A/N: Y'all are so wonderful for yelling at me to continue this story :) Hehe, it helps! Just be nice :-P

Chapter 12- Winter Wonders

The crowd gasped and there were a few shrieks from some of the girls. Harry stood in shock, his entire body frozen in his dueling position. Percy's eyes were wide with fright, but as Harry involuntarily stepped closer to the body, not knowing why he was attracted to the figure on the floor.

It just didn't seem real, and as Harry took a closer look, he noticed it was a large body with red hair and a maroon jumper.

"Ron?" he croaked, and as he hurried towards it, the body made a loud 'cracking' noise, and now it was Hermione lying on the ground.

Harry braked and couldn't figure out what was going on; where was the Dementor? How…what was going on? Ron and Hermione were very alive in the back of the room, so this could only mean that this was Harry's boggart.

"They can change?" he thought, as he watched Hermione's fallen form 'crack' into Lupin's. Harry's face fell, and he backed away, shaking his head slowly. He knew that the bodies were just an illusion, but just seeing all of the people he cared about lying dead on the ground was enough for him to know he'd have nightmares about it.

Percy jumped in front of Harry, and the boggart cracked and turned into Cornelius Fudge, pointing a strict finger at the Defense professor.

"Riddikulus!" Percy exclaimed, looking disgusted. The Boggart was shot back into the cabinet and the doors shut behind it. The hall was silent, except for Harry's heavy breathing.

He hadn't realized how hard he had been breathing until Hermione rushed up behind him and put her hands on his arm. Harry jumped away at her touch, but then grabbed on to her, realizing that yes, she was here. Ron came up too, still staring at the cabinet with intrigued and wary eyes.

"All right, let's just practice performing the spell, then." Percy looked bristled, but he straightened out his robes and began lining the students up, avoiding eye contact with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked softly, leading Harry away from the rest of the students. He nodded, and for the first time in months he felt a dull throbbing coming from his scar. It wasn't like the vision; it was just the scar reminding him of his connection with Voldemort.

"I'm fine," he lied, and he knew his friends didn't believe him. They watched as Percy took down the wall separating the students, and Ginny Weasley rushed over, looking alarmed.

"Where was it? What happened?" she asked, looking at Harry intensely. He took a breath, but then just shrugged, because really, he had absolutely no idea what had happened.

"My boggart's changed, apparently," he answered, looking just as confused as the rest of them. Ginny looked slightly annoyed while Ron and Hermione seemed to be contemplating the situation.

After everyone else was firing off their Patronuses, Percy came over, taking in a deep breath.

"You three may be excused, if you like. Miss. Weasley, you need to stay." His sister glared at him for a few moments before stomping away and joining her fellow fifth years, and the trio slowly left, in slight confusion.

"I really wish a Dementor had come out of that closet," Harry muttered as their made their way towards the commons.

"That's one of the weirdest things anyone's ever said," Ron commented, glaring at a portrait that was blowing him kisses. "But, I didn't know Boggarts could change."

"It makes sense that they do," Hermione noted, looking slightly annoyed. "I mean, most of us aren't scared of the dark like we were at five years old."

"I lived in a cupboard under the stairs, I wasn't afraid of the dark," Harry said grimly.

"You're special, Harry," Hermione said lightly as she gave the password to The Fat Lady ("Mistletoe").

The common room was empty, considering that most of the Gryffindors were still at the D.A. meeting. The trio took seats in front of the fire, Harry noticing how contemplative his friends looked. It must have been shocking too see your self lying dead on the ground, and even more of a surprise to find out that being dead was your best friend's worst fear.

"You should tell Professor Lupin you saw him," Hermione said suddenly, looking over from her place on the chair. Harry nodded, but he wasn't sure if he'd be able to tell Remus that he saw him lying dead on the floor of the Great Hall. It wasn't the most pleasant of images.

"It's very strange, seeing your self dead," Ron whispered, staring into the fire with narrowed eyes. Harry refused to look at his friend, but again, he simply nodded and fumbled with his fingers. For the first time in a while, he felt very uncomfortable sitting alone with Ron and Hermione.

"Scary thing is," Hermione said, pulling her hair back into a ponytail, "that I think that's my Boggart too." Harry and Ron turned to her, and saw she looked to be on the brink of tears. She forced a laugh, turning to the two of them. "I hate crying in front of you two, but it's true, I don't know what I'd do if I lost one of you."

