Ch 28

I hadn't seen Harry that day either and I worried how he had taken my note. I decided that while visiting the Ministry to catch up with Dad, I'd try to get some time with Harry to explain as best I could face to face. Just as I was gathering up my notes (three hours and four feet of leads after I got to the library), a silver hawk appeared at my side. Gwenog's voice rumbled out. 'Weasley! I know you have things going on right now, but we have practice today and, flying or not, we expect you to be there. 2pm sharp.'

I jumped. I'd become so caught up in the newest crisis to hit that I'd totally shelved all thought of the Harpies. I knew we were having less frequent training through the off season, so I'd basically pushed it aside. I knew, however, that if I wanted to stay on the team after my pregnancy I had to go – and I did want to; my ambition to be a professional player hadn't dimmed either from my experience this year or from my pregnancy. Growling, I sent my notes home with a wave of my wand and trudged to the nearest floo portal. Not being able to apparate was becoming extremely inconvenient.

I walked into headquarters and Gerry engulfed me in a huge hug. 'Ginny! Where have you been? We've missed you so much – the chaser corps is just not the same without you. Let's get G-force back on the broom, baby!'

I shook my head, trying to work out how to tell her I wasn't flying without telling her things I wasn't ready for even such a good friend to know. She pulled back and frowned as she looked at me.

'What's the matter? How come you aren't buzzing with energy and teasing me about killing me on the pitch? Are you sick?'

I laughed and punched her on the arm. 'No, I'm not sick, but I won't be flying today. Gwenog's orders.' In put as much woe into my voice as I could. 'I need to do more media training apparently, and ...' I shrugged, forcing my lips into a pout. 'I'd rather be up there with you guys.' I could hear the wistfulness in my own voice. Indeed, it wasn't feigned. I'd give a lot to be able to fly. Gerry obviously heard the sincerity too because she frowned sympathetically, made empathetic noises and then ran off to the changing rooms.

'Good thinking, Weasley,' Gwenog said, coming up behind me. 'But we need to come up with something more long-term. I know we can't keep it a secret forever, but the longer we keep it from the girls, the longer we can avoid having to deal with the media. Well, you need to go do that 'training' with Petruvius now. I'll think it over and see what we can come up with.'

'What am I here for, Gwenog?' I asked, trying hard to keep the frustration out of my voice. If I wasn't going to be doing something valuable I'd much rather be researching and helping with the family's problem – and, if I was honest, seeing Harry.

'You'll sit in the observation room paying close attention to each player. We're going to use your observations in the pensieves to help the girls identify their weaknesses and what they need to work on. Normally our coach does it, but since you're off duty and we're paying you anyway we'll let him focus on his other duties. Are you up to it?'

I nodded. This was a huge responsibility, so I'd better do my best to focus.

The next several hours were incredibly tiring. Watching the other girls playing was normally a fun experience, but today it was gruelling. I had to identify the player who most needed focus at any one time and watch her intently then move to the next one when it became obvious someone else had something she needed to work on. By the end of it, I just wanted to go home but there was a small window after we'd finished when all the ministry workers, including Dad and Harry, should still be in their offices. I dragged my exhausted body to the Muggle underground station and took a train to the nearest stop by the Ministry of Magic.

I took the visitors' entrance since I wasn't with Dad or Harry and felt a huge wash of nostalgia as I was whooshed down into the ground. So much had happened since I last took this trip in my fourth year at school and, though that trip had ended unhappily, I still remembered the feeling of desperate adventure when we made this journey. I stepped out into the echoing chamber surrounded by floo portals and headed immediately for Harry's office. I knew that I should probably be going to Dad to work out these artefacts, but it had been two days since I saw Harry and I had an aching need to see him.

My breath caught in my throat as I approached his office. I could see his messy black hair bent over something on his desk, his quill scratching away furiously as he worked on something. Merlin, I'd missed him! I cleared my throat carefully, alerting him to my presence and he looked up. My heart skipped a beat when his face lit up when he saw me.

'Ginny! How have you been? It's been so crazy I haven't seen you ...'

I melted into his arms as he came round his desk, and soaked in the feeling of being with him again.

'I'm okay,' I said. 'Mum's ideas on policing me now I'm pregnant are annoying, though. I wish I could tell her to sod off and stay with you.' I sighed wistfully. 'I miss you.'

He kissed my hair and said, 'I miss you too. You'll still come over sometimes, right?' There was an anxious tone in his voice.

'Of course I will! See if you can stop me!' I laughed. 'Oh, you should hear her latest thing.' I cringed at the memory. 'She wants us to get married earlier so we don't have a baby out of wedlock. I told her no, but you know her – she's got her stubborn on.'

Harry laughed. 'If I know you, you had yours on too.'

I sniggered. 'Yep I did. But I don't see why she gets to set our wedding date. It took me long enough to accept the date, I don't want to change it now. Especially for such a stupid reason.'

Harry squeezed me tight. 'It's time to be done here now. Nothing much else I can do today so do you want to get some dinner and, I dunno, go do something fun?'

