Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Chapter 1: Instinct
Deep down, Harry knew that this was how things were going to eventually work out. Almost as soon as he had discovered that what he could do was magic, and as soon as he had heard that Voldemort had been the cause of his biological parents' demise, he knew that one day he would end up here, on the steps of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But he hadn't really given it much of a conscious thought until the other month, when Voldemort had sought him out personally. Harry, along with the rest of his family, had been surprised that they had been found, but Voldemort had assured them that he had been searching for Harry for quite some time. This hadn't made any of them feel any better. Luckily, Harry had been studying magic as much as possible in the months beforehand and had held his own against Voldemort when he had tried to kill him. His family had escaped unscathed—despite the number of followers Voldemort had unleashed on them—and after a short discussion, in which there was a lot of arguing, they had fled to Britain.
The following months had been difficult. The Britain they had come back to was not the one they remembered. It could have been compared to a war zone with only slight exaggeration. The news was filled with mass killings, strange disappearances, weird phenomenons, and no one to blame. Each night Harry watched the television with a growing sense of purpose. He was finally strong enough to help defeat the evil that was causing all this destruction. All he needed to do was learn more about magic. He was good on his own, but Voldemort had been able to do things he'd never even dreamed of. If he ever hoped to really defeat him, he knew he'd have to have instruction. And the best place to get that instruction, he had read, was at Hogwarts.
The castle itself seemed to grow in size as he reached his hand to the large entrance door. He knocked three times and waited a moment. The door was opened by a tall, proper-looking woman. He knew immediately that he wanted the respect of this woman.
"Good evening, madam," he addressed her politely. "My name is Harry Stewart and I am here for a meeting with Headmaster Dumbledore."
The woman had to look up slightly to meet his eyes. Her surprised gaze bore into his and he watched as her eyes flicked up to his forehead, squinting slightly as they did so. He tried not to notice.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," she said after a moment. "I am Professor McGonagall. If you would follow me, I will take you to the headmaster's office."
"Thank you," he said in reply and followed her inside.
Dumbledore's office was even more impressive than the halls. Harry compared it to his discovery of Diagon Alley. Every place he looked held new, strange, and exciting things to see. Dumbledore's office was no different. After introducing himself to Dumbledore, he sat down and took in the portraits hanging on the walls, trying to ignore the blatant looks of curiosity he was getting and all the small trinkets that were scattered about. Dumbledore's voice pulled him out of his examination.
"I must admit I was rather surprised when I first received your letter. Nobody has seen you since you disappeared from your aunt's house nine years ago." Harry looked from the phoenix perch to see Dumbledore staring at him. Once it was obvious that Harry wasn't going to say anything, he continued.
"What made you decide to come to Hogwarts now? I am assuming from what you said in your letter that you would like to be admitted as a student?"
"Yes, sir. I'm hoping that I'll be able to expand my understanding of magic, improve my skills, and ultimately contribute heavily to the on-going war." Not only had he played out this conversation a thousand different ways in his head, but Harry had also found out all he could about Dumbledore before coming. He knew from Sirius that in the last war against Voldemort, Dumbledore had formed an organization called the Order of the Phoenix that had prevented, to some degree, Voldemort's rise to power. Harry had therefore decided that since Voldemort was back, it was logical to assume that the Order had been reformed with Dumbledore as its leader once again. Harry's objective of this meeting was not only to become a student at Hogwarts, but to join the Order if possible.
"So you have studied magic before?"
"I have been able to… harness the ability since I was twelve. I have used what I believe is called raw magic, though. I did not know at the time what it was. It was not until years later that I learned that there was an entire population of people who had the same ability as I do."
"Are you saying that you did not know what you were doing was magic until you were…?"
"Sixteen. I was sixteen." Dumbledore, a slightly shocked expression on his face, looked over Harry's shoulder.
"And now you would like to learn the magic we do, is that right?"
"Well, I think that I've got the basics pretty much down. It's the reasons behind the things that I can do that I would like to understand. And be able to apply everything in a fight," Harry said somewhat modestly. He had the feeling that perhaps he shouldn't have implied that he had learned most of what he knew in less than a year.
"A fight…" Dumbledore mused. "How much do you know about the war? You said you didn't know the wizarding world existed until a year ago, and yet you seem ready to jump right into it."
Harry quickly summarized all of the information that he had read about the last war and the current one, making sure to include that he knew about the Order and its contributions, but skipping over exactly why he wanted to fight. Dumbledore did not seem as surprised as Harry thought he would be.
"I have to say, this is a very unusual circumstance that we have. In my term as headmaster, I've never encountered a student that wanted to enroll so late. I am curious, though. Your name has been on the register since your birth, yet when we sent out your acceptance letter, the owl came back. It couldn't find you. Why do you believe that is?"
"I couldn't say, Headmaster. I don't know the intricacies of the delivery system."
"I have a theory," Dumbledore started carefully. Harry could tell by the look on his face that the conversation was about to take a turn that he probably wouldn't be comfortable with.
"You see, for owls to deliver their letters, the recipient must identify himself with the person for whom the letter is intended. It is therefore my theory that when your Hogwarts letter was sent out, you did not see yourself as Harry Potter." And that was the opening. Harry knew it well enough, but tried to keep his face neutral.
"No, sir. Ever since I started living with my family, I have considered myself a Stewart."