"Hermione…" Harry began, really hoping she didn't start crying. She put a hand up, sending them a shaky smile.

"No," she said, allowing a few tears to fall. "I just really need to know that we're going to be okay."

"No one can know that, Hermione," Ron said softly, getting up and walking around the table to her. He sat on the floor by her feet, looking miserable, "just like I can't protect my family in the Order."

"I know, oh, I know," she said. "It's just hard to think about, is all."

"Well, I guess we won't think about it, then," Harry said, shaking his head. "If we dwell on it, we're not going to get anything done."

"You're right," Ron said softly, looking put out. "Wouldn't it be nice to just have two weeks—one week, of just relaxing and joking around?"

"Yeah," Harry and Hermione said together. The three sat together for a long time in silence, until the Gryffindors came back from the D.A. meeting. Once the Portrait swung open, Hermione made a ton of books come over and had them open to look as if they were studying.

Ginny made a move to join them, but her footing faltered and she headed up the stairs to her dorm. Harry watched her disappear up the staircase, realizing that it might have been good that Ginny's body hadn't shown up; Ron might have reacted more if it had. He knew, though, that if Percy hadn't jumped in front of the boggart, it would have changed into Ginny..

That reminded him of the form Percy's boggart had taken, and he brought it up to Ron and Hermione.

"Must've driven him mad, when it was proven that Vol-Voldemort had really returned," Ron said, his face red. "Guess he sees Fudge as something that was leading him in the wrong direction, scared of getting it wrong."

"That could mean he changed his mind about your family, and all of those other issues." Hermione had begun highlighting certain things in her textbooks with her wand, something she had figured out how to do over the past few months. It was helping their hands a lot, because they didn't need to copy everything down (though Hermione did, because she was Hermione.).

"Yeah, well, he could be nicer to Ginny and me," Ron muttered, pulling out and showing Harry and Hermione the 'D' he had gotten on the essay. "It's really frustrating when you actually try and still get a 'D'."

"Honestly, he's just doing it to be a pain," Hermione snapped, taking the essay and looking it over. "It's all grammatical, and even that's stretching it. He took points off because of your handwriting? You're a boy, goodness!"

Ron opened his mouth to say something, but then he just sent a confused look towards Harry. Harry shrugged, skimming through some more pages of the books. He knew that Ron knew his Defense, and if his friend's performance during class and D.A. meetings weren't enough to make Percy understand, Harry didn't know what would.

Hermione began to shuffle her books and parchment together, shoving it into her bag with very little grace.

"I'm going to go see if Ginny wants some study guides for the winter holiday, seeing as she has O.W.L.s this year." She stood up, smiling at the boys, and then briskly left up the stairs.

Harry watched Ron's eyes follow her until she disappeared, and his friend caught him staring. He flushed slightly, but there seemed to be something on his mind.

"I'm sorry you had to see my Boggart," Harry muttered, frowning. Ron nodded, fiddling with his wand.


There was a noticeable silence that fell upon them.

"I'm really worried about Hermione," Ron said quickly, looking around the room to see if anyone was in hearing distance. Harry slid down to the floor and tried to look casual as his eyes questioned Ron. His friend squirmed slightly, scribbling something down on a piece of parchment. "It's Nott, Harry."

"He's just a slimy git, Ron," Harry retorted quickly, shrugging. Ron didn't look convinced, and shook his head, biting his tongue.

"No, I was watching him today, before the meeting started." He shuddered, and managed to snap his quill in half. "The eyes he was giving her…"

"It's obvious he has a crush on her, Ron," Harry said, but he was starting to realize where Ron's concern came in. "We can't stop guys from looking at her."

"But he wasn't just looking at her; he was examining her and getting ideas…" Ron's face was now very red, but he was controlling his breathing and trying his best to relax. "Harry, I'm really worried, and…it's not just a jealousy thing, okay?"

Harry watched as Ron's ears burned, but he understood how much his friend cared. It wasn't time to tease or laugh; Ron was very solemn about his concern over Nott, and Harry knew he had to take him seriously.

"Okay. We'll watch him more carefully for now on, shouldn't be too bad."

Ron nodded, and he shut his eyes as if in pain. Harry knew his scars were acting up, and didn't protest when Ron excused himself to head up to the dorms. He sat for a while, alone, until some second years began inching their way towards the table, looking for a place to set up their Exploding Snaps. Harry took off his books and parchment and smiled at the kids who looked a bit wary because they were sitting near him.

