Ron wasn't sure what time it was when he woke up again, but since the hospital wing was quiet and he could feel the warmth of Hermione's body beside his, he was only too happy to burrow down in his pillow and go back to sleep.
I'm still knackered, so I couldn't have been asleep all that long, he reasoned, rolling on his side and draping his arm over his wife, who wiggled backwards until she was pressed firmly against him.
Guess she really didn't need that potion after all, Ron thought, relieved to hear her sigh contentedly in her sleep. It made him feel good to know his mere presence made Hermione feel secure, even after everything that had just happened. Not just because it stroked his ego and showed him that he was needed, but because he'd genuinely been worried that she would find it difficult to sleep. He'd been so concerned, in fact, that he'd broken down, in front of the twins no less, and all but begged her to take a potion for Dreamless Sleep as he coaxed her back into bed.
Of course she'd refused, even after he reminded her that it wasn't the type of sleeping potion that would prevent her from waking up. But even after suffering a nervous breakdown, Hermione was still as tenacious as ever and it didn't take long for Ron to see he was waging a losing battle. He wisely realized that if he continued to push her, she'd just get irritated with him and refuse the only other means of comfort he had left to offer. So rather than argue with her, Ron gave in and settled for pushing his small hospital bed beside hers so the two of them could sleep together. And miracle of miracles, that had actually worked.
So far, he reminded himself, tightening his grip on Hermione and dropping a feather-light kiss on her neck.
It was a small gesture. Not even enough to wake Hermione up, but unbeknownst to Ron, they were being watched. The instant his lips connected with her flesh he was horrified to hear the unmistakable sound of somebody clearing their throat.
Shite! Ron groaned in his head, cringing at the prospect of a fellow student popping into the Hospital Wing to see Madam Pomfrey about some ailment and catching the two of them sleeping together. It'll be all over school before breakfast, he silently lamented. Why didn't I put the curtains around us before I fell asleep? Shite! He silently moaned again, taking a deep breath and forcing himself to open his eyes so he could confront whoever it was.
If he was lucky it would be a younger student, preferably a Gryffindor. Someone he could reason with or at least intimidate into keeping their big yap shut. He was a prefect after all. There had to be a rule somewhere about spreading gossip, and if there wasn't there should be.
"Mum?" Ron said in surprise, his mouth falling open when he came up on his elbow and spied his mother sitting in a nearby chair, silently knitting. "What are you… What time is it?" he amended.
"It's still early, dear," she said softly, lowering her knitting needles and cocking her head towards Fred and George, who were quietly snoring, to remind Ron that he needed to keep his voice down. "But I'm glad you're awake," she whispered, gathering up her yarn and leaning down to shove her things in a small bag at her feet.
"Fred told me that Hermione had a bit of a rough night," Molly said, when her son continued to gape wordlessly at her. "I hate to wake her, but the sooner we leave the better."
"Leave?" Ron asked, furrowing his brow as he found his voice again. "You mean the sooner we return to Gryffindor Tower?" he asked hopefully. But even as he said it, the resolve he saw on his mother's face let him know that wasn't what she meant at all. Whatever she was about to say, she was expecting him to fight her on it.
"I'm afraid you and Hermione will not be returning to Gryffindor Tower just yet," Molly said after a few moments of silence had passed.
"Why the hell not?" Ron barked, the jolt of suspicion he felt from Hermione letting him know that she was awake and had heard what his mother had said.
"Don't take that tone with me, young man," Molly hissed back. "It's time you learn that there are consequences for your actions," she stated. "You have responsibilities now," she said, glancing at Hermione briefly. "Things that you need to deal with, things that you both need to deal with," she amended. "And since your courses won't be starting until next week, you'll deal with them now."
"What kind of things?" Ron demanded.
"It doesn't matter," Hermione said, giving up her pretense of sleep and sitting upright beside him. "We're not going anywhere with you," she said to Ron's mother.
Bloody hell, Ron thought, momentarily caught off guard by Hermione's surly response. He knew that she'd been fighting with his mother earlier, but he'd never expected her to be openly hostile, let alone downright rude.
One look at his mother's face was all Ron needed to see she was just as startled, although to her credit she masked it quickly. When her disbelief gave way to hurt feelings, she struggled to cover it with an indifferent expression. But it was the fact that she didn't reply that scared Ron the most. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen his mother at a loss for words and still have fingers left over. But when she did find her voice again, it was going to be loud.
This isn't good, he thought, watching his mother sit back in her chair and stare at Hermione as if she were trying to measure her up. Say something, he scolded himself, knowing that he should step in before all hell broke loose. But what? he wondered. Fortunately, Hermione alleviated the mounting tension herself.
"You're going to have to prove that you're really Molly Weasley first," Hermione said, her eyes riveted on the woman sitting near the foot of their beds as she set her challenge. "We're not falling for the same trick Ginny did."
Bloody hell, Ron thought again. The possibility that this might not be his mother had never even occurred to him.
It was ridiculous of course. She was wearing the same clothing she'd been wearing when she went to St. Mungo's to retrieve Bill and check on Charlie. Obviously this was his mother. Ron was sure of it. Up until the moment she smiled ever so slightly and pulled a wand on them, that is.
"Tonks dropped in while you were sleeping," Molly said, spinning the wand around so the tip was pointing at herself and holding it out for Hermione to take. "She asked me to give you this," she added, tossing the wand on the bed when neither of them made a move to retrieve it. "The Aurors found it in Honeydukes."
"That doesn't prove anything," Hermione said, snatching her wand up quickly. She was more than relieved to have it back, but she wasn't about to admit it.
"Do you seriously believe I'd allow you to hold me at wandpoint if I was a Death Eater?"
"Perhaps," Hermione replied, "if you were trying to lull us into a false sense of security. You have to admit, it would be easier to get us off the grounds if we cooperated. Who's to say you don't have backup waiting for us outside the gates? How do I know you even got this from Tonks? Death Eaters could have searched Honeydukes before the Aurors arrived. Maybe Wormtail took it with him when he ran away. There is any number of ways you could have retrieved my wand."
"Mad-Eye will be please to hear that you've taken his warnings about 'constant vigilance' to heart," Molly said. "And truthfully, so am I. If only your sister had been so cautious," she said regretfully, shifting her attention back to Ron. "Well," she said, sighing in resignation. "Go ahead," she prompted. "Ask me a question. Something only I would know the answer to, mind you. And be quick about it. We have a busy day ahead of us."
