Chapter One – Beginnings
Ginny knew there was something wrong from the moment she awoke the first morning of classes. Her blankets were twisted around her body and her face was hot and sweaty. Then, as she realized where she was, and that Hogwarts was still quite safe, Ginny allowed herself to relax. Her dream left her feeling unsettled, however. She carefully extracted herself from the comforter-cocoon wrapped around her legs and quietly padded over to the window sill for a glass of water. She made an effort to be quiet, lest her roommates question her early-morning wakefulness.
Sipping the cool liquid, Ginny tried to rationalize her dream. Harry hadn't been taken by Voldemort again. He was safe in his bed in the boys' dormitories and would be at breakfast that morning. But the fear did not diminish.
It was a dream she had had a few times since her bond with Harry had solidified. The details changed from dream to dream, but it always involved Tom Riddle and ended with Harry being taken away from her while she was powerless to stop Riddle.
With an inward sigh, Ginny set her glass down, found her well-worn pink slippers, slipped on her too-small dressing gown and shuffled out of her room.
Arriving downstairs, Ginny knew she was wrong in an instant. Harry was not asleep in his bed. He was staring at the long-dead embers in the fireplace of the common room.
"Couldn't sleep?" she asked as she sank down on the cushion next to him. The faded red velvet was cold and Ginny shivered, wishing the fire was lit.
Harry looked up and shook his head. "You?"
"Bad dreams. I've all but forgotten what they were about, though," she lied, not wanting to bother him with her silly fears. Then with another shiver, she mournfully turned to watch the dead fire as if it were still burning. "I'm cold."
Harry's responded exactly as she had expected, opening an arm in invitation. Ginny sat closer to Harry and leaned against his warm torso. When he had clamped his arm around her, she could feel his heat radiating through her gown and pyjamas. "How can one person be so warm?" she asked.
Ginny felt him shrug and hold her tighter, running his other hand through her hair. "Maybe it's because I just got out of bed?"
"Maybe," she murmured. "But I just woke up and I can't keep an ounce of heat in me."
Pulling her toes underneath her legs, she cuddled even closer to Harry, trying to absorb every bit of the heat his body was producing. Of course, she would probably cuddle up to him regardless of how cold she was, but having an excuse made it that much better.
Ginny let out a contented sigh. "This is nice, Harry."
"Yeah," he said, now making lazy circles on her arm with his fingers. "It is."
"Are you scared of what people will think of us?" she asked. "Of what they'll think when they see us together?"
Harry snorted. "No. I'm actually more concerned how you'll be with all of this. I'm not exactly the safest..."
Ginny sat up with a start, breaking out of his grasp. "Harry Potter. Don't you even finish that sentence. We've already had this conversation and you know darn well how I feel about it."
Wide eyes crinkled at their corners. Harry chuckled and pulled her back into his arms. "What I was going to say was, of all the boyfriends you could have, I'm the least safest for your privacy. If my fourth year is any indication, you'll be on the front page of the Prophet by the end of the week."
Ginny relaxed and mentally chided herself for jumping to conclusions. "I'm sorry, Harry. I thought you were going back into the pity-pit again. Can't be too careful about that, you know."
Harry chuckled again. "Right you are, Gin. Thanks for being there to pull me out, but I promise," he said as his eyes flashed in the dim light. "This year will be different."
He said it with such conviction that Ginny had no trouble doubting him. She snaked her arms around him and gave him a squeeze. "You can bet on it, Harry."
The Great Hall seemed livelier than it had at the feast last night. Harry and Ginny walked into the Hall, their hands linked in a way that still made Harry feel inexplicably happy. As they were early, they had their pick of seats and chose the middle of the table, their backs to the Ravenclaws.
"Excellent," said Ginny as they started to dish up their plates. "Blueberry scones and treacle pudding."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You eat that for breakfast?"
The fork Ginny had been using to stab scones was suddenly in Harry's face. "One word about my eating habits and you'll be roasting on a spit."
Instinctively slinking away, palms stretched out in submission, Harry said, "No need to get violent."
Ginny dropped her arm and turned back to the task of piling food onto her plate. "You're an idiot when it comes to girls, Harry. But I'm willing to cut you some slack if you'll study."
Harry swallowed. "I'm not that hopeless, am I?"