"And by doing that, you rid yourself of the identity of Harry Potter. That must have been why the owl could not find you." He paused and glanced down briefly at his desk. "Do you mind me asking how you came to live with the Stewarts?"
"They adopted me when I needed a family," Harry said simply. Something in his tone must have warned Dumbledore, for he did not press the subject any further. Instead, he changed the tone of the conversation so abruptly that Harry was left confused for a fraction of a second.
"If you were accepted into Hogwarts, in what year do you think you should be placed?" he asked genially.
"I have reviewed the different skills required for each level, and I believe that I am capable of all the theory and practical skills at NEWT level for all subjects, except for Potions. I have not had any practice brewing actual potions. It seems a lot like cooking, though."
"To take NEWT level classes, you would first have to pass the OWL for each subject." Harry had wondered if that would come up. He wasn't sure that there was time for three whole years to be devoted to studying. Voldemort surely wasn't going to wait for him to pass his OWLs and NEWTs. But in Harry's study of Dumbledore, he found out that he was the Supreme Mugwump, and therefore probably had enough power to override the system.
"Is it possible for me to take them before the school year starts?" Harry wasn't sure if Dumbledore would seriously consider this or not, but he had to ask. Dumbledore had no evidence whatsoever that Harry was capable of any magic at all.
"It could be arranged, I believe. But before we do that, might I ask for a demonstration? Just to be sure we are both on the same page, of course."
Harry had prepared as much as possible for this moment. This was the crucial point of the meeting. If he couldn't prove himself worthy of Hogwarts, then how would he be capable of being part of the Order? He knew that he could not fight Voldemort on his own; he needed inside support that he could only get from Dumbledore's Order. He took a deep breath out of habit to try to calm his nerves.
"What would you like me to do?"
"We can start with the basics. Could you please levitate this book," he said, gesturing to one sitting on his desk, "to the top shelf of the bookshelf to my left?"
As he spoke, Harry pulled out his wand and performed the motions that he had memorized for the Levitation Spell. The book started to float up and then immediately zoomed to the bookshelf, stacking itself neatly against the other books silently.
"You can perform spells nonverbally?" Dumbledore questioned. Harry hesitated for a fraction of a second. If he told the truth, that he really didn't need a wand and all of this was just a show so he could get in, Dumbledore probably would not take it very well and Harry's abilities might be scrutinized even further — something he definitely could not risk. Even though he knew the incantations for all of the spells in the curriculum (and then some), he thought it was a complete waste of energy to say it when it was possible for people to say it in their heads and produce the same effect. He decided that this was a perfect example of using Aurora's favorite life rule: don't and say you did. His pause was so brief that Dumbledore probably didn't even notice.
"Yes, sir. I always do the spells nonverbally." Dumbledore scrutinized him.
"What incantation did you use just then, if you please?"
"Wingardium Leviosa." Harry couldn't tell whether Dumbledore believed him or not.
"All right then, please transfigure the chair you are sitting on into a tree. And then, if possible, into any animal of your choice."
The rest of the afternoon passed in this fashion. Harry did everything that Dumbledore asked him, each time performing perfectly. As his testing finally came to a close, Dumbledore said he would arrange for Harry to take his OWLs sometime in August.
"Does this mean you will allow me to attend for a year?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"Provided that you pass your OWLs, yes, you will be enrolled with the seventh year class."
"Thank you, sir, for giving me this chance. I know that it will help me become a better wizard." Harry had never referred to himself that way before, but the word felt oddly comfortable on his tongue.
"You're welcome," Dumbledore started. "But I have to ask—and I'm assuming by not finding out about magic until a year or so ago that you were taken in by a Muggle family—how did you find out about magic?"
"A wizard drew his wand on me one day and threatened me. He was pretty drunk, though, so I was able to get him to tell me how to get into Diagon Alley and such."
"It seems the secrecy laws won't stop everybody," Dumbledore said.
Harry nodded. He looked out the window and noticed it was getting dark.
"Ah, time flies when you are having fun," Dumbledore said happily. "You must be hungry. I can have something brought up for you if you'd like." Harry smiled, laughing to himself internally.
"No thank you. I need to leave soon, but may I make one more request before I go?" he asked.
"I read in one of the history books that in the last war you formed a resistance group called the Order of the Phoenix. I was wondering…. Well, I assume that that group has been reformed?" Dumbledore studied him over his glasses. A small crease appeared in his brow.
"Why are you asking?"
"I was hoping to become a part of it." Harry hoped he conveyed the seriousness of his proposal and that Dumbledore wouldn't disregard him because of his background in magic.
"You are only eighteen years old and haven't been involved for very long in this world. Why are you so eager to fight our battles?" Harry had to make a choice. Take the easy way out, or tell the truth and put his family and himself in danger.
"Voldemort killed my parents. I want to make sure that he can't take away the lives of other people like he did mine." There, that sounded good enough, Harry thought.
"I'm sorry Mr.… Stewart, but to be part of the Order, you must be out of school." Harry had predicted he might say that.
"What if I can prove that I'm necessary to the Order? What if I can show that my contributions could help turn the tide of the war?" He stared directly into Dumbledore's eyes, willing him to let him be a part of this.
"If you do, then we can talk about it then, I suppose." Admitting defeat, Harry stood up to shake Dumbledore's hand. He tried to ignore how Dumbledore's eyes widen at the contact, and the cursed himself for his stupidity at holding his hand out for Dumbledore to shake in the first place.