He pretended to read his Potions text, but over the edge he was watching the group set up their cards, his heart racing when they came close to making the pile explode. He could distinctively remember how it felt when you thought it was your card that was going to set everything off, the worry and the excitement, but still ready to blow something up.

The pile of cards was now very high, and Harry couldn't help but think about how small they were. Being twelve years old…that's so young, he thought. Was he really battling a Basilisk at the age of twelve? Did he ever really only have his exploding snaps to worry about?

No, he knew that there had always been a burden on his shoulders, even before he knew about Hogwarts. The Dursleys had been his biggest problem before Voldemort, but Harry would absolutely make the same decision about attending Hogwarts if he had known about Voldemort in his first year. Even with all the sadness and fear his life was surrounded in, actually having the chance to live and have friends that cared about him was worth it.

Harry smiled softly, wondering if he should mention how lucky he was to Ron and Hermione; that would probably weird Ron out and make Hermione cry, so he voted against it. Something told him that they knew, but it would be nice of him to do something to make sure they were aware of how much he needed them. Their fight about the prophecy hadn't been one of their shining moments, but it was as if they had completely erased it from their memory and gone back to normal. The prophecy was a touchy subject, even now, and Harry didn't want it to be anymore.

He jumped in surprise as the cards exploded and all the second years began to laugh. Harry laughed along with them, and shut his book, heading up the stairs to the dorm. Ron's curtains were shut and the others were no where to be found. Harry clambered into his bed and closed the curtains around him, conjuring some bluebell flames to provide light. Studying was the only thing he could do right now, and with only a week left before winter holiday, he supposed he should get his work done.

Just a few more days until he can have more free time to spend with his friends, and more time to figure out how he's going to get rid of that burden he liked to call Voldemort once, and for all.

The final week of class before holiday zoomed by, and Harry wondered if the Professors had been just as eager to get out of school as the students were. He knew that McGonagall and Snape would definitely be dedicating more time to the Order, which wouldn't be something Harry himself would be looking forward to.

Harry knew that he wasn't staying at Hogwarts over the break because of a message he had received from McGonagall that Friday, saying to stay behind in the common rooms instead of heading off with the rest of the students to the carriages. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny got the same message, and now the four of them were sitting patiently on the couches, waiting for their Transfiguration Professor.

"We're probably going to get a portkey," Hermione said, motioning for Crookshanks to jump on her lap. "It's safer, if you think about it."

"I hate Portkeys," Harry and Ginny said at the same time, and everyone laughed, taking off some of the anxiousness. They weren't sure where they were heading, being as they had two possible locations in The Burrow and Grimmauld Place. Harry wished all night that they would head to The Burrow, but for some reason he was sure that they weren't going to the Weasley's home.

He didn't know how he'd react when he walked into Grimmauld Place. Maybe the Order members had cleaned it up and made it more livable, but…Harry had been dealing with Sirius' death by ignoring the fact that it actually happened. His long conversation with Remus that one day by the lake had helped, but he still refused to accept the fact that Sirius was gone forever.

Harry released a deep breath. He'd avoid it as long as humanely possible.

It was twenty minutes after the last person who was catching a carriage left that McGonagall came in, looking flustered and cold. Harry knew it had begun to snow outside, so he felt for the Professor because she must have been watching over all of the students.

"I have a Portkey for you four," she said, brushing some snow off of her shoulders.

"Where are we going?" Ron asked, standing up and pulling his trunk towards the Professor. Harry swore he saw a smile flicker on McGonagall's face for a split second, but he shook it away, his worry about staying at Grimmauld Place overpowering any interest he had.

McGonagall pulled something out of one of her cloaks' many pockets, and to their surprise, it was a coconut.

"Here," she said, giving Ginny the coconut, "it should go off in five minutes." Without a second glance, she turned and left the commons. Everyone circled around Ginny, who was examining the coconut with interest.

"Why would they pick something so odd?" she asked, handing it over to Harry. He shrugged, not liking the prickling the hairs of the coconut were doing to his hand.

"Well, the portkey to the World Cup was an old boot," Hermione reminded, but she still looked very intrigued. They all held on to their luggage and put one hand on the portkey, waiting for it to activate.