A spoonful of treacle hovered over her plate, Ginny's arm frozen in the motion of plopping it onto the already loaded ceramic dish. "Do you really expect me to answer that?"
Making his best goldfish impression, Harry's mind floundered for a safe answer. When Ron and Hermione showed up a few minutes later, he decided that he was better off letting it slide.
"You get the timetables?" Harry asked Ron as he sat down on the opposite bench.
"Nah," said Ron, filling his own plate faster than Ginny had. "I figure Hermione can handle that one."
Sitting next to Ron, Hermione glared at him and promptly hid her half-filled plate with an ostentatiously coloured book. "The timetables weren't ready when I went to fetch them," she said, her eyes never leaving her book. "Professor McGonagall will be handing them out in a moment."
Sure enough, the head of Gryffindor was already walking down the table, giving small rectangular cards to the students.
"Not Divination," exclaimed Ron after he swallowed a mouthful of eggs, with a morbid look at his own schedule. "First thing on a Monday, too."
Hermione clucked her tongue. "You should have switched to Muggle Studies like I suggested, Ron. Then you wouldn't be taking that...class today."
"But I got an 'O' in Divination, Hermione. I had to sign up for it."
When Hermione didn't respond, Ginny piped in. "What have you got first, Harry?"
Instead of answering, he simply handed the card to her and sighed. Their O.W.L. results had arrived the day he and Ginny had first kissed under her house. Harry had been a bit distracted at the time and hadn't given his letter another thought. After that day followed Ginny's birthday and he had been in a coma for the rest of that week. It was only after he became stranded at number four, after he had told her in a round-about way that he liked her, that he had had an opportunity to read the O.W.L. results.
"Potions?" Ginny said woefully. "Good luck with that."
"Yeah," said Harry, wondering how in the world he had scored an Outstanding in that particular subject. Defence and Care of Magical Creatures were one thing. Even the Excellent he had been awarded in Transfiguration wasn't too much of a stretch. But Potions?
Harry looked up and caught Hermione's eye. "Thanks, Hermione."
"You're welcome," she said, beaming.
"Seriously, I wouldn't have so much as passed the exam, let alone got an 'O' without your help. How Ron passed Divination on the other hand..."
"Oi!" Ron said with mock indignance. "Just because I'm good at something none of you are..."
Ginny threw a wadded-up paper towel at her brother. "Shut it, Ron. I'm happy you did so well in the dingbat's class, but you don't have to pretend to hate it. If you're really good at it, then dive in with both feet. It's the only way to do it."
Harry and Ginny shared a private smirk. Jumping in with both feet had certainly worked for them.
"They're doing it again, Hermione," Ron said. "Looking at each other."
"Is it a crime to look at my boyfriend, now?" Ginny asked, snuggling up to Harry. Inside, Harry gave a private cheer. It was the first time she had ever used that appellation and Harry decided that he could get used to it.
"I think it's sweet," Hermione interjected, not giving Ron a chance to respond. Then she shut her book with a snap and stuffed it into her bag. "We're going to be late for Potions, Harry."
Ron closed his mouth and sent Hermione an odd look.
Harry got up and gave Ginny's shoulder a squeeze. "See you at lunch, Gin. Good luck with Trelawney, Ron."
The Potions classroom was on the bottom floor of the castle and was tucked away from every other student and teacher. It was dank, dark, and lifeless there, and Harry couldn't help but think of it as a prison.
The Potions Professor breezed into the classroom just as Harry and Hermione found a seat together near the back. The other students quickly sat as well and Harry was amused to note that the entire front row was devoid of students.
"As this is the N.E.W.T. level Potions class," Snape said as he whipped around to address them. "And seeing as how you would not be here without having shown extraordinary skill in the art of potions-making..." Snape's eye bore into Harry and Harry made every effort to not flinch. "I would hope that you will all display an equally extraordinary effort in your class this year."
Snape was as greasy as ever, both physically and in the manner with which he treated his students. Harry slunk down as far as he could in his chair before Hermione poked him in the side. "Pay attention," she whispered through the side of her mouth, her eyes never leaving Snape's face.
But Harry couldn't focus on Snape, or he would begin to recall all the times Snape had humiliated him, or all the unfair and mean-spirited things he had said to Harry. Instead, Harry looked about the room and realized just how exclusive a club he had joined.