"Well, thank you for everything you've done for me."
"I will be in touch soon. I will schedule your OWLs and send you an acceptance letter that will list all the supplies needed for this year."
"Will the tuition fee be included?" Dumbledore looked slightly surprised at this.
"Oh, well yes, I suppose I can include it. Your parents left you a small sum of money for your education in Gringotts. My suggestion is to visit it when possible."
"Yes, I know. I've already gotten everything settled with the Goblins. Thank you again, sir." And with that, Harry left the room quickly. He had told his family that he would be back before dusk and was already running late. They would be worried. None of them were too thrilled with him for going alone to an unknown place with people that had unknown powers.
The rest of July passed without much fanfare. But during the first week of August, Harry received a letter, delivered by owl. Tamah, who was sitting nearest, quickly snatched it out of his hand after he had finished reading it.
"Hey!" Harry said teasingly.
"You know, I think that if I had three wishes in the world, my second would be to become a witch," she said as she skimmed the list. "I'm coming with you to get all of this stuff. I mean, look at all of it! Diagon Alley must be such a fascinating place," Tamah exclaimed excitedly in her high child's voice.
"And I must come to help you choose robes. You have no sense of fashion whatsoever, you know," Aurora said, coming and taking the letter out of Tamah's hand.
"Did I hear that Harry finally got his letter?" Adam said as he came into the room, Jane and Roger following behind him.
The letter was passed around excitedly. They couldn't all go to Diagon Alley at once—it would raise suspicion—so it was decided that several trips would be made, so everyone would have a chance to see the center of Britain's magical population.
Tamah was first in line to go, so the following day the two made their way to Diagon Alley. She bounced as she walked and could barely contain her joy at seeing so many new things. The first stop was the Apothecary's where Harry bought a Potions kit and a few other extras that he wanted. Then Tamah dragged Harry into a joke shop that she had seen—not that it was hard to do so, the signs were bright and flashing.
When they walked in, they were greeted by a girl who had short brown hair cropped close to her face, which at the moment was slightly pink. She was wearing a magenta uniform and informed them that there was a sale on all "originals" today, whatever those were.
Harry gave up trying to keep up with Tamah. She dashed all over the place, looking and touching and gathering items in her arms until one of the employees handed her a bag to carry them all. In her excitement, she got a little too careless, and Harry had to remind her that she was in public. After that, her steps slowed and she seemed to remember herself. While Tamah was off gathering up things whose effects were sure to show up later—most definitely on Adam—Harry wandered aimlessly around the store. He found many things that he really wanted to try, and started stocking up as Tamah had done. His arms were considerably larger than hers, and held a lot more, but after a short time, he saw magenta and red out of the corner of his eye, a horrible clashing of color. He turned to find one of the employees bringing him a bag like Tamah's.
"Here you go," she said, flashing a bright smile while handing the bag over. He moved his arm forward to take the bag, and then had to consciously bring it back to himself. "It'll probably make shopping a little bit easier. If you need help finding anything just ask. I'm Ginny," she said. Images were flashing in his mind. He had to get control of himself. He needed to find Tamah and get out of here.
"Thank you," he said, trying to smile back. He was pretty sure that was not what his lips were doing. He watched as she took a step back, and then realized that Tamah was standing right behind her.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Ginny said, turning to the girl, her long red hair flipping slightly. Harry tried not to move.
"It's fine, really. I was just wondering if we could leave these bags here while we do a little shopping, and then come back for them? I think it'd be easier than carrying them around everywhere," Tamah said quickly.
"Of course. I'll just put them behind the counter."
"Thank you," Tamah said as she stepped around Ginny to take the one from Harry. She then handed the bags to her and pulled Harry out of the store. Once outside, he breathed in a deep breath of fresh air, and then took another.
"What was that about?" she asked.
"I… I don't know," Harry said. "But we need to go back home. Immediately." Tamah sensed the urgency in his voice, and they glided quickly through the massive crowds of the alley, drawing a few curious stares, back to the entrance into Muggle London.
Ginny stared after the two customers that had just left the store. She shivered slightly and tried to get back to work, her mind occupied completely. Deciding that restocking shelves was about as mindless a task as she was going to find, she went to the back to get some boxes.
She had noticed them when they first walked in. How could anyone not notice? Especially the boy. All the women in the store had seemed to turn their eyes as one to gawk at his perfection. Ginny had tried not to notice the way his smile lit up his face. She had looked down at the small girl beside him as a distraction. It didn't really help. They had worn such similar expressions of wonder that she couldn't stop herself from looking back up at his face. Two kids in a candy store, Ginny had thought. Putting her mind past the obvious outward appearance of both of them—one tall, strong, and gorgeous, the other young, sweet, and angelic—she had gone over to help a couple who looked completely at a loss among the craziness of the store.
But she had watched them surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye, and when she saw that the boy needed a bag—she had giggled slightly to herself at the sight he had made, walking around the store, grabbing products off the shelves and stuffing them into his arms—she jumped at the chance to talk to him. As she walked to him, she mentally prepared herself. He was just another customer and he needed to be treated with friendly respect, not ogled at as her first instinct would have her do.
As she reviewed the memory, she decided that she had not made a fool of herself, except for when she almost backed into his companion, whom she guessed was his sister. But it wasn't out of embarrassment or anything that had to do with her previous conjectures of his attractiveness that made her take a step back. For when she had looked up into his eyes, she felt her heart speed up and the adrenaline rush through her veins, her body reacting to something her mind had taken a few moments to understand: it felt it was in danger. So she had taken a step back. The look in his eyes had chilled her momentarily, and she shivered again as she started restocking one of the front counter displays.