Harry silently hoped they ended up in the living room of The Burrow, and when he felt the tugging at his navel, the thoughts intensified. He noticed immediately that the trip was taking much longer than any other portkey trip he's taken, and that was a bit unnerving. Was Grimmauld Place further from Hogwarts than The Burrow? His mind was swirling because of the motion and he couldn't figure out the distances.

They stopped suddenly, and Harry slowly opened his eyes, just to get blinded by intense sunlight. A swishing noise overpowered any other sound, but he really didn't feel like burning his eyes.

"What in bloody hell?" Ron's voice rang out. Harry shielded his eyes from the light and managed to see…well, nothing.

"We're on a beach!" Ginny shrieked excitedly. Harry saw her rush towards the swishing noise, which turned out to be water. Hermione looked very confused but also thrilled as she marched through the, yes, sand, and towards a building behind them that Harry hadn't seen. The pets looked beyond bewildered, and Harry was sure that Pig was going to topple his cage over and bury himself in the sand if Ron didn't let him out soon.

"Where are we?" Ron asked, hurrying after Hermione. Harry noticed that they all looked incredibly out of place in their long pants, cloaks, and scarves. He followed Ron and Hermione, with Ginny rushing to catch up.

"We have to be in America," Hermione said, looking up at the sun. "Its noon, that's five hours ago—we're in America!"

"Why would we be here? Do you think it's a trap?" Harry asked, stopping on the porch of the house. Actually, it was more like a hut, and the windows weren't covered with glass, just shades. It looked weird for Hermione to be knocking on a door; they were practically in the hut already.

"I really don't think McGonagall would send us straight into a trap," Ginny said. She looked excited, and she as bobbing up and down on her heels, staring at the water. "This is so cool!"

Hermione knocked again, and they all jumped back when the door swung open.

Harry knew all of their jaws dropped as a tall, blonde woman in a two-piece bathing suit opened the door. She grinned wildly, and looked at them expectantly. There was something about her, though; maybe it was the way she was standing as if she could curse all of them to smithereens in a duel that seemed strangely familiar.

"Wotcher, guys!"

"Tonks?" they all exclaimed, dropping their luggage with a loud 'thunk'. Tonks laughed loudly and nodded, ushering them all into the hut. She levitated their trunks in behind them, grinning broadly.

"Surprised?" she said, lounging in a hammock. Harry nodded, and realized that the other three couldn't make a sound either. It was rather shocking, first, to be in an exotic place when you were expecting the cold, and now Tonks was here, looking very unlike herself…

"You're blonde?"

Hermione blushed instantly after she asked, though she didn't hide the fact that she was shocked. Tonks laughed loudly and nodded, tossing her hair over her shoulders.

"Yeah, this," She pointed to her hair, "is the natural Tonks." She rolled her eyes, but didn't look depressed about it. "Do you understand why I chose to change my hair? No one would take a blonde Auror seriously!"

"I do!" a voice exclaimed from a back room. They turned to see a weary Charlie Weasley limping out of the door way.

"Charlie!" Ron and Ginny exclaimed, rushing over to their older brother. The siblings embraced and Charlie was immediately bombarded with questions about his attack and what he was doing here.

"Well, my leg is still bloody killing me, so Dumbledore sent me and Tonks on a…babysititng mission, of sorts, so I won't have to move a lot."

Harry didn't exactly like the fact that they were being babysat, but he had a feeling that they weren't going to have a lot of supervision. Charlie and Tonks looked too happy to be on a beach and having a holiday to try and enforce rules on a bunch of teenagers.

"So, where are we?" Hermione asked, taking off her cloak and examining the atmosphere.

"Mmm, not allowed to tell you that," Tonks said, conjuring a cup to pour something from a nearby pitcher. "But you'll be here till after the New Year."

"We don't exactly have clothes for this kind of weather," Ginny noted, pulling at the collar of her jumper. Tonks waved a hand in dismissal as Charlie flicked his wand to open some of the other doors in the house.

"Taken care of," said Charlie, leaning back into the chair. "Dumbledore had this planned for a while."

"This was really nice of him," Ron said as he walked over to look at the rooms. "Bloody hell, this room is huge." He disappeared into the room, but they could hear his comments echoing out ("Look at the size of this bed!").

"This entire place is huge," Tonks laughed, and she stood up, stretching. Harry looked away, not enjoying the fact that he might want to stare at one of his good friends.

"Let's get you lot settled, yeah?" Charlie said, standing up slowly. Tonks quickly made her way over to help him, and Charlie gratefully used her as support. "I can't wait to be completely healed."

