had Tonks Apparate around the room, pointing out what she was doing and why to the youngsters. After that, it was time for Harry and Ginny to practise as Tonks moved upstairs and looked over the home's wards. Not finding anything to add or fix, she went back down and tried to help the two students.
It quickly became noon before they came back upstairs and headed toward the dining room. There, they found Arthur Weasley reading the potions book that Harry had left at the table earlier.
Ginny stopped. "Uh . . ."
Arthur's head snapped up. He studied his daughter for a few seconds, not saying a word. He visibly took a deep breath and straightened, looking Harry and Ginny in the eye. "Legally, it's not my business. As a father, though, I'm pleased to see that you're . . . taking precautions. I would like you both to know that if you have any questions or problems, I will listen." He raised a hand to Harry's opening mouth. "I've said what I have to say, Harry. Nothing more needs to be said unless you want to." He slowly lowered his hand, took another breath, and changed the topic. "I came over to make sure you were alright, Ginny. Your mother and I expected you back home after breakfast."
Remus stepped forward. Harry nearly interrupted, thinking Remus was going to say something about the potions, but he didn't. "Sorry, Arthur. We didn't realise you were expecting her back at any particular time. I don't know if Ginny or Harry told you, but Harry's hired me to give the two of them Apparition training. As she was here, we just had a lesson."
Arthur smiled slightly. "Grand idea. How are the two of them doing?"
"They're both doing very well," Tonks reported.
Arthur smiled wider. "Well, my little girl IS a natural at charms. I've heard rumours that Harry's pretty good at magic, too."
Harry grinned in embarrassment. Everyone else laughed at the massive understatement.
"At this rate, I expect they can both be ready for their Apparition tests at the new year, Arthur. If everyone's willing, three days a week for half days?"
Arthur nodded. "That's entirely up to you three." In a tight voice, he continued, "If you wanted to stay over here more than that, Ginny, including overnights -"
Harry opened his mouth to comment, but he was beaten by Ginny. "I don't - we don't want to lose your respect, Dad." She took Harry's hand. "Yes, I love Harry and want to spend as much time with him as possible. I just don't want you to . . . think less of me. Of us."
Arthur smiled more easily. Walking over, he pulled Ginny into a hug. "You're my little girl, Ginny. There's nothing you could do to make me think less of you." He released her and turned to Harry, impressed with the unflinching gaze he received in return. "You're another son to me, Harry." Quirking a little smile, he glanced at Ginny and then back. "Perhaps it'll be official eventually." The two young magicians blushed mildly, bringing a smile to the three adults.
Arthur turned to Remus. "How much will I owe you for the Apparition instruction?"
Remus shook his head, and Ginny's face clouded over.
Trying to head off multiple problems simultaneously, Harry answered, "Nothing. He's tutoring me. Ginny just happens to be learning at the same time at no extra effort on Remus's part."
"Then we'll split the cost," Arthur said.
Ginny's scowl increased, though Arthur still hadn't seen it.
Harry shook his head. "I'm receiving more tutoring than just this. I have several things going on, Mr. Weasley, and it'd be impossible to arrive at a partial fee."
He frowned. "I won't take charity, Harry."
"This isn't charity anymore than you taking me in for the past five summers, Mr. Weasley. How often did I offer to pay my way? How often did you refuse?"
Arthur chuckled ruefully. "Turnabout is fair play, it seems. Very well. And my name is Arthur, Harry, considering everything." He smiled at his daughter.
Harry nodded a little, smiling shyly.
Arthur turned to his daughter. "Will you be home for lunch?"
She nodded. "See you in a few minutes?"
Arthur nodded pleasantly and Flooed back out.
Ginny hooked Harry's arm and pulled him gently toward the library. Taking the cue, Tonks and Remus wandered away.
"Seems your family is accepting of our sex life, regardless of the fact that there isn't one," Harry remarked in amusement.
Ginny grinned. "Yeah. Though Dad and the twins were the easy ones. Mum and Ron will be the problems."
"Even with your dad on our side?"
