Chapter Thirty

For the Thrill of It

Hermione snapped her little beaded bag shut and looked around the small bedroom that she'd shared with Ginny for the majority of the summer. It had really come to feel like home, and she'd miss it. She sighed, uncertain how she felt. It wasn't as if she was unhappy to be going to see her parents, but she felt like she'd be missing so much here at The Burrow at the same time. Still, she did want to see her parents before school started.

Her plan involved Internationally Apparating to Adelaide, through Frankfurt, and then Sydney. Charlie had warned her that if you went too far in one leap, it would leave you feeling sick. She was making the second stop in Sydney so she could look around a little bit. She hadn't got to do it when she and Ron had been there, so she wanted to take the opportunity now.

Ron had offered to come with her, but she thought her parents deserved some of her undivided attention. She'd told him she was going alone, but now that the day was here, she was regretting that decision. She knew she'd miss him terribly, and then she'd be returning to Hogwarts upon her return. Was she foolish to throw away this last fortnight with him? But if he came with her, she knew she wouldn't give her parents the attention they deserved.

She found him beautifully distracting.

They'd gone out for a romantic dinner, and he'd certainly completely distracted her the previous evening. Merlin, she was going to miss him. It felt as if she were leaving part of herself behind.

Hermione hated feeling unsure of herself. She'd put her plans off until she was certain Harry would be okay, and now it was time to keep her promise and visit her parents. She was bringing them most of their belongings, and the housing agent had told her he had a buyer interested in her childhood home.

That chapter of her life was truly closing.

Still, the next phase looked promising and inviting. She was returning to school to finish her education, and she already had several Ministry departments vying for her attention once she finished Hogwarts. Ailsa Bowman, the Unspeakable who'd aided her with the antidote, had already offered her a position. And of course, she had Ron. He'd been so supportive. Everything was falling into place.

Harry had been released from St. Mungo's several days after the antidote had been administered with strict instructions to rest. Mrs. Weasley had seen to that, although, oddly enough, Harry didn't seem to mind.

As would anyone recovering from a long illness, he slept a lot, and Ginny was never far from his side when he was awake. He was content to stay on the couch and make plans with Ginny for the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Hermione just didn't understand why they were all so obsessed with that game.

She left Ginny's room with her bag clutched tightly and skipped down the stairs. As expected, Ginny and Harry were sitting on the couch with books and charts scattered around them.

"All set to go, Hermione?" Ginny asked, noticing her entrance.

"All set. You will look after Ron, won't you?" she asked, pleading. Sometimes the Weasley siblings could be rather hard on one another.

"Who's looking after Ron?" George asked, entering the sitting room from the kitchen with Percy at his heels.

"Hermione wants us all to look after Ron while she's away," Ginny replied, her eyes glinting mischievously.

A predatory smile spread across George's freckled face. "Oh, we'll look after him all right. Of course, not quite in the way you look after him, Hermione."

"Oh, never mind," Hermione said, worrying her lip. What had she done? "He'll be fine. Just leave him alone."

"Exactly how would you like us to look after him, hmm?" George asked, placing his finger on his chin, mockingly. "Tuck him in at night?"

"Perhaps a late night stroll around the paddock. You both seem to enjoy that. Ron always seems so relaxed when you return," Percy said.

"A goodnight kiss? I'm not doing that," Ginny said.

Harry shook his head. "You'd do better to just stop talking, Hermione."

"Of course we'll keep our youngest brother from pining whilst you're away," Percy said. Hermione almost believed him if she hadn't seen him poke George in the side as he spoke.

"We'll keep him out of trouble," Ginny said, wearing a grin identical to George.

Hermione looked helplessly at Harry, who raised his hands in surrender.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Don't think I won't make you all pay for it if you're horrid," she threatened.

"Ooh," George said mockingly.

"Pay for what?" Ron asked sleepily, coming down the stairs behind her.

"Hermione is trying to look out for you, Ron," Ginny said with mock sweetness.