Malfoy was still there, though his two companions Crabbe, and Goyle were not. Neither was Pansy Parkinson. Instead, there was Blaise Zabini, the skinny, tow-headed boy that had lived in Draco's shadow for the past five years.
"Today we will be doing a simple potion that even the luckiest among us could brew." Snape once again cast a withering stare at Harry while Malfoy let out a small laugh. "Instructions on the board," he said with a stiff wave of his wand. "You have two hours."
Snape sat at his desk and immediately concentrated on the papers there. Harry began to unpack his potions' kit with Hermione. "My cauldron or yours?" Harry asked quietly.
"Yours," Hermione answered. "Mine's still not been cleaned properly since last term."
"Why not?" asked Harry. "You couldn't cast a simple cleaning spell?"
Unexpectedly, Hermione sniffed and ducked her head, using a trembling hand to wipe at her eyes. "What'd I say? I'm sorry," Harry said desperately, trying to figure out how a dirty cauldron would be cause for tears.
"It's fine," she said shakily. "I'm fine."
She finished unpacking her kit, placing her measuring spoons, ladle, chopping block, knife, pestle and mortar on the table. "Let's just get this potion brewed."
"Listen, Hermione," Harry said as he positioned his cauldron on the burner and lit it with his wand. "It's not fine. I know you well enough to know when something is bothering you. Is it something I said? I didn't mean to upset you, I..."
Hermione sighed and plastered a smile on her face. "When did you become sensitive?" she asked sardonically. "Ginny's been good for you, hasn't she?"
Unwillingly, Harry grinned at the thought of Ginny. "Yeah," he said. "I guess so."
"Look, Harry," Hermione continued as she began chopping thistle roots. "The last time I used my cauldron was for the Potions O.W.L. Things were so hectic with studying for the other exams that I didn't get to clean it properly. Then we went to the Ministry and...Sirius." The last word was said so quietly that he almost didn't hear it. A fresh wave of tears spilled down her cheeks and she ducked away again.
Harry's smile slipped off his face with that one word. How stupid was he to assume that he was the only one to feel Sirius' loss? Ginny had already pointed that out, but here was his best friend, grieving for Sirius just as much as he had been. The difference, he realised, was that she hadn't had the chance to talk things out like he had. "Hermione," he said placing his hand on hers. "I know exactly how you feel."
Hermione blinked rapidly and wiped at her eyes. "Really?" she asked.
"Really," he said, pulling into an awkward one-armed hug. "If you need to talk about it, I think I could help."
She wiped her eyes on his robe and pulled back. Snape was giving them an odd look and stood up. "Let's get working, Harry," Hermione said quickly. "We'll talk more later."
The blood-replenishing potion was quite easy and Harry took courage from the fact that Snape had only told Harry off once for talking to Hermione, and not at all for how he was brewing the potion.
At lunch, Harry found his seat next to Ginny and breathed in her pleasant smell to banish the musty ones from the dungeon.
Ron sat down beside Hermione a few minutes later. "Blimey, Harry," he said as he filled his plate. "Without you in class, Trelawney doesn't have anyone to kill off in her predictions. I don't think this year's going to be nearly as exciting as last year."
"With Umbridge gone, we can only hope that there will be less of that sort of excitement," Hermione offered.
"Well, Charms certainly wasn't exciting," Ginny said, blowing a loose piece of hair from her face. "Flitwick's got this mad notion that we need to know how to enchant Muggle objects."
"Muggle objects?" Hermione asked.
"Dad would be in heaven," remarked Ron, though the large wad of sandwich in his mouth made it tough to decipher.
"I thought you liked Charms," Harry said. "I mean, you beat Hermione's score! How could you not be excited about – OW!"
Ginny's heel was twisting into Harry's toes and when he finally jerked his foot free, he slammed it into one of the table legs. "OW!" he said again. "What'd you do that for?"
Instead of answering however, Ginny simply pinned him with an evil glare. Harry looked at Hermione who was gaping at Ginny.
"You beat my score?" she asked. "Which one? Why didn't you tell me?"
Ginny winced and looked slowly over the table. "I, uh – It was the end of year exam. Professor Flitwick told me when I was in the Hospital Wing and I totally forgot about it until..."
"She told me at the Burrow," Harry interjected.