"It seems you lot were daft enough to register your wands with the Ministry on the night you entered the Department of Mysteries," Molly said, before Ron had a chance to even think of an appropriate question. "Fortunately Remus pocketed your wand before bringing you back to Hogwarts," she said to her son, "but they didn't stop to search for Hermione's. When the Aurors found it, they cast Prior Incantato on it to make sure it wasn't the wand used to kill Dolohov."
"Not to worry, dear," Molly said, when Hermione visibly paled. "According to Tonks, the Ministry is still trying to sort out how he managed to kill himself with his own wand. Officially, they've listed the cause of death as accidental. In fact, Kingsley has already leaked it to the Prophet that Dolohov's wand backfired. On Dumbledore's orders, of course," she added. "No one is looking to blame anything on you," Molly assured her daughter-in-law. "But the Aurors know that you were in Honeydukes and they have a few inquiries. Just answer their questions as honestly as you can and don't volunteer any information," Molly advised.
"Why would they let her go to them at the Ministry?" Fred asked from his bed a short distance away.
"Why didn't they ask their questions last night?" George added.
"They tried," Molly confessed, turning around in her chair to scowl at the twins, who'd obviously woken up sometime during the conversation and pretended that they hadn't so they could eavesdropping, "but Dumbledore refused to allow them to disturb anyone in the hospital wing. He didn't want anyone knowing that you two were in here," she added.
"And they went for that?" George asked skeptically.
"Yeah," Fred said suspiciously. "What's up with that? It sounds like they're being awful accommodating. I don't like it. Scrimgeour wants something if you ask me."
"Well, I didn't."
"To suck up to Harry, no doubt," George added, ignoring his mother's comment.
"Enough!" Molly said sternly. "Can't you see that you're worrying Hermione," she snapped, without even bothering to look at her daughter-in-law to see if that were true or not. "If the Minister wants to do us a favor, we aren't going to argue. If he is being accommodating because he wants Harry's goodwill, you should count yourselves lucky. If not for his willingness to allow your father to bring Hermione in for questioning when she's feeling up to it, each and every one of you would have had to explain your part in this mess. Perhaps you'd like to come with us. I'm sure that can be arranged."
"No," George replied instantly.
"Thanks for the offer, though," Fred added quickly. "It's nice to be included for a change."
"Still doubt that's really my mum?" Ron whispered into Hermione's ear, his own misgivings having long since evaporated. His mother was the only person Ron knew that was capable of browbeating the twins into submission that quickly. Of course, he now had a whole host of new concerns to worry about. Chief on the list; the fear that Hermione would have another breakdown, this time in front of whomever it was that was questioning her. She was already starting to fret. He'd just have to do his best to try and keep her distracted.
"Harry Potter, sir! Harry Potter must wake up!"
"Wha-" Harry grumbled, stirring from his slumber with a start. Why was Ginny's voice so unnaturally high and why was she waking him up in the middle of the night?
Unless, he thought with a wry smile, she wants to pick up where we left off. Who needs sleep, he decided, reaching out with his left hand to feel the spot on his bed where Ginny had fallen asleep, only to find it cold and empty.
Where the hell is she? Wait! Harry thought, his eyes snapping open as doubt flooded his mind. I wasn't dreaming, was I? he asked himself, his heart plummeting when he didn't find her in his bed. There is no way I could have dreamt up a snog like that, he tried to reassure himself. Not even my fantasies are that good. Besides, if it had been a dream, we would have done more than snog, he reasoned. And I wouldn't have tried to discourage her.
Not that you tried very hard, or very long, he reminded himself, his smile becoming even broader as he replayed the night's events over in his head.
It really had been unbelievable. Harry had always known that Ginny was spirited and that she wasn't afraid to go after what she wanted, but knowing in no uncertain terms that he was what she wanted and that she wasn't going to be swayed by his excuses had been such an incredible turn on. And thanks to their connection, Ginny quickly realized that and used it to her advantage. The first few times he managed to surface for air, he'd tried to explain why they shouldn't be together, but Ginny would have none of it. She cut him off, called him a daft git, and then she kissed him again before he had a chance to respond. How was a bloke supposed to think, let alone win an argument, when the girl he fancied like mad was pressed against him with her tongue shoved down his throat?
No, it definitely wasn't a dream. But where is she then?
Maybe she had to use the loo.
But why would she wake me up for that? Harry wondered. Unless she isn't planning on coming back, he added as an afterthought.
But that explanation didn't really make much sense to him either. It wasn't right. He didn't know how he knew that, but he did. Something felt off about it. Something felt off in general, actually. Something that Harry couldn't quite put his finger on and then it dawned on him what it was.
He wasn't sensing Ginny. He wasn't picking up anything at all from her and that's why he felt so uneasy. They hadn't even been connected for 24 hours and subconsciously he was already starting to rely on their link to monitor Ginny's well-being. A few short hours ago he'd been cursing their connection and ranting to himself about how irritating it was, and now he was starting to become …
What exactly? he asked himself.
Dependent wasn't the right word, but it was close. He hadn't reached the point where he needed to sense Ginny in order to function, but he didn't like being cut off from her either. It made him feel ill-at-ease. But ill-at-ease he could handle. A little anxiety was fine as long as it didn't evolve into something stronger. Harry didn't want to get in so deep that he became paranoid like Ron did when he was cut off from Hermione for a substantial length of time, although he now understood why Ron reacted that way.
The emotional feedback loop created by the Coupling Potion might be frustrating at times, but it was comforting as well. There was security in knowing that the woman you loved was alive and well at any given moment.
Unless she's asleep, Harry reminded himself. He'd heard Ron grumbling about that enough times to know he wouldn't be able to sense much when Ginny was asleep.
Which she must be right now, he reasoned, parting the curtains of his bed and glancing at the window just long enough to determine that the sun had barely risen. She must have slipped back to her own room while I was asleep.
"Harry Potter, sir!" a squeaky voice cried out happily. "Harry Potter is awake after all! Dobby was…"
"Dobby?" Harry asked, scanning the floor but failing to see the elf. "What are you doing here?" he whispered, reaching for his glasses, which he'd tossed at his bedside table after falling into his bed with Ginny. But rather than land on his glasses, his hand landed on a bright pink sock, which promptly wiggled.
"Dobby is delivering messages, sir!" the elf squeaked from his perch, snapping his fingers and causing Harry's glasses to rise off the floor and float to him. "Professor Dumbledore says that he needs Harry Potter, sir. That only Harry Potter can help him with his task, so Dobby volunteered to retrieve him for Professor Dumbledore. Dobby is also to tell Harry Potter that he is not to be worrying about his Wheezys. They will be… 'well looked after'," the elf said, after taking a moment to remember the appropriate phrase, "while they are away."