Tired as I was, I did want to spend time with him, so I nodded. 'Just let me go see Dad for a minute, then I'll meet you back here.'

Harry agreed and I headed in the direction of Dad's office. He was no longer squeezed into the tiny office he'd once shared, and was now in a much larger, more airy space. His desk faced the window so he was able to choose what Magical Maintenance showed. Today it was a fresh, summery scene of a meadow filled with flowers and trees bouncing in a slight breeze. I smiled.

'Dad. Hi,' I said.

'Hey, Pumpkin Juice. How are you?'

I sidled up to him and hugged him. I whispered, 'could you put up a silencing charm so we can talk, please?' He did as I asked, then sat back and quirked an eyebrow at me in query.

'I know you don't agree, Dad, but I want to trace those artefacts to find out if there may be something to them worth stealing them for.'

Dad grinned at me. 'I'm way ahead of you. I knew you wouldn't let it rest so I took the trouble to get you this printed inventory of the vault. I'm sure there's nothing to this, but if you're willing to do the work I don't see any harm.'

I squealed and threw my arms around him again. He may act like he's vague and not much in control, but he's actually pretty sharp. He and Mum get on, in part, because while he's laid back, he's also very intelligent and when something is genuinely important he'll make sure it happens.

'Now now, enough of that,' he said gruffly, though I could tell he was secretly pleased. It had been a long time since I had last been so carefree and open with him, and I resolved to be more spontaneous. 'I'm about finished here now, Ginny. What say we floo home for dinner together?'

I blushed. 'Actually, I just said I'd go to dinner with Harry. We haven't done anything fun together in ages. I promise I'll be back tonight, though so you can tell Mum not to worry.'

I hugged him again, gathered up the large file he'd just passed to me and headed back to Harry's office. I was able to push my worries aside as we had dinner then went to a Muggle movie. Spending time with Harry calmed me down and I was able to relax and enjoy just doing nothing important. I reflected as I flooed home, sadly alone, that we didn't spend time together on dates any more. It was always just hanging out at Harry's place or doing something work-related. It had been so lovely to just do nothing together that I thought I might suggest doing nothing much again tomorrow night, depending how his work and my research were going.

Next morning, after I'd endured a stiffly polite breakfast with Mum, where neither of us brought up the wedding date, I retreated to my room to pore over the artefact list. Using Dad's list I was able to narrow down what I'd done earlier yesterday into something more manageable, but it still looked like a formidable task. But by lunchtime I had something which looked coherent-ish.

Wand of Alsalom – circa 200 AD. Reportedly so old it is no longer usable due to breakdown of the dragon sinew core. Value 1,000,000 galleons

Merlin's Beard – (I admit, I giggled when I first read this one). Wisps of hair purportedly belonging to Merlin himself. Snagged from his beard in the legendary fight between him and Muggle King Arthur. No known uses. Value cannot be accurately calculated, but insured for 2,000,000 galleons.

Stone of Ascension – No known use. Reported to have belonged to the witch Cassandra of Troy. Brought to England with the invasion by the Romans. No known use. Value 500,000 galleons

Muggle scrolls. Written by Chaucer, detailing Muggle-Wizard interactions. Kept hidden once Wizards went into hiding. No monetary value, but inestimable damage could be done if Muggles find them and realise they are true stories.

Sword. Unknown lineage, but possibly belonged to the Lone Centurian, reportedly a wizard who used a philosopher's stone or something similar to live forever. His whereabouts are unknown at this time, but the sword dates to circa 180 AD. Value undecided.

Robe. Circa 1 BC. Rumoured to be worn by the wizard Pontius Pilate. No intrinsic value, but if provenance is certified then will be worth millions of galleons. Insured for 500,000 galleons.

So. There they were. Dad was right that on first look they didn't seem to hold any mysteries. Certainly the Muggle scrolls didn't seem worth anything – any stories in them could be written off as fantasy by the Muggles who read them. They certainly were no real threat. The sword, too, seemed innocuous – merely an old artefact of a brilliant wizard. The other four, however, I thought might bear some investigating. We had no guarantee the wand was too old to be used and it may have some extra power attached which could make it intriguing to someone. I mean, the elder wand was more than just a wand. It did seem to have more power, and also more evil, attached. There was no reason something similar couldn't be true of this wand. The stone, too, could be imbued with power. After all, the only other named stones in the wizarding world had been proven to have true power. And then there was the robe and the hair. Both could easily be useful above and beyond their value. I determined to visit the library again – and to see if Hermione knew anything more about any of them.

Right now, though, I was exhausted. I toyed with skipping lunch and just sleeping for the afternoon, but my tummy rumbled and reminded me that I was currently eating for two of us so I should eat something. I headed downstairs to face Mum's inquisition about where I'd been with Harry the night before and her further pressure regarding moving the wedding forward. It took all my skill to keep my cool as I hurriedly ate and tried to avoid engaging with her. I was immensely relieved when I was able to leave the table, kiss her on the cheek and floo to the cafe where Hermione and I liked to meet.