She decided that this was a stupid line of thought to be thinking—strange people came into her brothers' store all the time. She just hoped she never saw them again. Though if she was honest with herself, she wished that her hope was in vain.
"Come on, Ginny, just stay for a couple more minutes. We really need to get the inventory list done," her brother George pleaded later that evening. Ginny sighed unhappily but agreed to stay and help.
"I want to see overtime for this," she grumbled.
"Did I hear something about overtime?" her other brother Fred asked, coming up from behind the back counter.
"Yes," George said. "Ginny here was just getting her hopes up, nothing unusual."
"Hey! I come here and work my arse off for you guys, and you won't even pay me overtime for working late so you can finish your inventory?"
"Ah," started Fred. "But if you would take a look at yourself right now, my Ginnikins, you'll find that you're not actually doing any work at the moment. Therefore, any overtime would be wholly undeserved, don't you think?" Ginny huffed and went back to counting boxes. A few minutes later, the bell that announced customers had walked in the front door sounded.
"I'm sorry," called one of the twins, "but we're closed."
"Oh, I do apologize," said a sweet voice. Ginny's head snapped up from her clipboard and she walked around the display to find the small girl from earlier staring up at George.
"I just came here to pick up some bags that I left here earlier. If it's a bad time, I'll come back tomorrow." Ginny could see that George was a little dazed by the strange yet beautiful little girl.
"Hello again." Ginny jumped into the conversation. "I don't know if you remember me, but…."
"Of course I do. It's very nice to see you again, Ginny. Thank you so much for letting me keep the bags here. If it's a bad time now, I can come back tomorrow to purchase the items," she said politely. Ginny was surprised at the girl's speech. She had never heard such a young girl speak so… maturely.
"That won't be necessary," Fred said from behind George.
"We can ring you up right now," George said.
"It's really no problem," Fred said as he retrieved the bags from behind the counter that Ginny pointed to.
"Thank you so much," the girl said as she stood on her tiptoes to see over the counter. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself earlier," she said, turning to Ginny after giving Fred exact change for the items. "My name is Tamah."
"That's a unique name," Fred said from behind the register.
"It's Hebrew actually," she said. Ginny wanted to ask her what the name of the boy she was with was, but really didn't want to draw scrutiny—and without a doubt annoying jokes from her brothers—with such a question.
"I actually have to get back home, but I must say that you have a wonderful shop. We'll definitely be back. Everything here is so… busy. It's great."
Ginny distractedly wished her a good evening, her mind occupied with the "we" she had said. She was brought out of her musings by George's voice.
"She couldn't have been more than nine, ten at the most, wouldn't you say, Fred?"
"She did look pretty young," he observed.
"So why do you think she was walking around Diagon Alley, alone, and at night, when we're in the middle of a war?" The other two didn't have a response to that.
For the next three days, Ginny was in a strange state all throughout the workday. Every time a customer walked in, she'd jerk her head up and look to see who they were. She tried to tell herself that she was being stupid, and it worked some of the time, but then the little bell would ring again and she'd feel her eyes glancing towards the door of their own accord. But then the weekend came, and they were so busy that Ginny didn't have any free time to obsess, however willing she was or not. A week passed, and the two strange customers were finally driven out of her head. Instead, she focused on her upcoming year at Hogwarts. Her last year.
She didn't quite know how she felt about that yet. She knew she was going to miss Hogwarts and everything that it represented for her. She had her family and her childhood, but Hogwarts was where she actually grew up. The place held so many memories. She met her best friend, Sarah, on the first train ride there. She learned that nothing comes easy in life, and that one must work if they really want to accomplish anything. The teachers there were her mentors, and they helped her realize that it was okay to ask for help when she needed it. She also learned that life was not fair. She had watched as numerous people she knew, people she went to class with, people she saw everyday, had their lives completely turned upside down by the war. It was hard to imagine never going back there again. Never eating dinner in the noisy hall with everyone talking over each other. Never sneaking out past curfew just to fly around the Quidditch pitch. Never walking with her friends to class. Never being able to just be a kid again. Hogwarts represented everything that she had gained, and a lot that she was going to lose.
Ginny didn't know what she was going to do after she graduated. No sudden inspiration had hit her. She decided she just didn't know herself well enough to know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. The enormity of such a thought hadn't sunk in yet, she supposed, because although she had no clue, she wasn't that worried. Perhaps she didn't think there would be a future for anyone until the war was over.
But inside the school, there was no war. Inside the safety of Hogwarts' grounds, it was just a school, and they were just children learning magic. It was so hard for Ginny to understand the effects of the war that was raging outside the castle's walls because it never directly impacted her. She saw the effects that it had on others who had lost family and friends to Voldemort, but it was easier to ignore those parts and regress back into the simple and structured life of school than to actually think about it.
As September first grew nearer with each passing day, Ginny started to fantasize about how she'd spend her last year. Perhaps she would finally muster enough courage to tell Snape off, instead of just pranking him. Maybe she would finally get a boyfriend. That one would definitely not happen. She didn't know what it was, but she always felt so out of place in her roommates' discussions of boys. Sure, some of them were attractive, but she never felt any inclination to go out with any of them. She was pretty sure that something was wrong with her, because it seemed everybody was dating everybody else. It was impossible for her to see herself with any of the guys that she knew, and there was no way she was going to date someone just for the hell of it. She consoled herself with the idea that she just hadn't met the right guy yet.