"Away?" Harry said anxiously. "Ron's leaving?" he asked, clearly worried in spite of Dobby's message. "Are they taking him to St. Mungo's?" he asked, jumping out of bed fully dressed. His trousers were filthy, his shirt was wrinkled, and his shoes were missing entirely, but he didn't care. "What's wrong with him?" Harry shouted as he ran for the door.
"Wait," Harry said to himself, stopping short and spinning around to search for Dobby after he reached the common room. "You said they," he said, looking impatiently at the staircase, "'they will be well looked after'. DOBBY!" Harry shouted, when the elf didn't chase him down the stairs as he expected. "They who?" he demanded, turning to his right when the air beside him cracked and the house-elf materialized out of thin air. "Is it George? Is something wrong with him as well?"
"George?" Dobby repeated, rolling his large green eyes skyward as if momentarily confused. "No, sir," he answered. "Your Wheezys!" he said, as if that explained everything. "The one that gave Dobby the jumper," he added when Harry continued to look baffled. "And the one that left the hats for Dobby and Winky! Your Wheezys, sir!"
"Ron and Hermione? But what's wrong with them?" Harry asked, when Dobby nodded his head.
"Nothing, sir!" the elf assured him. "Dobby has already given his message. Harry Potter is not to worry because there is nothing to worry about."
"Then why are they leaving?" Harry demanded. "Where are they going? Is Ginny going with them? Is that where she is? Have they already left? When will they be back?"
"Dobby is not knowing how to answer those questions, sir," the elf said regretfully, his batlike ears drooping as he bowed his head in shame. "Perhaps Harry Potter should ask Professor Dumbledore when he sees him," Dobby suggested. "But Harry Potter will be needing his shoes first," the elf said. And no sooner had the words left his mouth, than a pair of trainers appeared on Harry's feet. He didn't even have to bend over and tie them because Dobby took care of that as well. "Professor Dumbledore is waiting for Harry Potter in his office, sir!"
Then he can keep waiting, Harry thought, because I'm going to the Hospital Wing.
But before Harry reached the portrait hole, it opened of its own accord. At least, that's what he thought until Professor McGonagall stepped through, looking haggard and harried.
"Potter?" she said in surprise when she looked away from the oversized painting she had just levitated through the opening and saw him staring at her. "What are you doing down here at this hour?"
"What's that?" Harry countered, pointing at the painting before changing his mind and jumping to an entirely different topic. "Where are Ron and Hermione going?" he asked, before McGonagall had a chance to do more than open her mouth to reply to his first question. "Is something wrong with them? What about George? Is he…"
"Slow down, Potter," McGonagall said, holding out one hand in front of herself. "You're working yourself up over nothing," she said. "The last I heard, your friends were surprisingly fit, all things considered. They do have a few personal matters to attend to, however," she said, flicking her wrist so the hovering painting tilted upright to reveal a man sitting in a rather uncomfortable looking chair with an oversized book on his lap.
"Molly and Remus will be taking them to Gringotts to sign some papers," McGonagall said, using her wand to move the portrait towards the wall at the foot of the boys' staircase. "And they still need to talk to the Aurors, but they'll likely be back before you will," she said, flicking her wrist again and casting a spell to secure the painting in place. "Assuming you've agreed to accompany Dumbledore on his recruiting trip, that is."
"Recruiting trip?" Harry asked in surprise, the new painting all but forgotten.
"Yes," McGonagall said, sounding just as exhausted as she looked. "I'm afraid Tonks has been recalled to active duty," she sighed. "Scrimgeour claims that he can no longer spare any of his Aurors. Of course that didn't happen until after Dumbledore refused to allow him to speak with you," she grumbled "But the fact remains that once again, we find ourselves short one professor."
"If you plan on accompanying Dumbledore, you had best get going, Potter. Horace doesn't tend to stay in the same place very long. I'm sure Dumbledore is anxious to get to him before he learns about what happened here last night. If he gets it into his head that Hogwarts has been attacked-- Well," McGonagall said, changing her mind and simplifying her explanation at the last second, "let's just say it will make it that much harder for Dumbledore to convince him to come out of retirement."
Why? Who is Horace and why should he care if Voldemort made a move against me last night? Harry wondered, but before he could voice the question the less rational, more emotional side of himself took over.
Who the hell cares? What about Ginny?
"Ginny will go spare if she wakes up and discovers that we've all left her," Harry said to McGonagall, rather than scurry off to the Headmaster's office as she'd suggested.
"I'm sure Miss Weasley will understand."
Somehow I doubt that.
"We both took a shot of that Coupling Potion last night," Harry informed McGonagall, unsure whether or not she was aware of that fact. "If she freaks out, it will likely affect my mood as well. I doubt I'll be of much use to Dumbledore if that happens."
How's it going to look to that Horace bloke when I get all surly and belligerent for no reason? He'll think I'm mental.
"Perhaps you should let Dumbledore be the judge of that," the head of Gryffindor House replied rather sternly. "He wouldn't have asked you to accompany him if he didn't think you'd be of use. I suggest you keep that information about the Coupling Potion to yourself, however, unless Dumbledore himself decides to reveal it. As for Miss Weasley," she added, "you leave her to me. I'll see that she doesn't 'freak out'."
It wasn't a request, so much as an order and Harry wisely realized that McGonagall wasn't going to stand around and argue with him about it. He had two choices. He could either leave with Dumbledore immediately or he could stay in the common room and wait for Ginny. He couldn't do both. And since no one in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to go on a mission with Dumbledore, Ginny included, he threw caution to the wind and made a bee-line for the portrait hole.
WELL THIS IS JUST BLOODY GREAT! Ginny silently ranted, stomping out of McGonagall's office with no idea where she was going to go.
Not that it really matters, she lamented, because everywhere I go, people stare at me. And I can't even hide in the hospital wing because Mum took everyone home with her. Everyone except me, she fumed. It's the story of my sodding life. Once again I've been left behind for my own bloody good.
"Baby Ginny is safer at Hogwarts," she muttered sarcastically as she tromped down one corridor and into another at random. "Baby Ginny is too inept to take care of herself," she continued, mounting a flight of stairs and climbing them without a second thought. "She needs her professors to mind her while her 'protectors' are away. Merlin forbid she ever set foot on the grounds again without a chaperone."