"Hermione, when are you going to stop letting them wind you up?" Ron asked, exasperated.

"They're impossible," Hermione replied.

"Come on, you know we won't let Ron get in any real trouble," Harry said, and Hermione thought his eyes were twinkling suspiciously. He was getting just as bad as the rest of them.

"Let's go, Ron. Walk me to the Apparition point," Hermione said, feeling nettled.

Ron took her hand and led her towards the door while the others whistled and catcalled appreciatively.

"Give her something to remember you by, Ron!" Ginny shouted while George made inappropriate kissing sounds.

"Remember, ten days can seem like an eternity apart," Percy called.

"And don't kiss her in front of the window where I have a chance of seeing it," Harry called before Ron slammed the door shut.

"Harry really has got just as bad as the rest of them," Hermione said, fuming.

"Yeah," Ron chuckled.

"It's not funny!" Hermione insisted.

Ron shrugged. "It is kind of funny. I can't be upset if they're encouraging me to kiss you," he said, pulling her into his arms.

Hermione kept forgetting why she was angry when he did that. His lips descended upon hers, making her dizzy and very warm inside. When she felt his hands moving inappropriately, she pulled back, staring around in alarm. "Ron!"

"You didn't mind last night," he said, trying to pull her back.

"We weren't standing in your parents' garden in broad daylight last night, either!" she insisted. "Don't make my head all foggy. I have to be able to concentrate to Apparate so far," she insisted.

"You can always concentrate, Hermione," he said, trying to kiss her again. He stopped after a moment, pulling back. "Can I really make your head foggy?"

Hermione thought he looked quite pleased with himself.

"You can. I'm going to miss you so much," she said.

"I know," he said, sighing as he rested his forehead against hers. "I'm going to miss you, too. Pig should be there when you arrive, so send me a note letting me know you're safe."

Hermione had sent her parents a note with Pig to inform them of her impending arrival.

"Behave yourself, and be certain to do all the revision Instructor Pierce gives you," she said.

"I will," he replied, smiling fondly.

Hermione took a step back, looking at every bit of his face to memorize it before quickly turning on her heel and disappearing with a pop. The last thing she saw before she left was Ron raising his hand in farewell.


Ron, Ginny and Harry met George at his shop shortly after closing. Ginny felt giddy with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, and she was certain her companions felt the same. George was taking them to one of the illegal broom races they'd heard so much about. He'd told them he'd been to several, and they were always a good time. This one was being held in a dark, relatively desolate clearing in Lincolnshire.

Although Ron hadn't said it outright, Ginny suspected that he was happy the race was taking place while Hermione was abroad. She definitely hadn't approved of the idea of attending the illegal races. Ron had perked up considerably when George had told him about the race. Ginny thought it was rather pathetic how much Ron was moping and moaning about missing Hermione.

If she were being completely honest, she knew that his melancholy uncomfortably reminded her of her upcoming separation from Harry. She didn't want to think about that tonight, though.

She glanced over at Harry and saw the same excitement and anticipation that she felt glittering in his eyes. He looked so much healthier and…fit. She hadn't realized how ill he'd actually become until his health improved. The difference was startling.

He planned on returning to training the following Monday, so his convalescence was just about over. He'd finally insisted he was done resting on the couch, and even Mum had to relent. His exuberance was infectious. He seemed so happy to be alive. It was everything Ginny wished for him after the war. He deserved this chance to simply enjoy life for a change.

And she was going to ensure he made the most of it.

George came hurtling down the stairs from his flat to meet them in the shop. He wore his lurid green, dragon-hide jacket, and Ginny's heart gave a sudden lurch to see it without its match. Sometimes, the fact there was only one twin still caught her unawares.

She had to blink quickly to clear her vision, and force down the lump in her throat. Harry gave her hand a squeeze, and she smiled reassuringly. Somehow, he always knew when something upset her.

"Are we ready– No, no, no," George said, stopping abruptly. "You all look too respectable."

"What do you mean?" Ron asked, staring down at his jeans and orange Chudley Cannons T-shirt, perplexed.

