Chapter 1 – Addicted
Harry Potter's best friends would say that he was addicted to many things. Ron Weasley would say he was addicted to his morning routine. Harry got up, let the post-owls in, took a shower and had breakfast. Every morning it was the same – it was nothing big, but if something got in the way and he had to skip the thing, he was liable to be very grouchy for the rest of the day. Or so Ron would say.
Ron would also say that Harry was addicted to work. It was common knowledge in the Ministry of Magic by now that Harry Potter was a workaholic. If one paid attention, it would be quite easy to notice that indeed, there was only one day in the week when Harry Potter could not be seen in the Ministry during the day. And that was Sunday, when the Ministry was closed to everyone but the Magical Law Enforcement – therefore, anyone paying attention to Harry's goings wouldn't be there. Harry actually did spend most Sundays in his office, finishing incomplete projects, writing reports and waiting for something interesting to come up.
Ron kept telling him that it was unhealthy. Ron could have been right, but Harry considered the alternative considerably more dangerous to both his health and his sanity.
Hermione Weasley, Harry's surrogate sister and Ron's wife, would say that Harry was addicted to danger. She would, on the same breath, say that he was also addicted to hurting himself emotionally and to getting himself so mixed up he needed to ask her which way was up. iBut to each their own./i She was very fond of telling him that. If he had to do it, she would help him sort himself out when he was done with his thing.
Something he definitely got no pleasure from was an abrupt, noisy awakening. He absolutely loathed those, actually. That was one of the reasons why the sound of the doorbell ringing in the middle of the night had upset him so. He was sitting up in his bed, now wide awake, his wand tightly in his grasp, panting and trying to get his head straight. The noise had caught him unawares, and after just being ambushed in what was supposed to be a routine raid yesterday, he had already been on edge. Harry cursed as he realised he had just hexed the mirror on the wall opposite his bed. His mutterings got a shade darker as the doorbell rang again.
With a deep sigh, Harry slowly got to his feet, repairing the shattered mirror with a lazy flick of his wand. Being an Auror had made him quite paranoid, and the piercing sound of the doorbell suddenly disrupting his slumber had been enough to shock him into action.
After glancing at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand, Harry cursed again – it was 4 o'clock in the bloody morning. If he hadn't been peacefully asleep just moments before, he might have been curious; no one he knew would bother to ring the doorbell, even in the middle of the night like now. Then again, no one he knew would voluntarily visit him at this time of the night.
The doorbell rang for the third time, and Harry finally started walking, putting on the lights as he went. The floor felt uncomfortably cold under his feet, and he found himself wishing he had just silenced the source of the noise and gone back to sleep. When he reached the door he realised he hadn't even thought of putting on a shirt – he usually slept topless, a habit he had acquired about a year after he had moved to this flat. Sighing again, Harry finally opened the door, knowing it would be quite rude to just go get a shirt and then get back.
When he recognised the person behind his door, he immediately regretted his decision. He should've fetched a shirt. He should've taken a shower, combed his hair and maybe picked up a girlfriend somewhere. Half awake, his hair even messier than usually, wearing nothing but a pair of old pyjama bottoms wasn't the way to greet her. Not to mention he was a mess otherwise: he knew he was pale, and there was a rather deep, only half-healed vertical gash from his chest to his stomach.
She seemed almost as surprised to see the state he was in as he was to see her. She had made herself scarce for the last two years, but he could still read her expressions and body-language like an open book. She was very tense, and looked a little ill in his opinion: her vibrant red hair was hanging limply in a loose ponytail, her skin was so pale it was nearly white and there were dark circles under her sad eyes.
Preparing himself for a long conversation, he wordlessly stepped aside to let her in. She slipped past him quietly, taking off her coat and hanging it in the closet almost reflexively. It still was the same closet in the same place, so it might have really been a reflex, Harry mused. She led the way to the kitchen, apparently comfortable walking around without directions.
Of course, she didn't need directions – she had practically lived there with him for two years. She didn't ask where Harry was going when he took a detour to his bedroom to pick up a T-shirt, just sat patiently in the kitchen, nervously fingering the charm of her necklace. When Harry sat down opposite her, he realised it was a necklace he had given her for her birthday almost two years ago. He had bought her a ring that same Autumn; it was still stored in his drawer. The chance to give it to her had come and gone long ago, but he hadn't had the heart to get rid of it yet.