Like it's my fault I fell into that trap, she thought as she continued to ascend one staircase after another. I'm not the only one Lestrange fooled. We all thought she was Emma. So why am I the only one being punished for it? Harry gets to go off with Dumbledore, Ron and Hermione get to spend the day on Diagon Alley, and what do I get to do? Lock myself in the tower and gaze wistfully out the window while I contemplate what a fool I've been. LIKE HELL I WILL!
It's bloody unfair, that's what it is.
Unfortunately, as much as Ginny hated her situation, there wasn't much she could do about it. Her family had already left without her, as had Harry. And while technically speaking, Harry had a legitimate excuse for slipping out in the wee hours of the morning, it still hurt that he hadn't bothered to say goodbye.
How long does it take to write a note, for Merlin's sake? Ginny asked herself, unwilling to be appeased by the remorse Harry was currently feeling. You should feel bad, she thought, despite the fact she knew that he couldn't hear her thoughts. But he didn't need to hear her words to know that she was irritated with him. She was irritated with all of them; her mother, her brothers, Harry, Hermione, everyone that had left her behind. They could have made an effort, Ginny grumbled. One of them could have written a note telling me what was going on. They didn't have to leave it to McGonagall to summon me to her office after breakfast so she could lecture me about how I was going to have to be responsible and act maturely while everyone was gone.
And what a joy it was eating by myself with everybody whispering and pointing at me. It's like first year all over again, only worse. At least I was only the girl who was possessed by You-Know-Who back then. Merlin only knows what they're saying behind my back now. I wouldn't be surprised if some daft git starts spreading it around that Voldemort took me because he wants me to be his 'pure-blood' queen. People will believe anything, no matter how ridiculous it is, she thought with a sigh.
And you better get used to it, she reminded herself. Because people are going to talk about you as long as you're close to Harry. Just like they talked about Cho, Ginny thought, rounding a corner and practically colliding with the last person she expected to meet in the upper recesses of the school.
"You," was all Draco Malfoy managed to get out before Ginny recovered from her shock and reacted.
"BASTARD!" she shouted, after hitting him with the strongest Bat-Bogey Hex she could produce. "You're going to wish that Voldemort had finished me off by the time I'm through with you," she hissed, perfectly happy to take her aggravation out on him. He was the reason she'd been taken prisoner to begin with. If he hadn't been tormenting Emma…. No, Bellatrix, Ginny reminded herself, after using a Leg Locker Curse to throw Malfoy off balance so it would be that much harder for him to fight back. Not that the gigantic bat attacking his face wasn't distracting enough, but why take the risk. It was Bellatrix.
"YOU KNEW!" she shrieked, more irate now than ever. "FURNUCULUS! You twisted, scheming, SON OF A BITCH! YOU KNEW WHAT SHE WAS GOING TO DO WITH ME!"
Of course Malfoy had known who the little girl really was. Ginny hadn't given it much thought before now because she'd been preoccupied fuming about Harry and her family ditching her, but it made perfect sense now. Bellatrix was his aunt. Malfoy must have known that she was only pretending to be Emma in order to lure one of them into her trap. That's why he'd been so cocky, despite the fact he and his slimy Slytherin friends had been outnumbered. He was in on it from the start. That settled it. Malfoy wasn't going to wish that she was dead. By the time Ginny was finished with him, he was going to wish that he was.
"You're sure you were on the seventh floor when you ran into him?" Harry asked Ginny suspiciously several hours later. Not that he doubted her. It was Malfoy's motives that were in question, at least in Harry's mind.
He'd known that Ginny had been in some sort of scuffle while he was away. Thanks to their connection Harry had known the instant it had happened. Just like he'd known that she'd walked away from it unscathed. It was the only explanation he'd been able to come up with to explain why Ginny had been consumed by anger and loathing, and yet felt so satisfied at the same time. Obviously she'd cursed the hell out of someone.
Of course, Harry hadn't been happy when he learned she'd been dueling with Malfoy. Not just because it was unexpected, (he'd assumed she'd been fighting with Parvati), but because Malfoy was dangerous. He rarely did anything on his own and it was just sheer luck that Ginny happened to get the jump on him. It could have just as easily been her on the ground covered in hexes, or worse.
What was he even doing skulking around on the seventh floor? Harry wondered. The Aurors should have hauled him off to Azkaban where he belongs. At the very least he should have been confined to the dungeons until Dumbledore came back and expelled him. Snape obviously let him off scot-free. Yeah, there's a surprise, Harry thought sarcastically. But what was Malfoy doing on the seventh floor? he asked himself again. Either he was hoping to sneak into Gryffindor Tower, he decided, or else he was trying to get into the Room of Requirement, but why?
"You're sure that…"
"Oh for heaven's sake," Ginny snapped in exasperation. "I've only told you that I'm sure four bloody times. Unless there is another tapestry of trolls doing ballet somewhere in the castle, we were on the seventh floor. And no," she said, before Harry could ask his next question again, "I don't know what he was doing. I didn't stop to ask and frankly I don't care."
Well, I do.
"And what about the little girl you mentioned?" Harry asked. "The one that interrupted you?"
"How many times do I have to tell you? I don't know where she came from. I didn't even know she was there until she started screaming."
"But she definitely knew Malfoy?" Harry persisted, despite the fact he already knew the answer to this question as well. Ginny had gone over all of this with him several times by this point. "She called him by his first name, so that must mean that she's a Slytherin. Why would they be meeting on the seventh floor? You don't think they were going to use the Room of Requirement to…"
"She was ten," Ginny shouted, wrinkling her nose up in revulsion at the mere thought of Draco taking advantage of a little girl, even if she was a Slytherin. "All right, she was twelve," she amended when Harry didn't buy her exaggeration. And small wonder, seeing as how you had to be eleven before you could enroll at Hogwarts. "Thirteen at most," Ginny continued. "But she was definitely too young to be doing anything like that with the likes of him."
"Why else would he hook up with some girl outside the Room of Requirement?"
"I don't know and I don't care," Ginny reiterated. Just thinking about Draco was making her angry all over again. She hadn't had nearly enough time to make him suffer before she'd been interrupted. "I don't want to talk about him anymore," she stated. "Let's talk about something else. What are you going to say to Parvati?"
"Nothing," Harry said irritable. That was a sore subject with him and as far as he was concerned Ginny should have known not to bring it up. He never asked Parvati to be his girlfriend, so he didn't see any reason to go out of his way and break up with her. Besides, she obviously knew the score. Why else would she call Ginny a slag and run off in tears when he stormed into the common room late in the evening and asked Neville where Ginny was?
"Ok, so what's the new Defense teacher like?" Ginny asked, changing the subject yet again.