"Well, maybe not you," George conceded. "No one respectable supports the Cannons."

"Says you! They have a new Chaser. This is going to be their year, I can feel it," Ron replied indignantly.

"Ron, you've said that same thing every year since I've known you," Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"But it's true this year, you'll see," Ron said confidently. "Who are you supporting then? Puddlemere? Joined that bandwagon, have you?"

"Actually, I think the Harpies are looking good," Harry said, catching Ginny's eye and making her stomach flutter.

No one could cause that kind of reaction in her, and he'd been doing it for years. She beamed back at him.

"The Harpies?" Ron spluttered, glaring at Ginny.

She and Ron had sparred over who was better – the Harpies or the Cannons – since they were children.

"You're just trying to stay on her good side," Ron said, disgruntled.

"Can't really blame him for that, you prat," George said. "Enough Quidditch, we need to get going if we want to get a good spot. C'mere Harry."

George looked over Harry's jeans and black T-shirt that he wore under a light-colored jacket. He quickly transfigured the jacket into a black, leather bomber style and conjured a bowler hat. "Best to keep your scar covered so you're not recognized," he said.

Harry stared at the leather jacket warily.

"Ooh, I like that," Ginny said. "It's sexy."

Harry beamed, appearing much happier with the jacket.

George conjured a brown one for Ron before turning to Ginny.

"I get the idea," she said, holding up her hand. She wasn't about to let George dress her. She changed the color of her shirt to black and added some beading to her denim jacket, pulling some fringe from the sleeves. She cast a spell to rip her jeans in various spots.

"At least now we don't look like we're going to Sunday tea," George said, exasperated. "If you all just want to hold my sleeve, I'll lead you there."

A moment later, they appeared on a dusty road lined heavily with trees. There was a well-worn foot path ahead of them with a steady stream of witches and wizards hurrying through. They followed the crowd and came upon a carnival-like atmosphere surrounding a wide clearing.

Vendors lined the outskirts, and the delicious aromas of roasted sausages and sugary dough filled the air. The crowd was rowdy, laughing loudly and placing bets on their favorites. The sky was dusky with approaching nightfall, and various torches were lit in the center of the clearing, causing a smoky haze.

George pulled several bottles of something called Goldie's Real Ale from one of the cavernous pockets in his coat and distributed them to the others.

"How did you know this would be here?" Harry asked, staring at the bottle before taking a draught of his beer.

"Lee has a friend who races, and he always lets him know when there's a big one. You can find smaller races every weekend. There's even been a few right in Knockturn Alley on occasion," George replied.

"What have you been doing in Knockturn Alley?" Ron asked suspiciously.

George shrugged. "Some things are easier to get there," he said evasively.

Harry put his arm around Ginny's shoulders as they wended their way through the crowd, looking for a good vantage point to watch the race.

"Oi! George, over here!" Lee Jordan shouted from a spot up ahead.

He and Alicia were standing around a small fire and passing a silver flask back and forth. George led the way, and they gathered around the fire, exchanging greetings. Lee offered the flask to George, who shook his head.

"Who else is coming?" he asked, taking a drink of his beer instead.

"Katie is out with her new beau, and this definitely isn't his thing, so they're not coming. Oliver's at training camp, but Angelina said she'd be here," Alicia replied.

Ginny watched the crowd a bit warily. The last time she'd been around this many people had been at the Battle. She couldn't help feeling slightly on edge, and she kept her wand within easy reach. She wondered if she'd ever feel completely relaxed again.

Harry, too, appeared cautious. His eyes were darting everywhere, and he kept Ginny tucked firmly beneath his arm. She didn't need the protection, but the night was chilly, and she appreciated his warmth. Leaning in, she took a deep breath of his clean, crisp, woodsy smell, feeling immensely grateful to have him healthy once again.

"So, how does this work?" Harry asked, pecking the top of Ginny's head.