"Until then, it's time for you to relax!" she scolded playfully, making Charlie grin. Harry saw Hermione and Ginny share a knowing glance, but before he could comment, Ron slid out of the room with sunglasses and a Hawaiian print shirt on, posing in as suave of a pose he could.

Hermione and Ginny broke out in laughter, and Harry just shook his head. If they were going to be there for two weeks, he might as well have fun.

It was Christmas before they knew it. The time spent on the beach (which was very secluded, they had only seen one boat the entire time there) was fun, seeing as Harry had never been to one. They had tried creating a sandcastle version of Hogwarts, but each night the tide would come in and knock down a tower and a few floors. Tonks offered to place some charms on the sand, but Hermione refused to have magic help them.

Harry had never seen water so clear or sand so white, and he really wondered where they all were. He'd enjoy coming here again, after all that junk with Voldemort was over. Ron and Ginny had taken to learning how to surf, and neither was very good, but both insisted on going out for an hour or two each day.

The owls disappeared after the first couple of days, and Harry suspected that they just didn't enjoy the weather. Hopefully they returned before they left. Crookshanks was having a grand time, though, standing just at the edge of the waves, swatting at the fish the tide brought up. He stopped doing this, however, when Ron 'accidentally' knocked him into an oncoming wave with his surfboard. Harry and Ron laughed about it for a good hour while Hermione tried to get the cat to sit still in the sun so he could dry.

Charlie and Tonks were using their well deserved holiday as much as they could. When Charlie came out, you could tell that he wanted to be out surfing with his siblings, but he'd be mature and only chase them around the shallow areas for a little bit before lying and resting. Tonks was enjoying her time by snorkeling with the same bubblehead charm Cedric used to rescue Cho from the bottom of the lake during the second task of the Triwizard Tournament. Harry had declined her offer to join him, though Ginny jumped at the chance.

Hermione did get in the water sometimes, but she was usually found under a palm tree, reading a book ("Not for school, though!"). Ron had made it his goal to toss Hermione into the water as often as possible before she snapped and punched him; it wasn't strange to hear the girl shriek and then a large splash followed by some more shrieks.

They woke up Christmas morning to find all the palm trees around their hut covered in lights and garland. The living room of the hut was nicely decorated and the pile of presents was right in the center. There was wrapping paper everywhere by the time they were done, and Harry was wonderfully surprised with his gifts.

Mrs. Weasley had sent him another jumper, but this time it was a deep shade of blue. The twins sent a box of random jokes, but Harry wasn't going to look in that one yet, incase it exploded. Lupin sent some defense books, and Hermione added to that gift by giving him some potion books that would be useful to Auror training. Ron's gift was very cool; a fifty sickle gift certificate to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes ("If you ever get to see it," he explained.)

He received the usual bag of candy from Hagrid, but surprisingly, Ginny had given him something (Harry was very glad that he had bought those Chaser's gloves for her). It was a green jumper, but it didn't have a letter, or any indication that it was his. When he thanked her, she had shrugged and blushed, saying that her mother was teaching her and she had enough yarn for a sweater his size, so she figured she'd make it for him.

"Thanks, Ginny," he said, noticing she was babbling. Ginny laughed and nodded, thanking him for the gloves with a hug.

Hermione had obviously liked Ron's gift, a bag that could fit up to fifty books at once and only weigh as if holding three. She threw her arms around him, knocking him to the ground, thanking him loudly. Ron seemed happy that she liked it so much, but he had to pry her away from his neck so he could breathe.

Ginny received the best gift, though. There was a tiny basket under the tree that she had been avoiding, because it was moving. Figuring it was from the twins, she touched it softly and pulled it towards her by the ribbon attached to it. Everyone seemed intrigued with it, especially when they found the note attached that said:

To Ginny, this is a late 'Congratulations' present for your being named prefect. Love, Mum and Dad.

"Aw, they already sent me a jumper…" she whispered. There was a blue cloth covering the top of the basket, and she slowly slipped it away to reveal a tiny grey kitten.

Ginny, Hermione, and Tonks all cooed at the exact same time and frequency. The girl swept the kitten up into her arms, staring in awe as it batted at some of her loose hair. Harry had to admit, it was a much cuter cat than Crookshanks (who looked incredibly irritated at the attention Hermione was giving to the kitten).