"Harry Stewart, you are being a coward." Harry rolled his eyes and went back to the book about wards that he was reading.
"Listen to me when I talk to you!" He glanced up involuntarily. There was just no ignoring her.
"What?" he asked grumpily. Tamah had been relentless ever since they got back from Diagon Alley. She would talk and badger him about the girl at the store, even when he was studying for his OWLs. After he took those—and passed—he thought that maybe she would focus on something else, like the fact that he was leaving. But, no. Instead, an entire week and a half had passed and there was not one hour that she did not say something to him about Ginny. As if he needed reminding.
"You are being a coward," she repeated. "You are the strongest out of all of us and you know it. There's no way you would do anything to her. You need to go and see her again."
"Why on earth would I do a thing like that? You were there last time. Do you want me to ruin all of our lives? I'm not going to give myself the chance. Voldemort needs to be stopped and there's no way we can do that if we're chased out of the country." Tamah glared at him.
"I can't stand it any more! I don't care if you don't want to see her, but you have to go, for my sake. Do you know how horrible this is? I can barely concentrate. The feeling… it's just gotten stronger. Please," she begged. "Just go. Take however many of us you want with you, just go and see her."
Harry's heart and mind were in a conflict. There was no way he'd be able to forget when he met her, and there was no way that he'd willingly put himself in that position again. But he couldn't help but see Tamah in such discomfort and want to do everything he could to help her. Truthfully, he wished he could go see her again. There was something about her, besides the painfully obvious, that drew her to him. But it was of little consequence. He couldn't—wouldn't—put her in such danger.
"Harry," Tamah said. It sounded like she was grasping for anything. "What if it's not only important to us? What if—what if she's important? Important to the war?" Harry closed his eyes.
"I'm not strong enough," he protested weakly.
"I'll go get Roger." Harry heard the smile in her voice.
Diagon Alley was busier than Harry had ever seen it. Families were out shopping for school supplies, and Roger could barely contain himself as he watched all of them. Harry decided that they would work their way over to the joke shop; he was not even certain that she'd be there. The thought gave Harry hope.
"Come on, Roger, we can get the books I need," Harry said, digging through his pocket for his list of supplies.
"Sounds great!" he replied. Roger loved to read. Anything. It was scary how many books he had read in his lifetime, and Harry knew that he'd already read all those on magic that they had in the house. Perhaps they should have stopped by Gringotts on the way to the bookstore.
It was crowded in the store, but Roger navigated through everyone with ease. By the time Harry had located all the necessary books, picking up some others that had caught his eye as well, Roger had come back with twelve books piled precariously in his right hand.
"Ready?" Harry asked, eyeing the stack of books. "Grindelwald? I thought you already read two books on him."
"Yeah, I have," Roger said, nodding. "Tamah asked me to get those for her." Harry grimaced.
"Oh," was all he could say.
"Should we check out?" Roger asked, glancing towards the huge crowd around the register.
"Might as well," Harry shrugged, and followed him to the large line.
"What's next on the list?" Roger asked.
"I thought we'd stop by the Quidditch store next. I wanted to get a broom. From the descriptions in the Quidditch books, it sounds like flying is similar to running," Harry said in a low rush, watching as the two children in front of them huddled closer to their parents.
"Awesome. Do you think that I'd be able to fly on one?"
"I think so. They're enchanted, so it's not the magic from the actual person that makes them fly."
"Maybe we should get six.".
Harry laughed. "That would probably be a little conspicuous, don't you think?"
"Probably," Roger conceded. "But I'm sure people buy two brooms all the time."
They ended up purchasing two Firebolts. The cashier seemed slightly surprised when they had first come up and said they wanted to buy two of whatever broom was in the window. But after being given a handful of gold coins, he happily rang them up, wishing them a fantastic day as they walked out the door.
Harry looked at his list. All he had left to get were school robes, and he had promised Aurora that she could help him get a whole new wizarding wardrobe. He looked down the alley, saw the huge, flashing sign for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and leaned up against the wall of a nearby store. Roger looked at him expectantly.
"You do realize that I was given specific instructions to make sure you go in that store, right?" Of course he was. Tamah had probably threatened him too, listing out things to make his life miserable if he brought Harry back without having been in the joke shop. He sighed.
"Yeah, I figured as much." They started walking.
All too soon, for Harry at least, they were in front of the shop. Ginny was definitely in there. He turned and walked away a little, then came back.
"Ready?" Roger asked him, looking a little tense himself. Harry nodded and walked in after Roger opened the door. The place was even crazier than it had been the other day. The noise was deafening, but he heard something that made him smile. A strange reaction. He turned to his left. There, in the far corner of the store, was Ginny. She didn't seem so dangerous now that he was here, looking at her. Something or someone gave him a small push on his back. He glanced back and saw Roger right behind him, looking at him concernedly.
"I'm fine, actually," Harry said quickly to him.
He looked back to find her staring at him. He smiled slightly at her, and she smiled back, her cheeks becoming a lovely pink. Harry was rooted to the spot. He glanced fearfully behind him and was assured by the fact that Roger was still there.
"No sudden movements," Roger whispered to him and then walked away.