"Yes," Ginny said through clenched teeth. "And you were supposed to keep it to yourself."
Harry winced and moved his feet away, bumping into Seamus next to him.
"Sorry," muttered Harry distractedly.
"'S alright," Seamus replied, returning to his conversation with Dean.
"But it's wonderful!" gushed Hermione. "I'm so happy for you."
"You – You are?" Ginny asked. Even without the link being active at the moment, Harry could tell that Ginny had not expected that reaction. "I thought you'd be..."
"Jealous?" Hermione laughed. "Why would I be jealous about that? Now if you get eleven O.W.L.'s...then we might have to have a talk. But you should have told me, Ginny."
Ginny exhaled. "I know. I'm sorry for that, but it honestly didn't occur to me at the time."
Ron, who had been watching the exchange with mute fascination, gave Harry a significant look and said, "And I can guess what's been distracting her."
"Yeah, yeah," Harry said automatically, polishing off his juice. "Let's get to Transfiguration before McGonagall turns you into a Puffeskin."
"Good morning, sixth years," greeted Professor McGonagall upon entering class.
"Good morning, Professor McGonagall," chorused the class.
Harry shifted in his seat as he sat in between Hermione and Ron. He watched Hermione flip her book open to the first chapter and position her quill over a blank piece of parchment. "Welcome to N.E.W.T. level Transfiguration," McGonagall continued. "As some of you may be aware, the Ministry has instructed the school to screen all sixth year students for the potential to become Animagi."
A ripple of hushed conversation erupted in the normally silent classroom. Their professor seemed to have anticipated this and let the conversations run their course before continuing.
"The test is straightforward and will be administered to each person in turn. Do not be alarmed if you don't demonstrate ability at this time. While it is rare for a witch or wizard to develop the skill to become an Animagus after their seventeenth birthday, it has been known to happen.
"While I am administering the test, the rest of you will be outlining the first chapter in your books on the Animagus in preparation for human transfiguration later in the week."
McGonagall produced a clipboard and began reading down the list. "Abbot, Adams, Bones, Boot. Follow me."
Hermione looked crestfallen. "But I already outlined the first five chapters."
Ron sniggered into his hand while Harry opened his own book. "Then you wouldn't mind helping us understand it while we write ours, right?" asked Harry.
Shaking her head with a smirk, Hermione said, "I suppose."
Ron tapped a happy tattoo on his desk with his thumbs and said, "Let's get to work, then. Weasleys are always last anyway."
The reading went well and Hermione made sure it was quiet, too. After a few minutes, she was called to go with Justin Finch-Fetchly and Gregory Goyle and when she returned, looked devastated.
"It's all right, Hermione," soothed Ron. "You can't be expected to be good at everything."
Hermione only sniffed in response, plastering a wooden expression on her face. "It would have been nice to be a cat or something, but I suppose the training would have taken forever. I just can't devote that sort of time when we have N.E.W.T.'s coming up."
Harry caught a look of incredulity from Ron and was impressed that he didn't remind her that the N.E.W.T.'s weren't for another twenty months.
Soon, it was Harry's turn and he followed the Patil sisters to a small room at the back of the classroom, Parvati giving him odd, surreptitious glances as they walked.
Harry had never been in this room before and immediately noticed that the entire back wall was taken up with books. There were two sofas facing opposite each other and a small desk. Harry sat in between Padma and Parvati while they waited for Professor McGonagall. Parvati was entirely too close for comfort, but he found himself unable to move away, pinned on the other side by her twin. Parvati was brushing her hand along Harry's thigh, and smiling at him in a very distracting way.
Turning to a small cabinet with glass doors, McGonagall extracted three vials of a light green liquid. She cleared her throat and gave Parvati a significant look.
"Miss Patil," she said, nodding at Padma. "Drink this please, and tell me what you see." As Padma got up, Harry all but flew to the other side of the couch. He did his best to ignore Parvati's frown.
Padma reached out a shaky hand, and after a moment's hesitation, emptied the vial with a single swallow.
Her eyes shut and she threw out her hands as if she were afraid of falling. "I see..." she started. "I see something small and black. It looks like a bird." Padma fell to one knee and dropped the vial. "It's flying! It's a – a raven!"
Opening her eyes, a large grin on her face, she turned to look at McGonagall. "Does that mean...that I'm...?"