"He's a Slytherin."
"Harry," Ginny groaned, throwing herself against the back of the sofa they were sitting on together.
Was he daft? He had to know he was driving her insane with all his questions and his suspicion. Couldn't he just drop his whole 'I know those scheming Slytherins are up to no good' obsession for ten minutes and enjoy the fact that everyone else had gone to bed and they finally had the common room to themselves?
"What?" he asked when she rolled her eyes at him.
"No more talking, that's what," Ginny replied. "I'm tired of feeling angry and suspicious. Let's stop obsessing about Malfoy and focus on something more pleasant for a while," she said, reaching for his hand. "Oh my God," Ginny said, fighting the urge to giggle when Harry's cheeks flushed. "You're embarrassed."
"I am not," Harry protested, but his face became substantially darker when she called him on his feelings.
Damned connection, he thought.
OK, so maybe he had a hard time getting the ball rolling when it came to things like that. He'd never actually initiated a snog before. The girls he'd been with had always been the aggressors, Ginny included. And now that Harry knew she was waiting for him to make a move, maybe he was a little embarrassed, but throwing it in his face and laughing about it wasn't going to help.
Oh God. Neither was that. Didn't she realize how emasculating that was? He didn't want to be sweet, he wanted to be-- What? he asked himself. In control and irresistible. He wanted to get caught up in the moment and be swept away by the passion again.Or was that what Ginny wanted?
But then why would she be glaring at me like that?
"You're not going to give me more of that rubbish about how we can't be together because it's not safe, are you?" Ginny said, pursing her lips ever so slightly.
Thanks for reminding me, Harry thought with a sigh, his stomach flipping as the reality of the situation set back in. "Look, Ginny."
"No, you look," she retorted. "I know you fancy me and you know that I fancy you, so stop dancing around it and admit what's really bothering you. You think that my being with you will make me a target."
"It will," Harry said, disillusioned and resentful about how unfair his life was at the same time.
"Bollocks!" Ginny countered. "I'm always going to be a target, you daft git. We weren't dating yesterday, but that didn't stop Voldemort from taking me," she reminded him. "You didn't even know I existed when I was a first-year," she continued, having planned her lecture out while he was away with Dumbledore, "but that didn't stop him from possessing me. That had absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with me," Ginny said as Harry opened his mouth to argue and then closed it again.
Wait, that's true. I barely even knew her when Malfoy slipped her that diary.
"I'm a target because I'm a Weasley. My whole family is on those scumbags' hit list, not just because we're close to you, but because of who we are and what we believe in. You could drop dead tomorrow and that wouldn't change. They'd still come after us."
"Just like they went after my family the last time Voldemort was trying to take over everything," Ginny said over him. "Death Eaters didn't kill my uncles because they were close to you."
"They were members of the Order," Harry countered, which means they were associating with my parents, he finished in his head.
"My point exactly," Ginny said. "My entire family is in the Order, or at least we will be soon enough."
"You are not going to join the…"
"You're not my mum, Harry. Apparently, you don't even want to be my boyfriend," Ginny said overdramatically, "and even if you were, it wouldn't give you the right to tell me what I can and cannot do. Although if you were," she added purposely, "I might listen to you more and I'd definitely have to take your feelings on the matter seriously."
"Are you for real?" Harry asked, staring at Ginny incredulously. "You're seriously trying to blackmail me into…"
"Blackmail?" Ginny asked, doing a convincing job of sounding offended. "Would I do something like that?" she asked innocently.
"Is it working?" she asked, although she could tell by the way Harry's resolve was crumbling that it was.
Damn it, he swore when he realized how encouraged she was feeling.
"I think it is," Ginny said with a triumphant smile, inching closer to him. "You might as well concede the point now. You know how stubborn we Weasleys can be when we want something. I've waited too long for this to happen to give up now," she said, pressing herself against him and purposely invading his personal space. "Especially now that I know you don't really want me to give up. Stop trying to be noble and do something selfish for a change."
"You don't fight fair," Harry said, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to stare at her luscious lips; lips that had nearly devoured him the night before.
"That's something you learn quickly when you have six brothers," Ginny whispered into his ear. "If I fought fair," she said, brushing her lips against his neck and smiling to herself when she felt him shiver, "I'd never win."
"Come on, Hermione," an all too familiar voice said as the portrait hole burst open nearly an hour later, "at least have a look before you make up your mind."
I'm so fucking dead, Harry thought, his eyes snapping open in horror as he heard his best friends enter the same room he was snogging in. This is sooooo not the way I wanted Ron to find out, he groaned, tightening his grip on Ginny, who was sprawled out on top of him, to prevent her from doing something stupid, like sitting upright and calling attention to them. Maybe we'll get lucky and they won't see us. Please God, don't let him see us.
"Looking isn't going to change anything," Hermione replied, oblivious to the fact she had an audience. "You can't move into that room. You need to stay with Harry."
What's she talking about? Harry wondered, more than a little surprised to hear his name pop up in the middle of Ron and Hermione's disagreement. He was only momentarily distracted, however. He had more important things to worry about at the moment.
"Yeah, but you…"
"But nothing," she interrupted. "It's late Ron and you need to get some rest. Let's just go to bed. We can discuss it in the morning."
YES! Harry cried out in his mind, silently willing his friends to leave. Go to bed. You can row about what ever this is later.
"Just because I need to stay with Harry, that doesn't mean you can't move in there," Ron countered, obviously unwilling to put their argument on hold. "What harm is there in looking?"
"I don't want to look," Hermione grumbled, turning her back on him and moving towards the girls' staircase. "Not right now," she said, ascending the first few steps. "I want to go to bed."
"Well, I want to look and you owe me after what happened at the Burrow tonight."
Harry would have groaned out loud at his best mate's stupidity if not for the fact it would give him away. As it was, he had to place his hand over Ginny's mouth and shake his head in warning when he felt her take personal offense at the comment on Hermione's behalf.
"I BEG YOUR PARDON!" Hermione shouted, her voice getting shriller as she stomped back into the common room.
Obviously Ginny isn't the only one that took that personally.
"What exactly is it that you think I owe you?" she hissed, advancing on Ron, who wisely stepped away from her. "It's not my fault your mother invited my parents over for dinner. I'm not the one that used the Lànain against my father. That was you."
No way! Harry thought, nearly as astonished as Ginny was by that tidbit of information. He used the Lànain on her dad? No wonder Hermione's so hacked off.
"How was I supposed to know it was your dad?" Ron countered. "He was leaning over you when I walked in and you were all freaked out. I was trying to protect you."