Ginny's heart started beating faster when she saw him smiling at her. She paid no mind to the other boy he was with. He looked even better than when she first saw him. She couldn't decide whether to go over there and talk to him or not. The decision was taken out of her hands, however, when she saw him start to walk over. His walk was slow and deliberate, but there was a graceful flow about it. Ginny couldn't stop staring. He navigated quickly and silently around the customers. When had they stopped talking? She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. She watched as he hesitated, glancing back at the boy behind him, then kept moving towards her. She decided to take a step forward.
"Ginny!" Fred said, coming up behind her. "You need to work the till!" Her wand was in her hand before she even realized she was holding it. She looked around at all the people, and then thought better of cursing her brother into the unknown.
"I'm going," she replied exasperatedly, glancing again at the boy. His eyes remained on her as she walked to the nearest till, watching his eyes follow her. They made her skin rather warm. It was necessary now that she concentrate.
"How are you doing today, ma'am?" she asked the first customer in her line politely.
"Oh, I'm doing just fine, dear. I just need this for my son's birthday that's coming up."
She had to be careful to ring the items up correctly. After dealing with a few more customers, she looked up from her register to see him standing there, smiling at her.
"Hey," he breathed.
"Hi." She didn't think she could blink.
"I was wondering if I could purchase this?" He was holding one of the items that they had displayed on the checkout counter. She wondered if he had gotten in line just to talk to her. Her heart beat harder.
"Of course." He placed the item on the counter and she rang it up. He dug around in his pockets for coins and Ginny watched him, fascinated.
"You were in here earlier last week, weren't you?" she asked shyly. He looked up, slightly startled.
"Oh, um… yeah. With my sister." He hesitated. "She said you were very nice to her when she came in after closing to get the bags we left." Ginny didn't know what to say to that. "I'm Harry, by the way," he said, giving her the money.
"I'm Ginny." She put away the money and handed him his bag. "Have a nice day, Harry," she said, smiling.
"You too, Ginny." He flashed his white teeth at her and then walked away. The man who was next in line had to tap on the counter to get her attention.
Ginny wasn't sure which one of her brothers she wanted to hex first. George was a good candidate, as he spent the rest of her shift making fun of her, even getting some of the regular customers in on it too. But then again, Fred was the one who announced to the entire family that evening at the dinner table that she met her future husband today, the one who was going to beat out Harry Potter for the position. They did not seem to realize she was not ten years old anymore and couldn't care less about Harry bloody Potter. That wasn't to say it did not escape her notice that the boy's name was Harry, but thankfully her brothers did not know that, and she had no inclination to make them aware of it.
"So, what is this about your future husband?" Hermione asked her when they were alone in her room. It was getting late, but Hermione had insisted she stay for a little while longer, claiming it did not take long to Floo back to her flat.
"He is not my future husband," Ginny said irritably, brushing out her long, red hair. "He's just some guy that I met in the shop. The only reason they're making fun of me is because they're jealous. I mean honestly, I'm jealous of him and I'm not even a guy!"
"You'd have to see him, Hermione. There are no words to explain…."
"Knocked you speechless, did he?"
"No. I had a perfectly normal conversation with him. He even told me his name." Whoops.
"So, what's his name?" Ginny's gaze jumped from object to object in her room. Definitely not suspicious.
"You have to swear you won't tell anyone, not even Ron."
Hermione rolled her eyes but consented, adding, "This is stupid. It's just a name. What are you afraid of?"
"My…wonderful and caring brothers. They'll make my life miserable." She took a deep breath. "His name's Harry." One. Two. Three. Hermione started laughing. Great friend.
"It's not funny! And would you keep it down?"
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry. You're right. It's just so… ironic. Who would have thought that you'd fall for a guy named Harry? Ha! It's just too perfect."
"Oh, ha, ha, ha. And I haven't fallen for him as you so eloquently put it. I admit I find him attractive, but my goodness, I just met him!"
Hermione simply nodded in that jokingly condescending way that she did, and bid Ginny goodnight.
Ginny's dreams that night were filled with strange, nonsensical images. She twisted and turned in her bed all night, and woke early the next morning. As soon as she opened her eyes, the dreams started to slip out of her mind's reach. All that remained was a pair of blood red eyes.
The sun was rising, and blue and purple clouds filled the lightening sky, but all of this was missed by the Stewart family. All of them were gathered in the living room of their small flat, each with a book in their lap. While the rest of them were engrossed in their own little worlds, Harry's eyes hadn't read a single sentence the entire time. It was impossible not to think about everything that had happened yesterday, several times over. What could it mean? Ginny was obviously important. That was obvious when Tamah came bounding over to him after he had returned home with a smile on her face, announcing that she felt better about the whole situation in general, and suggested he visit her again as soon as he had the chance. Harry declined, stating that the only reason he went there in the first place was to make Tamah happy. While that wasn't completely true, it had been the main determining factor. And he had gone. And he was fine. They were all fine. And now that he knew he could, the idea of visiting Ginny became more and more appealing as time went on. But he couldn't today. If he stopped by again, who knew how it would be received. It was probably better that he didn't. Plus, he was taking Aurora with him. If anyone was bound to stir up trouble for him, it was Aurora; she fancied herself a matchmaker. Harry looked over to her beautiful form that was curled up on a chair. He simply thought she was bitter.