"Yeah, Miss Patil, it means that should you pursue it, you have the ability to become an Animagus." McGonagall was scribbling something on her clipboard and then said, "You may have a seat."
Padma stood and taking note of the way Parvati had chased Harry to the seat she had formerly occupied, walked to the other sofa.
"Now you, Miss Patil," said McGonagall with a nod towards Parvati.
Harry let out a small breath of relief as Parvati stood to take the vial in McGonagall's hand. She drank the potion and closed her eyes. A few minutes passed without a sound from the Gryffindor girl.
"Miss Patil?" asked McGonagall, who was looking at her watch. "Can you tell me what you see, please?"
Parvati's face crumpled. "Nothing!" she shrieked. "I don't see anything. Please let me see something."
"That's quite all right, Miss Patil. Not all witches or wizards are able to see their Animagus form under the influence of this potion."
Parvati opened her eyes and a tear fell down her cheek. "But my sister could!"
"Indeed." McGonagall produced a handkerchief and handed it to Parvati. "There is nothing to be done about it, however. Have a seat and we'll finish with Mr. Potter."
Parvati dabbed at her eyes and sat next to her sister, who began to speak to her in hushed tones that sounded exotic and soothing to Harry.
"Mr. Potter?" prompted McGonagall.
Harry stood and walked over to the spot Parvati had been standing in. Looking at the vial, he vaguely wondered if his father had taken this test after already becoming an Animagus.
The potion was tasteless, but burned the back of his throat when he swallowed it. His eyes snapped shut and he was presented with a dark, misty environment. There was nothing in the vision and as the mists billowed around his minds eye, Harry thought he would catch glimpses of a dog or a large cat, but nothing ever materialized.
"Nothing," Harry said finally, opening his eyes to see a flash of something on his professor's face.
"Very well," she said. "Let's get back to class, then."
The walk to Charms was short, so they found themselves outside the door, waiting for Professor Flitwick to let them in.
"Well, at least you weren't the only one that didn't see anything," Ron said to Hermione, who, despite her efforts to the contrary, was still visibly unhappy with the Animagus test.
"I don't want to talk about it, Ron," she said snappishly. "We've got loads better things to worry about besides rare magical talents that none of us have got."
"Padma saw something," Harry said. "She said she saw a raven."
Just then, Professor Flitwick arrived and opened the door. As Harry began to follow Ron and Hermione into the class, a hand touched his shoulder.
"Harry? Can I ask you something?"
Harry turned to see Parvati looking up at him with dark eyes. "Sure," Harry said nonchalantly, trying to appear as if nothing had happened in Transfiguration.
"I was – I was wondering if...Ron said anything to you about me this summer?"
Harry's head twitched a fraction in the motion to tell her no, he hadn't. Then, as a flash of a forgotten conversation appeared in his head, Parvati's actions during the Animagus test started to make sense. "Um...actually...yeah, he did."
Parvati smiled and started to rub circles on the hand Harry was holding his bag with. "So...what do you think? About you and me?"
Feeling cornered, Harry backed into the doorframe, but as Harry retreated, Parvati advanced "I, uh... Well, you see, it's just that..." His heart was beating loudly in his chest and Harry wondered why she was making him so flustered.
Parvati's put her free hand onto his shoulder as she leaned in to whisper in his ear, "I promise that I've got over the Yule Ball incident, Harry."
Finally finding his control, Harry took both of her hands in his, biting his lips together before he spoke. "I can't, Parvati. I'm seeing Ginny now and..."
"Ginny Weasley?" Parvati said with a sudden scowl. "What could you possibly see in her?"
Now it was Harry's turn to frown. "Listen here, Parvati, she's smart, funny, pretty, and a great kisser." Harry's cheeks coloured for a second when he realised what he was admitting, but he continued regardless. "I'll not have you say a bad thing about her."
Parvati looked stricken and pulled her hands free. Just as she was about to reply, Professor Flitwick appeared in the doorway. "Mr. Potter? Miss Patil? Class has started and we are all waiting on you. I do not wish to assign detention the first day of classes."
Parvati huffed and threw her hair back, and then with a cold glance at Harry, walked stiffly into the classroom. Harry followed and groaned as he realised that everyone in the classroom had heard their conversation.