"Ooh, I have to write them a letter!" Ginny squeaked, rushing into the bedroom she and Hermione were sharing. Hermione clapped and Tonks looked incredibly impressed. The boys weren't as moved by the kitten, but forgot about it as a bell announced that the pancakes were ready.

That night, Harry had a dream about Voldemort. There wasn't anything important seen, just a dark room and his snake. It still made Harry wake up and feeling like vomiting. He didn't, but his scar was throbbing and he wondered if all his relaxation during this holiday caused it.

He wandered out into the living room, rubbing his head. Harry hadn't woken up from a dream in a few weeks, and it bothered him that during such a nice holiday he had to have visions of Voldemort just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing…

His eyes widened, and he dashed for his bedroom to find some parchment and a quill. Ron was snoring loudly so he didn't wake up when Harry tripped and fell on the rug. He scrambled back up and found his utensils, scribbling down what he saw so he could send it to Snape. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this could definitely be a break through in his Legilemency, or, at least, Voldemort was letting his guard down and Harry had been able to pick up on it.

"This is good, this is very good," he whispered, sending the letter off with one of the tropical birds they were required to use.

He clambered back into bed, feeling proud of himself, and also feeling just a bit weird for sending a letter to Snape…

New Year's Eve was upon them quickly, and Ron was often heard complaining about how fast their time had gone by. Harry couldn't whine—he was happy just for the two weeks of no worries. Charlie and Tonks had given them small fireworks and sparklers to celebrate with while they waited for midnight, the two adults decided to stay indoors. There was supposed to be a fireworks show out at sea, and though it was only an hour until midnight, Harry could not see any boats that were preparing for the celebration.

"We're running out of sparklers," Ginny noted, rummaging through the box Charlie and Tonks had provided. "Come with me to get some more?" she asked Harry. He agreed and they began to shuffle their way to the hut, leaving Ron and Hermione to bicker about how many fireworks they should set off.

"Those two need to find a broom closet," Ginny muttered as she skipped onto the porch. Harry cringed at the thought of Ron and Hermione…he shuddered, and followed Ginny in as she opened the door of the hut.

The living room was empty, which was odd, because Charlie and Tonks said that they were going to be listening to some wireless broadcasts of the New Year in Britain. Harry heard some noise coming from the back of the hut, so he motioned for Ginny to follow him. Maybe they had decided to go outside after all.

The door in front of the screen was open and it was obvious that there were two people on the back porch.

"Hey" Ginny stopped mid call, and sucked in a breath, pulling Harry away from the door. He hadn't missed what she saw, though, and was quite shocked himself.

Charlie and Tonks had been kissing, rather deeply, from the looks of it.

"Oh great, they're going to think we were spying," Ginny hissed as she pulled Harry through the house and out to the front porch. They plopped down on the steps, both looking amazed at what they just saw. "I can't believe it! My brother and Tonks! That's great!"

"I didn't see it coming," Harry admitted, burying his feet in the sand. Ginny looked proud and sat up straighter.

"I did, Hermione and I saw it the first day!"

"Well, you girls just know everything, don't you?" Harry chided, earning a nudge from Ginny.

"They started the tradition too early," she said, pulling her hair back into a tie. Harry stared in confusion, and Ginny huffed as if he were as stupid as Goyle. "Kissing someone at midnight? Hello?"

"Oh, yeah," Harry said, flushing. He hadn't realized it, but there wasn't one time this whole holiday that he had thought of Ginny in any other way than a friend. Now that she mentioned kissing, it seemed to be all that he could think about. She was in the same blue bathing suit he had seen her in over the summer, with a silver wrap covering her legs. Damn, he wished she hadn't mentioned kissing. Oh hell.

"Anyone you'd like to kiss at midnight, Harry?" she asked slyly, waggling her eyebrows. Curse you, Ginny Weasley! rang a voice in his head. Harry looked up at the half moon and released a deep breath, shaking this head.

"I don't know, not sure." The answer was very lame; he knew, but there was no way he was about to admit to her that he'd like to see what kissing her felt like. "What about you?"

"Mm, I can think of a few people." She giggled, putting her face in her hands. Her kitten, which she had named Iphigenie and affectionately called Genie, bounced out of the front door, chasing a firefly. Ginny scooped her up, her face still very red. "That sounds so bad."

"No, it's not," he said, making her smile softly. "I mean, if I really thought about it…I guess I could think of girls."