"And I owe you for that?"
"Not like that," Ron backtracked, suddenly realizing why Hermione was so upset with him. He hadn't meant to offend her, he just wanted to keep her in the same room as him so they could discuss McGonagall's offer.
"It's what you said."
"Just because I want you to look at the room with me, that doesn't mean I want to break it in or anything. I wasn't demanding or even suggesting that you owed me a shag."
"That's how it sounded."
"Well, it's not how I meant it," Ron snapped back, on the defensive now and irritated about it.
"How did you mean it then?" Hermione demanded.
Don't answer that, Harry thought, silently willing Ron not to respond because he sensed a trap. Or maybe it was Ginny that sensed Ron's impending doom and he was just reading her. Either way, he suspected that Hermione's inquiry was really one of those questions that girls came up with that didn't actually have a correct answer. No matter what Ron said, he'd dig himself in deeper and when their fight got loud enough, Harry knew someone would come downstairs to investigate things and spot him.
That's all I need, he thought, a fully enraged Ron to find me hiding on the sofa with Ginny covering me like a blanket. I won't even be able to fend off the blows in my current position. He'll mop the floor with me before I even have a chance to stand up.
"I just thought it would be nice if you had a room of your own," Ron said, jumping to the same conclusions Harry had and sidestepping Hermione's loaded question. "You know, a quiet place where you can study anytime you wanted. Somewhere you don't have to put up with giggling roommates who pester you to turn out the lights while you're trying to read."
"And I'm supposed to believe that you wouldn't barge in and 'pester' me at all hours of the night?"
"Not if you don't want me to," Ron said, sounding rather hurt by her accusation.
"Um hum," Hermione said, clearly not falling for his innocent act. She knew perfectly well why Ron wanted her to move into the married students' quarters. The arousal that accompanied his randy thoughts had already given him away. He didn't care if she had a quiet place to study. He just wanted a private room so they could shag anytime he wanted.
"You have to admit that occasionally it would be nice to spend the night together without three other people sleeping in the same room," he said once he realized she wasn't buying his more altruistic explanations. "But I certainly wouldn't try and force myself on you if that's what you're insinuating," he added, and this time Hermione knew that the pain in his voice was genuine.
"No, of course not," she replied, her aggravation evaporating almost immediately. She hadn't been serious when she questioned Ron's self-control; she'd just been irritated with him for trying to hide his ulterior motives. "I'm sorry," Hermione added for good measure. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. It's just…"
"Whatever," Ron said, turning his back on her and opting to stare at the portrait that McGonagall had hung at the bottom of the boys' stairwell instead. "I don't care what you say," he added a few moments later. "I'm going to have a look at that couple's room and if it has a bigger bed and a private bath, I might just move into it myself."
"Sure I can," Ron countered. "I'll just give Harry the password and he can come downstairs and get me anytime he wants. It's not as if he'll have to worry about walking in on you," he added, "seeing as how you don't want to use the room yourself."
"That portrait isn't going to open for Harry," Hermione argued. "And even if it did…"
"Why should some old painting care if our best mate wants into our room?" Ron shot back before she had a chance to finish. "The Fat Lady let Sirius into Gryffindor Tower," he reminded her, "and he wasn't even a student."
"The difference being that the common room doesn't have the same degree of security," Hermione replied rather haughtily. "Think about it, Ron," she continued. "If it were that easy to get inside, half the couples in the school would be sucking up to us and asking for the password. When was the last time you heard of a married couple attending Hogwarts? That room hasn't been used for a hundred years. They were a lot stricter about that type of thing back then. They would have taken precautions to make sure private rooms were not abused. I wouldn't be surprised if there are spells protecting the entrance, just like there are spells protecting the girls' dormitories," she reminded him. "I'm telling you, Harry isn't going to be able to walk right in anytime he wants."
"I suppose you read all about it in Hogwarts: A History," Ron sighed. Well, so much for that bright idea.
"No, its common sense," Hermione retorted, crossing her arms in front of her chest and glowering at her husband when he went out of his way to belittle her favorite book.
"Well, I'm still going to have a look," Ron said, moving towards the painting again. "I can't believe you aren't even curious," he added, glancing at Hermione over his shoulder as he approached the boys' staircase. "Wait, I get it," he said out of the blue, reading Hermione's mood, rather than her body language and facial expression. "You are curious; you're just being stubborn about it to make your point."
"Come on, love," he said, encouraged enough to turn completely around and face her again when she didn't zing him with a scathing reply. "I said I was sorry about the whole you owe me thing. Come with me," he implored. "No one knows we're back yet, so they won't miss us if we spend the night together. I promise I won't try and take advantage of you," he added for good measure.
"Oh, all right," Hermione sighed, knowing that she wasn't going to get a moment's peace until she relented. When Ron really wanted something, he had a way of being so persistent and so annoying about it, that she almost always gave in.
I might as well make it sooner, rather than later. Besides, she thought, moving towards the center of the room so she could cut in front of the fireplace and meet Ron at the concealed doorway, it might be nice to spend the night togeth…
"Of course, I won't object if you try and take advantage of me," Ron added with a cheeky grin. "What?" he asked when his comment didn't elicit the response he'd expected. "What's the matter?" he asked when Hermione gasped and he felt her jolt of surprise.
"N..nothing," she said, staring at Harry with wide eyes as he frantically shook his head and silently begged her not to give him away.
"Then why did you…" Ron began, moving towards Hermione to see what had her so flustered.
"I'm sure it's not what it looks like," she said after Ron had spotted Harry for himself and fell silent.
"It's exactly what it looks like," Ginny replied, pushing Harry's hand away from her mouth and sitting upright until she was straddling him. "Not that it's any of your business," she said, glaring pointedly at her brother.
ARE YOU INSANE! Harry shouted at Ginny in his head. Didn't she realize Ron was going to snap out of his stupor and beat him to a bloody pulp any second? Why was she purposely throwing fuel on the fire?
"You two…" was all Ron said before he jerked his eyes away from the sofa and locked them on Hermione to make sure they were actually looking at the same thing. He had to be sure, because while she was mildly surprised by what they had just encountered, she was no where near as gobsmacked as he was. If anything, now that the initial shock had worn off, she was pleased.
"So you… you broke up with Parvati then?" Hermione asked, watching as Harry started pushing at Ginny, urging her to get off him so he could stand up and defend himself.