"You're in for some amazing flying, I think you'll really appreciate it. The speed is intense, but the artistry comes from those weaving through the contestants while they try and knock each other off their brooms. My dad used to bring me when I was a kid, and it's a real rush," Lee said.

"Why is it illegal?" Ginny asked.

Lee shrugged. "The Ministry frowns on unlawful activity," Lee said with an affected air before waving it off, "I don't think there'll be any trouble. The Aurors are too busy with more serious things at the moment, and they usually only crack down when someone gets hurt. They're more concerned with all the betting."

"Yeah, I've seen Ludo Bagman at a few races. He's just working on an angle to get the Ministry a cut," George said, scowling.

"Too right," Lee agreed. "The racer you want to watch is a bloke called Uhrag. He dresses all in black, and he's fantastic. He covers his face, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's a professional Quidditch player. He's that good."

"Oi," a female voice called, approaching them.

Ginny looked up to see Angelina Johnston waving at them. She wore a tight black top and thigh-high leather boots. Her hair was styled in her familiar braids, but Ginny definitely thought there was a harder edge about her demeanor. Alicia had confided that Angelina wasn't handling Fred's death very well.

"Hey, Angelina," Ginny said, leaning over to hug the older girl.

Angelina seemed shocked to find them all there. "I didn't know you were all coming," she said, staring at George rather accusingly.

"Changed my mind," George said indifferently. "Harry wanted to see a race." He took a long draught of his beer.

"Hi, Harry," Angelina said.

"How are you, Angelina?" Harry asked.

"I'm good. I heard you've been unwell," Angelina said, and Ginny noticed she moved to stand as far away from George as she could get. George had stuck his hands in his pockets and carried on a conversation with Ron as if she weren't there.

Ginny frowned, perplexed by the two. She'd never known them to not get along. Angelina had dated Fred on and off since their sixth year. Ginny had even spotted Angelina sneaking out of the twins' flat early one morning when she'd come to work at the shop the summer before her own sixth year. She'd teased Fred about it, and it was the only time she could ever remember where he'd actually turned bright red. She'd suspected she'd caught them after their first time.

Perhaps seeing each other reminded both George and Angelina too much of the missing link.

"Here they come!" Alicia said excitedly, distracting Ginny from the unfolding drama.

At first, it was just a few riders involved in a series of smaller races. They were fun, but Ginny wasn't overly impressed by the flying. She felt as if she could definitely keep up. The final race was the big one, and even the air felt different as the time approached.

Ginny turned to see a group of about twenty racers lining up on the edge of the field. Some were dressed elaborately, while others could easily blend into the crowd. One witch wore what looked like a pirate costume, including an eye patch. Her dark hair was drawn back from her face in a long ponytail. Ginny quickly spotted the black-clad figure Lee had spoken about.

Uhrag was tall, towering above many of the other racers. He more a black mask over his face that uncomfortably reminded Ginny of the Death Eaters. They all clutched their brooms tightly in their hands as they switched their weight from foot-to-foot, eager to begin.

A large, checkered flag appeared unmanned in the center of the field in front of the runners. A female voice echoed across the crowd.

"Riders, take your positions!"

The crowd, which had swelled since their arrival, huddled along the edge of the field; the air was heady with anticipation. All eyes were glued on the racers as they mounted their brooms.

"The race starts in five…four…three…two…one. Go!" the voice shouted, as the flag waved in the air. It disappeared from whence it came before any of the racers had reached it.

The racers took off in unison, all attempting to move forward. A few got tangled with each other immediately, one even falling from his broom. He kicked the dirt in disgust before remounting and carrying on. The elite riders became readily apparent as they weaved their way through the horde. The one called Uhrag rose up like a shot, doing a barrel roll in between two other racers. One tried to block his progress, and Uhrag slammed into him, sending him into a spiral.

Uhrag then did some sort of corkscrew maneuver, weaving left and right through the throng of racers until he'd taken the lead. Ginny glanced over at Harry who was watching Uhrag keenly. His face was lit with intense fascination as he studied the racer's moves with rapt attention.