She shrugged. "Mum and Ron are the overprotective ones. Dad will help but still . . ."
Harry sighed. "Yeah. Just for the record, I'd be quite happy if you moved in. I'm willing to share my bed just as often as you wish." He grinned a bit. "If you could keep the teasing to a lower level, though, I'd appreciate that."
Taking a breath to screw up her courage, she asked quietly, "What if it isn't teasing?"
Harry stopped walking abruptly, turning to her in shock. Finally finding his voice, he asked, "Not that I don't think it's a grand idea, but are you sure about this?"
Licking dry lips, she whispered, "Yes." She giggled nervously. "I think."
"You don't sound all that sure," Harry observed. "Not that I can blame you. It's a big deal to cross this line. At least to us. To hear Dean and Seamus talk, though . . ." He grimaced.
"Parvati, Lavender, and Rebecca, too."
He grunted. "Well, I'm only worried about you and me." He sighed. "Maybe this is a line we shouldn't cross."
"Yes, yet," he agreed.
"Meanwhile," she ran a finger under the hinge of his jaw, "I'm sure there are other things we can do to amuse ourselves."
He groaned. "You just enjoy winding me up, don't you?"
"We'll talk about releasing some of that tension later." She gave him a quick kiss and stepped back. "I'd better get going. Shall I come back Thursday morning for another lesson? Apparition lesson that is?" she added with a grin.
Harry grimaced at her comment for a moment before his eyes again became intent. "I was serious when I said I'd be happy if you moved in."
She nodded. "I would be, too. We have to get my family comfortable with that idea before springing it on them, though. I'll work on them and then be back Thursday after breakfast."
Harry nodded agreement. After a hug, she headed toward the parlour as he went to the dining room.
"Hey," Remus greeted him, looking up from a tome. He frowned at Harry's expression. "Are you okay?"
Harry sighed and dropped into a seat. "Yeah, I will be. Ginny will be back for the next training Thursday after breakfast."
Remus waved it off. "That's not what I asked. What's wrong?"
Harry buried his face in his hands. "I love her, Moony. I want nothing more than to show that. But I don't know if I should. The twins and Arthur having giving us their blessings only makes it worse. I'm just so . . ." he trailed off with a shrug.
"The fact that you haven't jumped into anything speaks well of your character, Cub," Remus calmly marked the place in the book and moved it to the side. "Your emotions and hers come into play. You're wise to recognise that ahead of time."
"If you don't mind my asking, how did you and Dora know it was the right time for you?" Harry asked hesitantly, afraid of offending the man.
"We're in a different situation. We're older and, to put it bluntly, more experienced in these sorts of things. We know better what we're getting into. I know this doesn't help you. Sorry." He leaned back in thought, staring at the ceiling. "I can't really think of anyone to help you out. Ron would be the obvious choice if it weren't Ginny."
"Hermione, maybe?" Harry asked, wondering if he'd ever have the gall to talk about his sex life with his other best friend.
Remus considered that. "Probably a good choice. She tends to think with her head a bit too much, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing in a case like this."
Delly came out with the first lunch trays.
"I wish I could help you more, Cub. I'm always here if you need to talk."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Thanks, Moony." He took a breath and went on in a more normal tone, "So what's the plan this afternoon?"
"Animagus training, if you're up to it," was the answer as Tonks entered, carrying a handful of parchment.
"Whatcha got there, Tonks?" Harry asked, finally settled enough to take a bite of his sandwich.
"Defense essays. I have to do something while you two are off making animals of yourselves."
Harry grinned at that description. "You're welcome to join us."
She shook her head. "Naw, can't."
"I thought it was possible for anyone," Harry commented in surprise.
Remus shook his head. "Actually, no. Some conditions or inherent abilities prevent it, lycanthropy and Metamorphmagus being two. At any rate, it's apparently very difficult to do. I was honestly surprised when Peter managed it, since it takes such a strong wizard to pull it off. On top of that, some wizards never have an animal totem choose them."
"'Animal totem choose them'?" Harry echoed with a frown.