"Relax, Harry," said Hermione as he sat down between them. "You handled yourself just fine."
Harry snorted and chanced a look at Ron. He was busy turning in his text to the first chapter. When Harry decided that Ron either didn't hear them, or was unconcerned about what he had heard, Ron leaned over and whispered, "We'll talk about your knowledge of Ginny's kissing prowess after class."
With a nod and a sigh, Harry flipped to the same page as Ron and tried to listen to Flitwick as he began to lecture on charming complex objects.
Ginny packed her bag slowly as she rose from her last class of the day, Transfiguration. Her dorm mates had already left, twittering to each other about two Hufflepuff boys in their year.
"Miss Weasley? Take this as you leave, please." Professor McGonagall was busy packing away the mice they had been Transfiguring into budgerigars, but held out a slip of parchment in her hand.
Slinging her backpack on her shoulder, Ginny approached her professor and took the note. As she walked slowly out of the classroom, she broke the seal with her finger and read:
Please report to the Headmaster's office after dinner.
Ginny frowned. Had she already broken some rule without realising it? Was there more punishment associated with her duel from last year?
Folding the letter into fourths, she stuffed it into her pocket and walked back to her room.
When Ginny arrived at dinner, Harry told her that he had received an identical note. They decided to walk there together. The stone gargoyle opened automatically when they approached it. Harry's hand was in hers and she smiled when he gallantly helped her onto the steps, as if she would have trouble keeping her balance. Not wanting to bruise his ego just yet, she didn't say a word.
The door to Dumbledore's office was already open and as they stepped of the stairs, he waved them in.
Inside, Dumbledore was deep in conversation with the Head Boy and Girl, Roger Davies and Cho Chang.
Ginny led Harry over to a small loveseat in the corner of the office while Roger and Cho continued their conversation with the headmaster.
"The Prefects have agreed to keep regular patrols running throughout the year, but I don't see how that's going to help," Roger was saying. "If You-Know-Who were to break into Hogwarts, what good would a couple of students be?"
Cho seemed to be agitated, but didn't say anything.
"A pair of eyes, alerted to the situation is all that may be required to pass along a warning to one of the teachers, Mr. Davies," Dumbledore explained. "While Voldemort is a powerful wizard, I think there exists at least one example in your own house of a student who can hold their own in a sticky situation."
"What about Hogsmeade visits?" asked Cho, who turned to see Harry and Ginny sitting on the sofa. Her eyes flicked to their intertwined hands. She turned quickly back to Dumbledore.
"They will continue on as before, but we must be prepared to change the schedule. Additional Aurors will be assigned as guards during the times we will allow students to visit."
The three of them sat in silence for a beat, then Dumbledore said, "If there's nothing else, I have another matter to take care of."
Roger stood stiffly and walked to the door, not sparing a glance at Harry or Ginny. Cho, however, stood and made a deliberate effort to stare at Ginny and then Harry in turn, as if she could not quite believe that they were there, before she shook her head and walked behind Roger.
Ginny was about to walk over to Dumbledore's desk when the elderly wizard stood and approached them. "Let us make this a little more casual, eh what?" he said.
Dumbledore sat in a small, cushioned chair across from them and produced two slips of parchment. "I called you here tonight to discuss a spell I'd like to perform with you both at the end of the week."
"What kind of spell?" asked Harry. "Does this have anything to do with our bond?"
"Indeed it does, Harry," said Dumbledore as he handed them both one of the parchments. "You'll find that I have already secured permission from your guardians and that in order to proceed, I only require your consent."
"You never said what kind of spell it was," Ginny pointed out. "And you didn't tell us how it relates to our bond."
With twinkling eyes, Dumbledore leaned forward and touched Ginny's hand. "My dear... I will answer all of your questions on Saturday. I am needed for a meeting with the Order in a short while and must make this visit brief. What I'd like you to do tonight is to think about what's coming. Think about how both of you will play a role in the war that is already marching on to an uncertain conclusion." He said this last bit with a significant glance at Harry.
"Oh," Harry said. "So is it some kind of protection spell, then?"
"In a manner of speaking, it is," Dumbledore answered. "But you needn't worry about the particulars just yet. What I can tell you, is that if we cannot perform this spell together, Voldemort's hand will be strengthened considerably and both of you will be at great risk. Greater than at any time since his return."