Other than the library, which was too quiet for the sort of discussion I hoped to have that afternoon, this cafe was my favourite place to study. It was cheerful, noisy (which I appreciated if we had something we needed to discuss without being overheard), and I could always get a pot of tea when I wanted to take a short break. I sent a patronus to Hermione asking her if she could meet me there if she was free, hoping that since it was still lunchtime for the Ministry she would be able to take the time to see me. Her return patronus said she was, so I set up my study at the only remaining table, which hadn't even been cleaned yet from the previous patron, and waited for her to arrive.

She walked in a few minutes later and I smiled at her.

'How are you feeling?' she asked as she slipped into the seat on the other side of the table from me.

'Fine. Tired. Frustrated.' I sighed. 'I barely get to see Harry anymore now that Mum has insisted that I live at the Burrow full time again.'

Hermione made sympathetic noises as I talked and we slid into our usual easygoing lunchtime camaraderie where I detailed my various frustrations with Mum and she ranted about the annoying people at work. Soon, however, I became tense and she noticed immediately.

'What's up?' She asked. 'You're not yourself today.'

I grimaced. 'I can't tell you all of it, but I've been doing some research. What do you know about any of these artefacts?' I slid the parchment across the table to her. She perused it with lips pursed. The busboy came over to clean the table and set it up for us, but Hermione was so involved in her reading that she could barely manage 'hmmmm?' when asked to pass down some hard-to-reach plates. I laughed and turned to the poor confused kid.

'She always gets like this when she's reading.'

On cue, Hermione muttered, 'Oh that's odd. Location of that has been unknown for centuries ...'

I passed the plates over, looked at Hermione again, saw she was still deep in thought and headed to the counter to order us a pot of tea to share.

By the time I returned, Hermione was sitting back with a frown on her forehead.

'Where did you find these?' she asked. 'There's very little that connects any of them; it's a very odd collection.'

'I can't tell you.' I blushed when she searched my face. 'I can't, literally. It's charmed.'

Hermione nodded understanding, and I added, 'is there anything weird there? I'm at the end of what I can figure out. The sword and the muggle writings seem to be on the level, but the others ...' I sighed. 'I'm trying to figure out if any of them is significant. If there's some reason someone would target them.'

'I honestly don't know,' Hermione looked frustrated. 'I've heard of all of these, except for the sword, but they're just mentioned as very old things. Well, except for Merlin's Beard, of course.'

I gaped at her. 'Why 'of course'? I've only heard of it as a curse word.'

'Exactly,' Hermione said, sounding smug. 'Its mystique has passed down the ages, obviously. We don't know why it was important, but clearly it was.'

I must have looked as confused as I felt because she sighed in exasperation. 'It's always the things which hold most power in a community which become the forbidden words. Look at Muggle culture – Jesus Christ, sexual words etc. Things which had power in Muggle life; those are the words which become curses – because they have shock value. Obviously, by the same token, there was something about Merlin's Beard that was important to wizarding culture. Something which made it shocking enough to become a curse.' She sat back at the end of her lecture.

I sighed. 'It doesn't help, though. I still have no idea why someone would be interested in it because I don't know what it does.'

'And besides,' said Hermione, pouring the tea which had just arrived, 'no-one knows if it even still exists, let alone where it might be hidden if it does.'

'No,' I agreed, though my mind was whirring. Could this be it? This thing I giggled over and only added to the list so I could share the joke? Could it really be Merlin's Beard? Or ...

'What if someone has something which could be the beard but isn't?' I asked. Hermione looked quizzical, so I added, 'what if someone does know what was important about it but doesn't have it? It wouldn't matter if it was real if they could fabricate a good fake, right?'

'I guess so,' Hermione mused. 'But if it's got magical power then it's likely the real one would be necessary.'

'Hmmm.' I sat back. My mind was whirring more than ever. If my hunch was correct then whether or not the artefact in our vault was the real beard didn't matter. It might be enough just for someone to believe it was to achieve whatever our burglar wanted.

My stomach churned suddenly and I gasped as I felt an intense cramping sensation. I gripped my cup tightly and willed myself to breathe through the pain. Shortly, the gripping cramp dissipated and I sighed in relief. I noticed Hermione staring at me in concern and I smiled at her.

'It's nothing,' I said. 'It's been coming and going all day ... must be something I ate...'

'Rubbish,' she said. 'That looked rough and I think you should see a doctor – we don't want anything to happen to that baby, now do we?'

I shuddered and shook my head. She was right; I really should get it checked out. I didn't think the charm could be breaking yet, but that didn't mean I should be taking anything for granted.

'Okay,' I said. 'Let's go. But when your worrying is sorted out I want to think some more about these artefacts.'

We headed to a doctor she knew, but through the whole procedure – where, much to my delight, I was pronounced in perfect health and the cramps 'nothing to worry about' – my mind was still on Merlin's Beard. I was sure this was the clue we were after, but how on earth was I going to figure out why it was important without spilling the beans to someone and jeopardising everything?