Ginny turned her attention to the other racers, her eyes seeking out the pirate witch she'd seen at the beginning. She finally spotted her racing after Uhrag along with another racer. The three of them soon distanced themselves from the others at lightning speed.

The thrill of the race was infectious, and the crowd hooted and hollered, cheering on their favorites.

"Uhrag's going to do it again," Lee shouted, just as the black-clad racer crossed the finish line.

The crowd erupted into cheers mixed with a few boos. Ginny was pleased to notice the pirate witch take second place.

"That was amazing! Did you see that roll?" Ron shouted over the noise.

"Did you see how he rolled through the others?" Harry asked at the same time, exhilarated.

"I told you he was the one to watch," Lee said.

"Who was the witch wearing the pirate outfit? Ginny asked.

"She's good, isn't she?" Angelina asked. "She's only been around for the last few races.

"I've heard her referred to as Pirate Girl, but I've never heard an actual name," Alicia said. "She won the last race I went to."

"But Uhrag wasn't at that one," Lee clarified.

"She's fast, but he has finesse," George said.

Angelina scowled at him. "Give her time."

"What do you want to do now?" Lee asked. "The night is still young. Usually there's a pub nearby, but this place is fairly remote."

"Shall we move this party over to the Leaky Cauldron then?" George asked.

Harry glanced at Ginny, shaking his head.

"Don't you want to go?" she asked quietly. Perhaps he was tired. This was the most he'd done in ages.

"I want to fly," he said, his bright green eyes shining with a light all their own.

"That's a great idea!" Ron said, interrupting. "Let's all go back to The Burrow. We can set up our own race in the meadow."

"Let's do this," George said.

"I think I'm going to head out," Angelina said, hesitating.

"Oh, no – come on, Ang. You can't leave Ginny and me to handle all these blokes on our own," Alicia said, grabbing Angelina's arm.

"What's the matter, Ang? Don't think you can keep up?" George said somewhat aggressively.

"I can always keep up with you," Angelina said coolly.

"Let's see it, then," George replied.

Ginny looked over at Harry, expecting to see her own disappointment reflected there. She and Harry had made a habit of a nightly fly before he got sick, and it always culminated in a good snog beside the broom shed. It was true she'd spent the past week on the couch with him, but there was only so far a snog could go with her mum's hovering presence constantly interrupting.

She was surprised, therefore, to see the excitement on Harry's face. He actually wanted to fly, after all. She supposed she couldn't blame him. The race had been exhilarating.

Ah well, there was always tomorrow.

The group Apparated back to the meadow, and removed their brooms from the shed. There were plenty of extras to accommodate Lee, Alicia and Angelina. Lee started a small fire on the edge of the meadow, and George summoned some chairs to place around it.

They took to the air, laughing and joking as they all warmed-up a bit. After several minutes, they lined up on one edge.

"Hey, who decides the winner?" Ron asked.

"I think it'll be obvious," Ginny said confidently.

"Oh, is that a challenge?" George asked, amused.

"Try not to choke on my dust," Ginny replied.

Although it was soundless, Harry conjured a flag to begin the race. Ginny thrilled as the chilly night air whipped her hair around her face. The speed of a broom had always exhilarated her. All the others swooped upwards, imitating the racers they'd just seen. Ginny had anticipated this, so instead, she remained low to the ground, bypassing the crowding and shot to an early lead. She'd thought she'd had it. She could hear the others behind her, while she could see the finish line clearly. She hunched low over her broom, urging it forward. Harry passed her in a blur at the last moment, rolling over her so his head was actually upside down and beside her for a brief moment as he imitated Uhrag's corkscrew maneuver. He crossed the finish line mere seconds ahead of her.

"How did you do that?" Ginny asked, slightly out of breath.

Harry wore a huge, cat-who-ate-the-canary grin. "Gotcha."

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "This time. I think you might have cheated."

"I don't cheat!" Harry said indignantly.

The others had landed around them.

"Thought you were going to win, Ginny," Ron said smugly.

"I didn't say I'd win, I said I'd beat you. And I did," Ginny fired back.