When the sun started to shine directly into the room, a tap was heard on the window. Harry went over to it and opened it. The owl that had tapped flew into the room. After removing the Daily Prophet from its leg, Harry watched the owl immediately swoop back out the window. He sat back down, wary of the paper's contents. This morning's headline read: "Dark Mark Seen Twice." It was no different than usual. There was never good news anymore. He quickly read through the paper and passed it on to Adam as he walked out to get the Muggle paper.
That paper had a completely different headline: "Six Missing, Presumed Dead." Harry hurried back inside to read the entire story. Police had been called by a frantic nine-year-old earlier that morning, who had woken up to find both his parents and his seventeen-year-old sister missing. During routine questioning of the neighbors, the police found that the neighboring houses on either side were also missing people. A total of six had gone missing, four adults and two teenagers. The police were baffled. There was no sign of forced entry, the children had heard no noise, and there was no sign of a struggle in any of the three houses. Three houses right next to each other. Harry furrowed his forehead. There was no way that a Muggle had done this. But they had left the small children unharmed. It didn't make any sense.
"Dad, I think you should read this," he said to Adam.
"Sure, pass it over." He looked at it for a moment. "Do you think it was wizards?" he asked Harry.
"I don't know, but it's very suspicious. Three houses, only adults taken—if you count the teenagers as such. The children…. Death Eaters would have spared nobody."
"What would wizards want with six Muggles?" Adam asked.
"I don't know. Usually they just… kill them."
"Adam, dear, let me see the paper," Jane said, stretching her hand towards him. "Do you think," she said after a second, "that they were able to find homes for the children?"
"Mum, we can't take them in," Tamah said from her place on the couch. "There's a war going on. How are we going to help if there are innocent children running around? Remember when Harry was smaller?" Jane nodded reluctantly.
"I know, sweetie, but I can't help but wonder what'll happen to them…."
"I'm sure they have family that will gladly take them in," Harry said. He did not like the direction of the conversation. There was absolutely no way that there could be Muggle children, here, where things were decidedly not-Muggle.
"Do you think it's late enough to go?" Aurora asked once Jane had turned back to the book she was reading. He looked at the clock. Nine o'clock.
"Okay, then. We'll be back later!" Aurora called to the family, already out of her seat and halfway to the front door. Harry followed after her, waving goodbye to the rest of his subdued family.
He was not excited, he told himself as they made their way onto the sidewalk. There was no anticipation for this trip whatsoever. He was going clothes shopping. He hated clothes shopping. It was boring and all the robes looked the same. He was definitely not excited. He was unaware that his strides had become longer.
The lady at the robe shop was friendly, but there was no way that she was going to hold Harry's attention. He swore he could smell Ginny. Perhaps the knowledge that she was close, just a couple stores down, was messing with his senses.
Aurora had him try on what felt like a hundred different styles and colors of robes. He was pretty sure that he really only needed normal, black robes. He asked for such, and Aurora added on about twenty thousand more. So, by the time they—meaning Aurora—were done ordering everything, it was already noon.
"So, what would you like to do next?" Harry asked her as they walked out of the store. Her eyes lit up dangerously and Harry regretted asking the question.
"I'd like to go check out Knockturn Alley." Harry let out a sigh of relief.
"Sure, no problem," he said as he turned toward the entrance to the dark alley. He was actually rather curious about it himself.
"Then I want to meet this girl everyone's talking about. Jane seems convinced that—well, it doesn't really matter. I do want to meet her though."
"You do realize she's probably going to think I'm stalking her."
"No, I'm not," Harry said indignantly.
"Yes, you are," she argued back. "You're just doing it subconsciously."
Harry didn't respond and instead turned his attention to his immediate surroundings. The shops were dramatically closer together in Knockturn Alley and the walk was narrow and dark. Many of the shops had unpleasant names and Harry knew that Aurora would be coming back here on her own. She pulled him into a couple of stores that really caught her eye and Harry spent the majority of the time examining everything with wide, disbelieving eyes, and trying to keep his hands as close to himself as possible. Aurora went gracefully around the stores, reading descriptions and absorbing all the knowledge of the dark artifacts. A lot of the people that were in the stores were hidden beneath large, dark cloaks, but the ones whose heads were visible gave the pair odd looks. No one dared approach them, though Harry noticed that many of the men's eyes followed Aurora's movements. He sighed disgustedly to himself and wondered which one of them was going to be Aurora's new love of the month. He hoped the man would be at least a little interesting. The last one she had entranced only offered her the allure of weaponry. He had little, if no sense of humor. In fact, Harry was pretty sure that he had had no sense of any kind.
Aurora decided, after she had purchased a powder that if ingested would kill the person slowly by eating away at their organs, it was time to meet Ginny. Harry, both reluctant and eager, followed his sister out of the dark and dangerous alley to its opposite extreme: Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
Fred and George had just told Ginny to go home, and she was grabbing her bag when the bell rang and in walked the object of her denial for the past week or so. With a girl. Who did not look like his sister. Ginny felt an odd feeling in her chest and tried to ignore it. She slung her bag over her shoulder and started to walk towards the door. Each step brought her closer to him and the beautiful girl he was with. Ginny repressed with little success the inadequacy she felt.
"Hi, Ginny," he said as she approached. She was slightly surprised he remembered her name.
"Hey, Harry. Back again so soon?" she said as she came to a stop in front of him. He shrugged.