"I'm sorry I came so early. I didn't wake you up, did I?" she asked quietly. The look in her eyes was still slightly frightened. It worried Harry; she wasn't one to get scared easily.
"Ginny – it's four AM. Everyone's asleep right now," he told her shortly. She flinched at his words. Harry stared at her thoughtfully – this wasn't the Ginny Weasley he had known and loved. She would have made a smart comeback, or glared at him, not flinched. Something was seriously wrong.
"You're right, it's too early. I'm really, really sorry, I shouldn't have come. Ron was right. You'd have to be insane." Her words were merely a whisper now, and it seemed to Harry that she was almost talking to herself. She was already getting up, but a look from Harry stopped her.
"You don't just wake people up in the middle of the night to tell them it's too early to come for a chat. Sit down and tell me why you're here," he said. He wasn't very friendly, but he wasn't unkind either. Something about his words seemed to encourage her, for she sat back down and glanced around.
"You wouldn't happen to have any tea, would you? It's a long story." Harry immediately got up to make her some, knowing Ginny only asked for tea before important, serious conversations. He should know – he had had talks with her around this very same table for what now seemed like a thousand times, and she had only wanted to have tea while they talked once. One single bloody time, and they hadn't talked after that for two years. Not until now.
If this was going to be anything like that time, he would need to compose himself. The time it took to make tea was perfect for that – he had a feeling Ginny had found that out, as well, because when he sat back down, two mugs full of Earl Grey in hand, she looked slightly calmer than she had before. He handed her one of the mugs and she took it, smiling very slightly as her hand touched his. Harry tried to keep his face straight at her reaction, but he couldn't help frowning slightly. Just what was going on with her?
"Thank you, Harry." She sipped on her steaming tea and smiled hesitantly at him. "Again, I'm really sorry to come in the middle of the night, but I didn't have much choice. I visited Ron and Hermione earlier, but they can't help me. They tried, but they just couldn't figure it out."
That brought Harry up short – if Ron and Hermione couldn't help her, why had she come to him? Hermione Weasley was still the brightest witch Harry knew, and he knew many bright witches. Ron was almost as good an Auror as Harry was. If they couldn't help Ginny, Harry highly doubted he would be of any use to her.
"Why did you come to me? They should've told you..." Harry's words were cut off by Ginny's deep sigh.
"Ron thought that you'd have to be insane to help me with anything anymore, at first, and he told me as much. But after they'd tried to make some sense of the stuff I told them, he told me to come to you. He was sure you'd know what's going on," she told him, sounding very tired. The desperate look she shot him was enough to shock Harry into mentally promising himself he'd help her. The Ginny Weasley he had known had never looked so desperate. "Please, please, Harry, hear me out. Don't say no before you know what it's about."
"I'll listen to you, and I'll do my best to help you, but only if there's something I can do, all right? I'm not promising anything. If Ron and Hermione were helpless, well... I don't know how much I can do for you." Ginny sighed again as Harry stopped talking, this time in relief. She smiled to him gratefully. It was only a ghost of the radiant smile that he knew, but it was enough to make him forget what he had been thinking about earlier.
Harry idly wondered what he had gotten himself into as he tore his eyes away from her, glancing around the room in an act of random paranoia. He didn't like being thrown off balance, and that was the effect Ginny had on him – being confused served no higher purpose, yesterday had proved that. Losing composure even for a second earned you a short stay in St Mungo's and some time off of work to get yourself back to full health.
And now, he had just as good as promised Ginny that he'd help her, and if a smile from her could make him lose his train of thought... Maybe it wasn't such a good idea, after all. He wouldn't be able to concentrate around her. Instinct and experience told him that it wouldn't be a good thing.
"Thank you. Not everyone would have let me in... with our history and all..." Ginny was sincerely thankful, but her words only increased Harry's discomfort. He really didn't want to discuss their history right now, he was distracted enough as it was.
"Let's not talk about that, OK?" he asked her brusquely. "Tell me why you need my help."
"Right. Sorry. Do you still follow Quidditch?" Ginny's question confused Harry even further, but it wasn't hard to hide it behind irritation – he didn't like riddles this early in the morning.
"Is the sky still blue?" She snorted at his answer, but he could see some honest amusement in her eyes.
"That was a stupid question, I know. Have you noticed I've been on the reserves after Christmas?"