"I knew you were going to ask that."

They laughed, and Harry hung his head; now he had to think of some girls.

"I bet you say Cho," Ginny teased, making Harry groan.

"No, she's just…Cho. Now, anyway." He smirked, thinking that his first kiss was from a girl who was hysterically crying. That wouldn't be a story to tell his grandchildren.

"She was more?" Ginny asked, looking very interested. Harry shrugged, thinking about the way the Ravenclaw had made his stomach flip with just a small glance, and how jealous he had been of Cedric.

"I fancied her for a bit, but that was before I got to know her. She's probably a nice girl, I just wasn't the guy to help her through her…er…issues."

"Ah, Cedric." Ginny nodded knowingly. "It must've been rough for her."

Harry nodded grimly, "I wasn't very good at helping her, either."

"You're a boy, what were you going to do?" Ginny joked, making Harry shake his head and laugh.

"I think I might have to resent that."

"Boys just don't know things," Ginny said, smiling and rubbing her nose with Genie's. "I mean, look at Ron. He's amazingly clueless."

Harry shook his head, staring out at the distance where he could see the outlines of Ron and Hermione. He knew better, about Ron being clueless, but he wasn't sure if he would be breaking some best friend trust thing.

"He knows more than he lets on," he answered simply, making Ginny shrug with uncertainty.

They continued to chat, Harry was glad that she had dropped the subject of girls to kiss, and it went from Quidditch to school to the Order to The Quibbler. Harry found out that though she didn't like to admit it, she was also a Cannons fan ("I think Ron would strangle me out of joy if he found out."). He told her about how Hermione had set Snape's cloak on fire in first year, because she had mentioned how she's like to see how greasy his hair really was.

Charlie and Tonks came out to the porch; both looking rather pleased with something Harry didn't want to think about. Harry and Ginny had to contain their laughter as the two adults made excuses to go back into the house ("How many times does that kitchen need to be swept?" Ginny had asked).

It wasn't until fireworks started shooting off in the distance that Harry and Ginny stopped talking (Genie jumped away and skittered off into the house). It wasn't the fireworks Ron and Hermione had been setting up; the boats must have come through in the distance, because now the sky was sparkling with a rainbow of light, different shapes and sound filling the sky.

"Happy New Year, Harry," Ginny said, and she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He flushed, and quickly, before he lost his nerve, he did the same back to her, wishing her a happy new year as well.

"Let's go send off some of those fireworks," she said, grinning broadly. Ginny grabbed Harry's wrist and pulled him off the porch, making him stumble before he was able to run along with her.

Ron and Hermione didn't look like they were going to be setting off any fireworks. They were lying on their backs, staring up at the sky, watching the celebration. Ginny jumped over their bodies, scaring the two of them, but it was only slightly. Ron sat up and laughed and Hermione buried herself deeper into the sweater she was wearing.

"Don't burn off any fingers!" she reminded, sending a grin. Harry and Ginny responded with a 'Yes, Mum' look, and it was a few minutes before they shot off a sparkler that exploded into a thousand red and gold flames up in the sky.

Harry stood, watching in awe, the spectacular in the sky. The past two weeks almost topped his summer at The Burrow. The only thing that could've made this better would be that the entire Weasley clan had joined them and knowing everyone was safe. Ginny continued firing off rockets, it seemed that she never tired of seeing the show they put on.

It was about twenty minutes later that they ran out of fireworks, but the show at sea continued. Charlie and Tonks joined them for a bit, sending out their own sparks with their wands. Harry realized that in just a little over half a year, he would be able to perform magic outside the walls of Hogwarts without having to worry about getting expelled. He started to think of all that he'd be able to do, but he couldn't come up with much. He was quite content with his life, at the moment.

He should have known that his happiness wouldn't last long. It was a sad day when they had to say goodbye to their little hut and the beach. Ginny was on the brink of tears right until the portkey swept them away and back to Hogwarts. It was frustrating, knowing that they'd have to go back into the madness that was their real life.

They landed in a back room of the Hogsmeade train station and were the first students to get into a carriage. To make it seem like they had been out of Hogwarts the entire time, to lessen suspicion of anything.

"Look how gloomy," Ron muttered, staring out at the dark clouds over the castle. Harry and the girls nodded in solemn agreement as their carriage pulled to a halt. They exited, and Harry watched Ron obviously avoid looking at the Thestrals.