Ron scowled as the others laughed.

They spent an enjoyable evening racing around The Burrow, and the sounds of laughter and competition filled the night air.


Harry took a deep, steadying breath before he pushed open the door to his training classroom, Ron right on his heels. It was his first day back since his illness, and he dreaded all the stares and questions he knew were about to come. Nothing for it but to get it over with, however.

As expected, everyone's head turned as he entered, and they all watched him take his seat. Harry kept his eyes down as he unpacked his books from his bag, attempting to prolong the silence. Perhaps if Instructor Pierce hurried, he would derail all the questions.

"So, you're finally back, eh, Potter?" Cormac McLaggen sneered.

"Apparently," Harry replied, still not looking up. So much for hoping class would begin before the questions.

"How are you, Harry?" Lisa asked softly.

"I'm fine, thanks," Harry said, unable to ignore her gentle tone.

"What happened? We were told you'd been poisoned by the Death Eaters," Violet asked, her brown eyes wide.

"That's what happened," Harry said shortly. If she already knew, why did she need him to confirm it?

"How though? When did they get to you? Did it happen at the raid?" Violet insisted. Obviously she'd been pondering this for quite some time.

Harry caught Ron's eye, and his friend shrugged sympathetically. He'd warned Harry that there had been a lot of speculation about Harry's illness. Ron had loyally kept his lips tightly sealed.

"I think you were sick before the raid," Lisa said, looking directly in his eyes.

Harry had thought he'd done a good job of covering, but he supposed she'd been in Ravenclaw for a reason. He nodded mutely.

"You were? For how long? How did they get to you?" Violet asked.

"It doesn't matter; they just did. I'm healthy now, and I'll remain on guard," Harry said shortly, feeling impatient.

"If they managed to get to you once, they'll likely try again," Cormac said, sounding bored with the conversation. "Most likely it's inevitable."

"Thanks," Harry said dryly. "I'll try and enjoy the time I still have left."

"Well, I'm glad to see you bounced back, and you caught a load of Death Eaters. Auror Savage was raving about you," Duncan said.

Harry's eyebrows rose. He hadn't heard about that, although Savage had come to visit him in hospital.

"So, what have I missed? What are we working on?" Harry asked, trying to steer the conversation on to more comfortable topics.

"We're still doing Patronuses," Duncan said. "We got interrupted by the raid, then we all had to testify about what happened, but now we're back to it. Pierce says they're putting together a task force to deal with the Dementors."

Harry nodded. "Have you all managed to produce one?"

"I have! Mine's a fox, and it is so cool," Duncan said excitedly.

"I'm still getting mist," Lisa said, sounding rather dejected.

Harry looked at Violet.

"Mine is some sort of dog, but I can't get a clear enough look to decide what breed," she said. Harry couldn't decipher her reaction enough to read if she was happy about it or not.

"All right, boys and girls, take your seats," Instructor Pierce said, striding into the room. "Welcome back, Mr. Potter. I trust you are well?"

"Yes, sir," Harry replied.

"We're going to continue our work on Patronuses today, and I'll be testing each of you individually. I want you to read over this brief detailing what is expected on the Dementor task force, then we'll head over to the training facility for some practical work." As he spoke, Pierce placed a pamphlet on each of their desks.

As he read over his pamphlet, Harry had a chance to take a closer look at the class. Lisa was reading intently, and even Rory appeared to be absorbed. Only Cormac McLaggen wasn't really paying attention. Susan Bones chair was empty.

"Where's Susan?" Harry whispered to Ron.

Ron looked up, as if just noticing she wasn't there. "Dunno. She was here last week," he replied before turning back to his pamphlet.

Harry's first thought was that she'd dropped, but if she'd been here last week, perhaps there was another reason for her absence. He chewed on the end of his quill, pondering, as he read the material. The job of herding up the Dementors sounded overwhelming, and Harry wasn't certain it was one he'd want to be part of. He'd always struggled with the foul creatures. He supposed it wasn't his decision to make, anyway.