"Yeah… actually," he said as if he suddenly remembered why he was here, "Aurora was looking for some beauty products. We heard they've got a really good selection here even though it's a joke shop." Ginny assumed he was talking about the woman next to him and looked at him like he was crazy. There was no way she needed any type of beauty products. Ginny doubted that she even knew what a bad hair day was.
"Oh, right," Harry said, interrupting her self-deprecating thoughts. "This is Aurora, my sister."
"It's very nice to meet you," Ginny said with a lot more feeling. "There's a whole section with those types of products over there," she said and pointed to the girly-looking section. "And if you need any help, you can ask anyone with a magenta shirt on. I'm actually sort of late for lunch, and my mum might start to worry so… um… it was nice meeting you, Aurora. And nice seeing you again, Harry." She hoped she didn't come off as rude, and she really did want to stay, but she knew her mother would come over here herself if she wasn't home in the next five minutes.
"I'm very sorry to have kept you," Aurora said in an airy voice. "Harry over here just insisted that we stop by to—"
"We won't keep you any longer," Harry said loudly over her and smiled as he dragged Aurora over to the pink shelves. Ginny stared after him a moment and then rushed out the door. She hoped she could get home before her mum Flooed her father to report her captured by Death Eaters. Sometimes she was just too overprotective for anyone's well being.
Ginny arrived home in time to stop her mother from Flooing to Diagon Alley herself. She blamed the twins—who hadn't let her go until ten minutes after they had said they would—and completely left out her short encounter with Harry and his (deep sigh of relief) sister. The rest of the day she lazed around the house, rejoicing in the fact that it had been her last day of work. September first was only two days away. She passed the time putting last minute touches on her homework and writing a final letter to her best friend, Sarah, hinting at something important she wanted to tell her.
The long awaited day finally arrived and with it brought the usual, slightly nervous case of jitters that Ginny got every year. It was difficult to sit still on her final ride to the station, and even Ron and Hermione sitting in the back seat arguing about their wedding plans didn't give her the usual sense of normality. They arrived at the station, and as soon as they were on the platform, Ginny started looking around for the tall, honey blond haired girl that was her best friend.
"Now, Ginny," her mother said, drawing her attention away from the crowd of people and to herself instead. "I know this is your last year, but it's probably the most important yet. If you do well on your NEWTs, it'll open up a lot of job opportunities for you, so I want you to take your schoolwork seriously. Just because it's your last year does not mean you get to waste it by not doing your work."
Ginny simply nodded and patted the older woman's back gently when she hugged her tightly. It had been pretty much the same speech every year. First year, it was how she should do her work, because it was important that she establish a good work ethic and showed the teachers what a good student she was. Second year, she was instructed not to slack off just because she wasn't new anymore. Third year, it was all about the electives and how they would help her in her future so she had to do well in those. Fourth year was when it started about the OWLs. Fifth year, the pressure was really piled on, not only by her mother but by Hermione too. Sixth year was not the year to celebrate just because she passed her OWLs, it was the year for her to start to prepare for NEWTs and ensure her successful future.
After her mother had finished squeezing the life out of her, her father gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, "It's the last year you are truly able to be a kid. Make the most of it."
She flashed her father a bright smile as she pulled away. She said goodbye to Ron and Hermione, who were drawing a rather large bit of attention to themselves over their argument about the silverware they were going to have, and then sped off with her trunk in search of Sarah. She hadn't mentioned Harry in any of her letters to her over the summer. It seemed to Ginny that that tidbit of information was best delivered in person.
She saw her in their normal compartment, leaning out the door and waving her over. Ginny quickly climbed aboard and shoved her trunk into the overhead compartment. Sarah gave her a huge hug before they sat down, casting locking charms on the door so they wouldn't be bothered.
"So, how was your summer?" Sarah asked immediately. It was the only introduction that Ginny needed. She launched into her story, and the two didn't even notice as the train blew its whistle and started to move.
Time passed quickly in the compartment, and soon the two girls were walking towards the carriages at Hogsmeade. They ran into some friends and they all scrambled into one of the carriages, eager to get to the castle so they could eat. The friends all chatted happily about their summers during the short trip to Hogwarts' gates and to the Great Hall where many were already seated. The group sat down in the middle of the table, and more than one person complained about how hungry they were. Ginny watched as the rest of the students filed in and found seats. As the last few stragglers came in, she turned her eyes towards the tables. Her eyes accidentally met those of a boy from Ravenclaw. Michael Corner. She immediately looked down. She hated it when others caught her looking at them, however unintentional it may be, but she had seen the smile he had sent her. She sighed. He'd been doing that since last year. When she would walk to class, he would pop up out of nowhere and start chatting like they were old friends. It got really annoying after a while—he had a seemingly endless supply of mindless topics at his disposal—but she tried to be nice and answer his questions. It got to the point where he could carry on a conversation almost entirely by himself; she only needed to nod in the right places. Ginny didn't know why he didn't get the hint. She'd never given him any indication that she was interested, but he still showed up with his conversational self, inserting flirtatious comments on occasion. It always made her uncomfortable when he did that and almost always brought an awkward blush to her face. She stared more intently at the table. She could still feel his eyes on her.
Dumbledore stood, the Hall fell silent, and he started the usual welcome speech. And that was when it happened. As her eyes made their way slowly up to the head table, they fell on the last person she ever expected to see at Hogwarts. All the way at the end of the Gryffindor table sat Harry. As if he felt her eyes on him, he turned around, smiled at her, and then winked.