He wondered, for the first time since the beginning of September, who Ron had seen die. Harry had figured it was a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic, but he knew he himself hadn't seen it—it must've been when they were separated. He remembered Ron looking terrified at the fact that he could see the Thestrals; Harry made it a point to ask his friend about it, feeling guilty for not doing it earlier.

They made it to the front doors of Hogwarts, and Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were immediately whisked away with prefect duty, having to control the traffic of students and help get luggage to the dorms. Harry didn't feel like meeting up with Neville or Luna, who he couldn't find anyway. He'd wait for his prefect friends to finish their tour of duty before he headed back to the dorms. For some reason he felt that it was the right thing to do.

After standing in the crowd of students for almost fifteen minutes, Harry began to wonder if his idea to wait for his friends was a good idea. At first he hadn't minded the cluster of students, but when they started brushing into him and knocking over his trunk, he began to get agitated.

"Not as bad as Ron," he thought, watching as Ron searched for the missing rat of a Hufflepuff first year who was on the brink of tears. Hermione was on the other end of the hall, but Harry could only see the top of her head. He wondered what she was doing over there, seeing that there were no dorms in that direction.

Standing on his tiptoes and wishing he were taller, Harry managed to see that Hermione seemed to be pulling at something rather fiercely. His eyes narrowed to get a better look, and that's when he saw the flash of black robes tug Hermione into a nearby classroom.

Harry knew that there wasn't time to grab Ron for help, so he didn't look back as he shoved away students that were in his way. He watched as the door slammed shut, and he pulled out his wand, ready to knock the black robed figure off of his feet.

The door had bounced back open after it was slammed, and before jumping into the room and blindly aiming, Harry put his ear near the crack, trying to figure out what was going on.

"Stop it," Hermione hissed, sounding extremely agitated.

"Where were you?" the other voice rang, and Harry's brow furrowed, was that Nott?

"Theodore, that's none of your business!" Hermione exclaimed in her most professional voice, "I do not have any obligation to tell you where I spend my Christmas holidays!"

"You were with Weasley, weren't you? You couldn't have stayed in the dorms the entire time!"

Harry took this as his entrance cue and pushed the door open, standing with his wand ready. The second Nott saw him he snarled and jumped away from Hermione. Her wand was out as soon as her hands were freeNott had been holding them behind her.

"Get out of here," Harry said icily, pointing his wand at Nott's chest.

"You've made a big mistake," Nott spat at Hermione, and he stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

"What was that?" Harry asked Hermione, accosting her to see if she were okay. She rubbed her wrists slowly, and shook her head, looking confused.

"He wanted to know where I was over the holiday—he stayed here so we could talk."

Harry's mind flashed to Ron's expressed concern about Nott's interest in Hermione. It seemed like his friend had been right, things were getting out of hand.

"I don't think you should talk to him anymore." Harry smirked, opening the door for Hermione. She nodded, but still looked deep in thought. Maybe it was a little bit of shock, too. "Don't worry," Harry tried to console her, "he's not going to bother you again."

"What about Ron?" She sighed and put a hand to her forehead. "Nott's going to drive Ron to do something stupid. Do we really need a deranged stalker right now?"

"Think you can make a portkey to paradise?" Harry joked, making Hermione shake her head.

"Let me figure out a way for you to defeat Voldemort," She smiled when Harry's jaw dropped, "before I think about planning a vacation. Come on, I have to get back to work."

Harry nodded and followed her out of the room. He watched as she went into the prefect attitude and began ushering students through the crowd. He wondered if she had been serious about finding a way to defeat Voldemort, if she had actually done any research. Harry hadn't put much thought to it, seeing as it still hadn't fully sunk it. It seemed absurd that anyone else would take the time to do so.

Though, as he watched Hermione manage to unlatch Ron's Hufflepuff first year from his arm (the rat hadn't been found, yet), Harry realized that she was thinking about her future, about all of their futures. His heart grew heavy at the thought of the fact that it was his actions that were going to determine the future of his friends, their families, all of Hogwarts, and the entire wizarding world.

He could barely manage his homework and the Quidditch team. Harry's head began to throb. He groaned and levitated his trunk, trudging down the hall to the dorms. He had some time before Ron and Hermione were finished, so he gave up on waiting for them and decided to use the time to mope, because his friends hadn't let them do that in a while. He supposed that wasn't that bad of a thing.