That certainly settles the matter of where I'm going to sleep, she thought as Harry opened his mouth to reply, only to shut it again and focus his undivided attention on Ron. I'm not about to spend the next few weeks listening to Lavender and Parvati badmouth Harry, nor am I going to have them glaring at me all hours of the day and night. I'm going to pack my trunk first thing in the morning and move into that private room. Who cares if everyone knows that Ron and I are married a few days early. They're going to figure it out as soon as classes resume and the Professors start calling me Mrs. Weasley. What's a few extra days of whispers and sniggers going to hurt?
"Harry, you did break up with Parvati, right?" Hermione asked again when he didn't respond to her previous inquiry.
"HE BETTER HAVE!" Ron bellowed. It was one thing for Harry to snog his sister because he fancied her, quite another for him to do it if he was going to continue snogging with somebody else.
"How long have you two been dating?"
"Dating?" Ron repeated, running his hand through his hair and sinking into the closest chair as the enormity of situation hit him. My sister and my best friend are dating, he thought, uncertain of how to take this news.
On the one hand there was part of him that had secretly been hoping this would happen. He knew Harry and more importantly, he trusted Harry. At least as far a bloke could trust another bloke where his baby sister was concerned. Harry was a stand up kind of guy with a martyr complex a mile long. Ron had always assumed that he'd put Ginny's needs before his own and that's what he wanted for her. She should be with someone that cared enough about her to do anything it took to keep her safe. But could she ever really be safe with Harry?
That's the real question, Ron thought regretfully.
Things had been so much easier when he'd only had to worry about the intentions of the randy wankers queuing up to date his sister. Truth be told, he didn't want to know about his best friend's randy intentions. He wasn't foolish enough to believe he didn't have any, but this was Harry he was talking about. Despite the position he'd just found them in, Ron was still confident that Harry would never willingly do anything to hurt Ginny or knowingly place her in danger. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said about the mass murderers that were after him.
"Ron," Hermione said his name in warning, moving forward and placing her hand on his shoulder when she realized his uncertainty was turning into anger.
"Is that why they took Ginny?" he asked, ignoring Hermione and locking his eyes on Harry instead. "Because the two of you have been…"
"NO!" Harry shouted, shaking his head in an adamant denial. "We're not…" Shite! he swore, when Ginny 'humphed' at him in irritation. "I mean we haven't been dating," he amended. "Before now that is," he added, hoping to appease Ginny, who was silently seething. "It just happened. Tonight actually, it just happened tonight. Not that anything really happened," Harry babbled. He didn't want Ron to get the wrong idea and think they'd been on the verge of shagging. "We just snogged is all. We aren't going to maintain our connection or anything like that."
"Well, I should hope not," Hermione cut in, earning herself a scathing look from her sister-in-law for her efforts. Not that she backed down in the slightest. "You don't want to be connected to Voldemort any longer than you have to be," she said to Ginny rather sternly.
"Do me a favor and spare me the lecture," the young redhead retorted.
"You're sure that isn't why he took her?" Ron pressed Harry, ignoring the two girls entirely, "because that is why he took Hermione. He thought that she was your girlfriend and he wanted to use her against you. That bitch, Lestrange, admitted it."
"SHUT UP, RON!" Ginny shrieked, realizing just how deeply her brother's accusations had wounded Harry. But it wasn't the crushing guilt that scared her, it was the uncertainty Harry was feeling. All that time she'd spent convincing him that he wasn't responsible for what had just happened to her and for what? So her overprotective prat of a brother could swoop in and make Harry doubt his decision to be with her. DAMN HIM! she swore, glaring daggers at her Ron. "Mind your own bloody business!"
"This is his business," Harry mumbled to Ginny's absolute horror.
"He's just worried about…" Hermione added before being cut off.
"BOLLOCKS!" Ginny shouted angrily. She'd expected Ron to give her a hard time, but not Hermione. "You didn't see me trying to interfere when you and Ron got together," she snapped at her sister-in-law. "I kept your ruddy secrets and even went along when you decided to perform the Lànain, despite the fact I thought you were both daft," she added for good measure. "You owe me," she said, pointing a finger at her brother and purposely throwing his own words back in his face. "So I don't want to hear another word about this from you. It's my decision to make, not yours."
Where've I heard that before, Ron thought, nearly as surprised as Hermione was when he realized how unaffected he was by Ginny's dramatics. A few months ago he would have taken offense at her indignant comments and become confrontational himself, but what was the bloody point? Nothing he said was going to change her mind. He might be able to change Harry's, but not Ginny's. She was every bit as stubborn as his wife.
I'm not going to be able to keep Ginny out of this mess, Ron realized. Not if she's dead set on throwing herself in the middle of it. I already tried that with Hermione and failed miserably. Leaving her at Hogwarts didn't keep her safe. She damn near got herself killed trying to get to Hogsmeade on her own. Ginny won't be any different. If I try and get in her way, she'll just sneak around behind my back and make it that much harder for me to keep an eye on her. At least this way Harry can help me look after her. And maybe she can even help us look after him.
Yes, having Ginny closer would definitely have some merits, not that Ron was going to admit that to her. He might mention a few of them to Harry later on, but not to Ginny. The last thing he wanted was for her to think that she'd won, because she hadn't.
Just because he had his own reasons for wanting the two of them to be together, that didn't mean Ron was going to back down from his sister's challenge either. She'd all but dared him to continue arguing with her and it wasn't in his nature to let that sort of challenge go unanswered. Of course that didn't mean he had to play by Ginny's rules. Why push the buttons she expected him to push when she had so many different buttons to choose from?
"Don't you mean that it's yours and Harry's decision?" Ron asked Ginny, knowing full well that it would aggravate her.
She knew that Harry was the weak link in her plan. She had to have his cooperation in order for it to succeed and he wasn't nearly as defiant as she was. Harry was actually reasonable, at times, and then there was that martyr complex of his to contend with. If Ron wanted to work that to his advantage, he probably could and would.
"Or am I forbidden to speak to him as well?" he continued, just to add insult to injury.
"SOD OFF, YOU GREAT PRAT!"
"She's rather temperamental, mate," Ron said, cracking a smile for the first time since he'd discovered Harry hiding on the sofa. "You failed to mention that when we were talking about the bird you fancied. Not that I don't appreciate the allure of a spirited woman," he said, glancing at Hermione briefly before turning back to Harry to continue with his ribbing. "But are you sure that you want to saddle yourself with a girl like that when there are much more agreeable ones around?"
"Very funny," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at Ron's attempt to lighten the mood.
"That's it?" Harry asked in disbelief. "You aren't going to kill me?"
"Put you out of your misery, you mean?" Ron sniggered. "Is it that bad already?"