When they entered the training facility, Lisa immediately went to one corner and began to practice. The other trainees spread out so they took up the entire facility.

"Potter, you're first," Pierce barked, turning around and entering a smaller room off the main facility. He didn't look back to see if Harry was following.

Harry sighed and followed. He hadn't used much magic during his convalescence, and he hoped Prongs would cooperate. He wouldn't like to mess up on his first day back.

When he entered the room, he was more than a little surprised to find Kingsley Shacklebolt waiting inside.

"Minister!" Harry said, surprised.

Kingsley flashed his pearly-white teeth as he reached out to shake Harry's hand. "Glad to see you looking healthy again. You had us all worried at that last meeting."

Harry blushed, remembering how sick he'd felt the day they'd planned the raid. "Yes, sir. What can I do for you?" he asked.

"I don't want to interrupt too much of your class time, so I'll be brief. I just thought you deserved fair warning," Kingsley said solemnly.

The hairs on the back of Harry's neck stood on end. What now? What else could've possibly gone wrong already? Had Anton Dolohov already made a move? Harry's shoulders tensed as he prepared for bad news.

"Fair warning, sir?" he asked stiffly.

Kingsley's face remained stoic, but Harry thought he detected a very faint twitch in the man's expression. "The Wizengamot will make an announcement today of an Order of Merlin ceremony to take place on Friday, 29 August. You'll be receiving the court's highest honor."

Harry stared blankly. This hadn't been what he'd expected, and he felt out of sorts. He suspected that had been the Minister's intent all along.

"Er," Harry said eloquently.

"As most of the Weasleys will also be receiving awards, I'll ensure you're seated with them and not some Ministry stuffy old toffs," Kingsley said, his eyes sparkling with humor now.

"Ron and Hermione will be getting awards, yeah?" Harry asked slowly, trying to pull his thoughts together. He really didn't want to attend a Ministry function. He wanted to move past the war. Why did they keep insisting on dragging him back?

"Yes, along with the members of the Order of the Phoenix," Kingsley replied solemnly. "There are also several members of the DA who led the resistance at Hogwarts who will be getting Third-Class awards, including Miss Weasley."

While inordinately pleased for Ginny, Harry still wasn't happy. "Why do they have to be different classes? Why can't we all just get an award and be done with it?" Harry asked, aware of the whine in his voice.

"Potter!" Pierce reprimanded, but Kingsley held up his hand to quiet him.

"It's all right. Your humility is honorable Harry, but a large portion of the Wizarding world watched you face Voldemort that morning. While many others helped you get there, it was you who defeated him, and that will be acknowledged. This is our system, and everyone besides you expects it," Kingsley said firmly, leaving no room for argument.

"But Ron and Hermione–"

"Auror Potter, I'll expect you to have your calendar cleared for the evening," Kingsley said, bowing slightly before leaving the room.

Harry fumed. He knew it was an order, and if he wanted to be an Auror, he would need to do what was expected of him. He didn't have to like it, however. He felt slightly betrayed by Kingsley. He'd purposely led Harry to believe there was some bad news before springing the ceremony and the different class awards on him.

"I'm aware you have a personal relationship, but that man is still the Minister for the Magic, and you'll show him respect in my presence," Pierce said, scowling.

"Yes, sir," Harry said stiffly.

Pierce's stance softened slightly as he tilted his head to the side, studying Harry closely. "You know," he said slowly, "most people are honored to be awarded an Order of Merlin. It's the life-long dream of some, even."

"Yeah, well, I'm not most people," Harry said shortly.

"Duly noted," Pierce said, nodding. "Let me see this Patronus I've heard so much about."

Author's Note: Well, looks like most of you want this tale to continue. I'm not making any promises, but I'll see if I can put something together. It will be a while as I like to have a good chunk done before I start posting. It will focus mainly on Harry's continued Auror training and Ginny's seventh year.

Thanks again go to my awesome beta, Sherylyn. She even got me these chapters back over Christmas!