Ginny had been playing Quidditch ever since she got out of Hogwarts. She was an outstanding Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies, and she had used to try to coerce him into changing careers every summer when a few teams persistently contacted him. He had never agreed, wanting to do something that felt more important to him. Flying was fun, and if she wanted to do it for a living it was fine with him, but he had always wanted to be an Auror, and so an Auror he would be.
"Yes, I've noticed. Ron mentioned you were injured in a practice a few days before Christmas, I didn't ask for details," he replied, absently shaking his head, trying to get rid of the memories for now. Ginny and he had talked about those things years ago. Those years weren't coming back, so thinking about them was fairly useless.
"Ron was right, I was injured. I was first hit by a Bludger, then I fell about fifty feet to the stands. It doesn't sound like anything unusual for Quidditch, except for the Bludger had been hexed to follow me. And I didn't fall off my broom – it just stopped working," Ginny told him. Harry instinctively sat up straighter, his curiosity stirring. The memories of times long gone were wiped out of his head immediately – all ties to Ginny put aside, this was beginning to sound like a very interesting case.
"A little after that, I started getting really weird letters. Someone really didn't want me to play. I got all sorts of threats, there were more weird accidents with the equipment... Finally I asked the team's management to put me to the reserves before someone got seriously hurt.
"They tried to find whoever was behind it with some 'experts', but it was no use – none of those people knew what they were doing. The threats stopped when it was announced that I wouldn't play for the rest of the season. I was fine with that, since I really needed a holiday at that point. But then, a few weeks back, I started getting those letters again."
Ginny was getting tenser again. Harry could see it in her face, and in her movements as she paused to take another sip from her tea. All the stress evident on her face made her look a lot older to him – but then again, she had just turned twenty when he had really seen her last. She was a few months shy of twenty-two now, so it was only natural that she looked older. Maybe it wasn't just the stress.
For some reason, this thought saddened Harry.
"This time, they had nothing to do with Quidditch. The first of those said that I should take a walk in the Hyde Park that Saturday, from three to four, or something nasty would happen," Ginny continued her story. "At first, I thought it was a joke – a rather sick joke, but nothing I needed to take seriously. Then I found my cat dead outside the door of my flat."
"Wait – your cat? The little kitten I gave you?" Harry asked, startled. Ginny nodded. Her expression confused Harry slightly. She was smiling – very faintly, but definitely smiling – and at the same time, there were tears in her eyes.
"Except Sparkles wasn't really a little kitten anymore. He was almost the size of Crookshanks, actually," she told him quietly. Harry took a deep breath to compose himself again.
The cat hadn't been his, and he hadn't seen Sparkles in two years, but he had been very fond of the creature when it had lived in his flat. The thing had reminded him of Hedwig – its eyes had been the same colour Hedwig's eyes were; rather unusual for a cat, and the main reason Harry had bought it for Ginny. She had named it Sparkles, not because it was particularly sparkly by nature or in appearance, but because she claimed Harry's eyes sparkled when the kitten looked at him.
Ginny had wanted to leave it with him, but he had told her he wouldn't have time to take care of it. He would be busy with work, he had said. He hadn't really even missed the cat before now, but he was sad it was dead.
"Yeah, he would've grown in two years. Go on," Harry said as he noticed Ginny was staring at him worriedly.
"I was upset, and I wanted to know what had killed him, so I took him to a vet. The bloke told me that there was no poison in his system, no disease, nothing. Sparkles was healthy and as far as the veterinarian was concerned, the cat should've lived for years. There was no cause of death to be found," Ginny went on. Harry felt all colour draining from his face.
"Don't tell me the vet's a Muggle. Someone used Avada Kedavra on your cat?" he asked her, his throat suddenly dry. He had no idea what the hell was going on, but Ginny was definitely in big trouble. As she nodded to confirm Harry's suspicions, he cursed under his breath.
"And there's more. There were other oddities because I never did anything they asked me to, but nothing as big as killing the cat. Mostly they were harmless, irritating things, like orders done on my name for the weirdest of things and a few letters to my brothers and my parents. But yesterday, I got the worst one by far." Ginny took a deep breath and stared at Harry, looking scared again. Something told Harry that he would be better off not knowing; his instincts screamed at him to stop the conversation there before it got weirder and go back to sleep, but he asked anyway.
"What was it?"