"Ron, stop it," Hermione scolded, settling down on the arm of her husband's chair and swatting him lightly on the arm.
"You're such an arse," Ginny grumbled.
"So, you and Ginny, eh?" Ron asked with a smirk. "That ought to be interesting."
"I'm more interested in why you'd use the Lànain on Hermione's dad," Harry retorted, smiling ever so slightly himself.
"Aw, heard that did you?" the redhead groaned. "Talk about a bloody nightmare. First Mum invited them over for dinner and fails to mention it until the last minute and then I walked in on Hermione's dad waking her up and …well, I sorta over reacted," he admitted.
"There's a surprise," Ginny muttered, plopping down on the couch and crossing her arms in front of her chest to show her displeasure. She couldn't exactly storm off to her room. Not without proving her brother right. Besides, she wanted to hear the rest of his story.
"It was an accident of course," Ron continued, "but try explaining that to Mum. She went completely mental and forced me to explain the Lànain to both of Hermione's parents."
"So they know that you two are…" Harry started to ask.
"Married," Hermione finished the question for him.
"Oh, yeah!" Ron answered for her. "Did I mention it was a nightmare?"
"Ron!" Hermione admonished.
"Well, it was. Given the choice between that or being tied to a chair and forced to watch those two snog the day away," he said, tilting his head towards Harry & Ginny, "I'd take the snog."
"Actually I spent most of the day in Ipswich with Dumbledore," Harry admitted. "I guess your mum didn't tell you," he added, when Ron's mouth fell open in surprise.
"Seriously?" Ron asked excitedly, leaning forward in his chair.
"You mean Dumbledore took you with him on some sort of mission for the Order?" Hermione asked incredulously.
"Nothing that exciting," Harry sighed.
"But you were with Dumbledore," Ron said, clearly not believing that it hadn't been exciting.
"Yeah, recruiting some stodgy old professor to replace Tonks."
"What happened to Tonks?" Hermione asked, her voice laced with concern.
"Recalled to active duty," Ginny answered. "You didn't see her at the Auror offices then?"
"No," Ron replied. "Shacklebolt did all the questioning. If you could call it that," he added. "Mostly he just told us what they thought happened and we agreed with him. Who are we to argue with Aurors, right? So what's the new DADA teacher like?"
"Apparently he's a bit of a collector," Harry replied. "So you better watch out," he warned Hermione, who promptly wrinkled her brow in confusion. "According to Dumbledore he has a tendency to pick favorite students and gather them around him so he can claim that he's responsible for their future successes or something. All he seemed to want to talk about when Dumbledore left us alone was the influential people he used to rub elbows with. That and my mum," Harry added as an afterthought. "She must have made quite an impression, because he went on and on about how she was his favorite."
"It must have been nice to talk about her with someone that knew her so well," Hermione said.
"Not really," Harry replied. "He didn't tell me anything about her that I didn't already know."
"That's too bad."
"So what you're saying is that he's a pompous windbag?" Ron asked. "Oh well, I suppose it could be worse."
"Did I forget to mention that he was head of Slytherin before he retired," Harry said, knowing full well how Ron was going to react.
"WHAT?" the redhead shouted, practically jumping out of his chair in outrage. "A Slytherin teaching us Defense Against the Dart Arts? Is Dumbledore mad? We can't have a Slytherin teaching us a subject as important as Defense. This blows," Ron stated loudly, but he settled back into his chair when no one else joined in his rant.
"Unfortunately there's not much we can do about it," Harry finally said. "He's bound to be better than Umbridge."
"That troll," Ginny muttered.
"That's something, right?" Harry asked, repressing the urge to smile again now that the world had righted itself. Ron was outraged, not with him but by the prospect of their favorite subject being taught by a Slytherin. Hermione was looking reproachful. And Ginny was …well, she was pouting a bit, but even that didn't really bother him. Things were as they should be. He was with his friends; the people he cared about most in the world and there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
First and foremost I want to take a moment to thank all of the wonderful fans who have devoted themselves to this story and stuck with it over the years that it took me to complete it. WOW! It actually has been years. My goodness, where did the time go? When I sat down to write this tale I had no idea it was going to turn into an 80 chapter monster. But I digress. I was thanking you all for all of the wonderful thoughts and the encouragement I've received, not to mention all of the reviews. HOLY COW! Are there a ton of reviews and they mean so much to me. Those reviews are what kept me writing, especially during those times when I wanted to throw in the towel, so thank you soooo very much.
Secondly, I know that many people are going to be floored by the fact that this is literally the last chapter of this story. Many of you just assumed that I'd write until the end of 6th year, but I'm afraid that was never actually my plan. Yes, it's true, I could keep going, but it is unnecessary. The end of 6th year has already been written by the master herself. I've done my best to merge the events of my PoL universe with Half Blood Prince where it was possible, so while there are still a few unresolved issues and unanswered questions lingering about, the answers to most of them can be found in J.K. Rowling's sixth book. (With the exception of anything that has to do with Ron & Hermione's marriage and the whole Coupling Potion issue of course. Those will have to be dealt with in outtakes.)
finally, I must thank all of the people who have helped make this
story what it is. RedMoonChick, who was so enthusiastic and
offered to be my sounding board during the early chapters when I
really needed the moral support; AmberGreene, my first
official Checkmated beta, who sadly had to give the story up because
of work commitments; Amelia, my current beta, who eagerly
volunteered to take the story on, despite its overwhelming length.
Doraemon, Aurelia, and Jmnauth, my wonderful pre-betas, who
have drop what they've been doing to edit sections of the chapters
and send them back to me as quickly as possible; And Emmilyne,
who has held my hand, offered advice, constructive criticism, and/or
her honest opinions about all those sections that I've been worried
about. Thanks you soooo much, each and every one of you deserves a
pat on the back. The story would not be what it is today without you
help. I'm unable to answer direct questions or reviews on this site, so please if there is something your seriously want to answer to, go to Price of Love topic in the Checkmated forum and ask your questions there. I'll post a link, but they have a way of not showing up on this site. http / forums.checkmated (dot)com /index.php?showtopic3641&st1280 You're going to have to be creative here, delete the extra spaces and change the dot to and actual . (period) to make the link work.
I'm unable to answer direct questions or reviews on this site, so please if there is something your seriously want to answer to, go to Price of Love topic in the Checkmated forum and ask your questions there. I'll post a link, but they have a way of not showing up on this site. http / forums.checkmated (dot)com /index.php?showtopic3641&st1280 You're going to have to be creative here, delete the extra spaces and change the dot to and actual . (period) to make the link work.