"You realise that the animal chooses the wizard rather than the other way around, right?"
"Think of totems as the supra-conscious manifestation of the essence of each animal type. If you're suited to one or another, the one that most fits you will pick you."
"Are these totems conscious and sentient?" Harry asked, intrigued with the concept.
Remus frowned. "Not really. Thinking of them in this way is an easy way to deal with them. They aren't conscious in the sense that they make decisions or communicate. On the other hand, James and Sirius said there was SOMETHING guiding them when they were in Animagus form."
"Something like that. But where did James get the instincts of how a stag acts? How to move on four feet? Walking, cantering, galloping?"
"Sirius said he kept his own mind," Harry objected.
"Oh, yes, the wizard's mind stays with them, but the basic instincts change to the form's."
"This is starting to sound confusing."
Remus smiled. "Not really. It's all perfectly natural to the form you're in at the time."
Harry shook his head. "If you say so. What's the plan?"
"I'll cast a charm on you. A totem will pick you a form tonight if you have one and send it to your subconscious in the form of a dream." He leaned back in his chair. "The rest of today is self-transfiguration theory. You said you've read Padfoot's journal already, right?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Remus recognised Harry's pensive expression the next morning even before Harry sat down at breakfast.
"Aw, Harry misses his teddy bear," Tonks teased.
Harry snorted. "Unlike some, my preferred bed partner wasn't here last night. Speaking of which, Tonks, please remember the Silencing Charms next time, huh? Someone crying out Remus's name at two in the morning isn't something I'd really like repeated."
Both Remus and Tonks blushed.
Harry grinned widely. "Ah, HA! I wasn't even sure it was possible, but I finally got Nymphadora Tonks to blush."
Tonks muttered something under her breath as she reached for her tea. She blithely ignored the butter that smeared all over her elbow.
Remus cleared his throat, fighting his blush down. "Other than being awakened by rowdy neighbours at two, how was your night? Did you have an Animagus dream?"
Harry grinned. "The word you wanted was 'randy', not 'rowdy'," he teased.
Tonks stuck her tongue out.
Harry chuckled at her antics before sobering. "Yeah, I think I did have a totem dream. I was walking through a field with Prongs. At least I assume it was Prongs. He looked just like my Patronus but looking real instead of silver. Anyway, we were walking along beside each other calm as could be. No threats were around us. From a nearby copse, a reddish brown mare stepped out, head turned toward us." He frowned. "My reaction was kinda strange. I somehow knew I was both a follower and an equal. Prongs simply started grazing nearby, but he was clearly deferential. The dream ended at that point."
"You could tell the horse was a mare?" Tonks asked, resting her head on a propping first.
Harry blinked in surprise. "Yeah, I guess I could. How could I do that? I don't know anything about horses."
"Let me guess, dark red mane?"
Harry sighed. "Yes, I have that one figured out already, Dora. Thank you ever so much for the psychoanalysis."
Both Remus and Tonks smirked. "You understood Prongs's attitude?" Remus went on.
Harry nodded, still confused.
"Were you bigger or smaller than they were?"
Harry thought about it for a moment. "Same size."
"Huh. A horse Animagus. I wouldn't have thought of that for you."
Harry almost bristled, feeling unaccountably defensive. "Why not?"
"No slight against you," Tonks explained. "Horses tend to bolt from trouble rather than fight. Defense is a last resort." She turned to Remus with a grin. "You owe me a galleon."
Harry frowned. "What's that?"
Tonks answered while Remus sighed. "Oh, he thought he knew what your Animagus form was going to be. He didn't get it, though."
Giving a half-smile, Harry turned to Remus. "What'd you think I was going to be?"
"A large canine."
"Granted that you're partial to big dogs, but why?"
Remus started ticking points off. "Social, loyal, powerful and ferociously protective."
"You know, this does simplify my Christmas shopping, Harry," Tonks teased. When Harry looked toward her with a raised eyebrow, she explained, "I'll just get a bridle set for Ginny."
Remus laughed, and Harry groaned at the pun.