Ginny cringed at his question and buried her face in her hands. She muttered something, but whatever she said was muffled by her hands.
"I can't hear you, Gin, you know that." Harry felt like banging his head on the table as Ginny's head snapped up and her eyes locked to his. He really shouldn't have used that old nickname. He wasn't about to apologise, however.
"The letter said they'd target you if I didn't visit George at the shop by noon," she whispered finally. Harry gulped again. They had received an anonymous tip at the Auror office at half past twelve, telling of Death Eater activity on a house on the outskirts of London. Harry and Ron had been sent to investigate. Harry had opened the door, stepped in, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in St Mungo's a few hours later with a deep wound from his chest to his stomach with no recollection of the events after he left the office.
Ron had told him that almost as soon as the door had cracked open, a curse had hit him, sending him flying backwards a flight of stairs. The Healers had said he was lucky not to have broken his neck, and that they were fairly certain that the poor attempt to gut him like a fish would leave no permanent scars. Whoever had attacked him had left before Ron had even seen who it was.
"I'm assuming you didn't go to Diagon Alley," Harry stated dryly, taking in what Ginny was telling him. He didn't really know whether to be angry, sad or both because she had gambled with his life like that. He settled for calm, for the time being.
"No, Harry. I went to the shop. I did what they asked me to do, and still, when I went to visit Mum and Dad at the Burrow after that, my mother was practically hysterical because you had nearly died. Or at least, Ron had told her you were very lucky to be still alive. Apparently, whatever did that to you," Ginny gestured vaguely to his stomach, "would have been lethal if it had hit you a little higher.
"I'm so, so sorry, Harry. It's all my fault you were attacked. You'll be all right, won't you? It won't leave a scar, right?" She seemed honestly worried for his safety and very concerned about his wellbeing – it was the first hint of the old Ginny he had seen so far, and he remembered just how very much he missed her. He shook his head slightly, angry with himself – he should've just stayed in bed. This was hopeless. He wouldn't be able to help her, not with their history.
"No, it shouldn't leave a scar. I'm fine, don't worry about me," he told her. "Was that all or is there more?"
"Well, there is one other odd thing," Ginny said slowly. "The letters. They never came by owls. They just... appeared. Like the last one – I woke up, walked to the kitchen to let the post owls in, went through the post and put it on the table. I left to take a shower and got dressed, and when I came back, the letter was on the counter. I'm sure it didn't come with the rest of the mail, and even if it had, I certainly hadn't left it there."
Harry groaned audibly, earning a worried glance from Ginny.
"Right. With the wards you have up – if you haven't changed them – it means that someone came into your flat, put the letter there, and either left or still is there. Either way, it's not safe in there anymore." Ginny was staring at him in shock when he finished, shaking her head in disbelief.
"I'm sorry, Ginny, but you're not going back there without Aurors. You can stay here, you can go to the Burrow, or you can live with Ron and Hermione, but you can't go back there. It looks like whoever you've pissed off isn't fooling around, and for as long as we don't know how they got in, they can do it again," Harry continued. "I can go with you later today to get some of your things, but after that, you need to stay away from there."
"OK, I can do that. Can you make any sense of any of this? I have no idea what these people want from me or what I might've done to get anyone after me, much less who might be doing this," Ginny told him, looking and sounding very desperate. But in his opinion, she'd have to be rather desperate to come to ask him for help after she had avoided him like the plague for so long. He knew her, her pride and her stubborn nature; she wouldn't have come to him if she could have avoided it.
"Well, it's a little too early in the morning for rational thinking, but I got the feeling they've been testing you," Harry started slowly. "They wanted to see how far they had to go before you would co-operate. They started big, with bodily harm to you and your team mates, but nothing too serious yet. You pulled out, but they couldn't be sure why you did it – were you scared or just tired? Did they get to you or did you just need a break?"
Harry sighed again, taking a sip of his tea, his mind reeling. He didn't like the direction his thoughts were heading to.
"So they gave it a rest, waited while you had your holiday, and then they struck again. You didn't do what they asked you to, and they killed your cat. You still wouldn't do what they wanted you to, so they... What was it? Sent letters to your family?" Ginny only nodded in response.
"I'm not sure what they were going for with that, but they've proven they know where to find your brothers and parents. And apparently, they know a lot about you – they knew you had a cat, they know the people you're close to, and enough other stuff to order things on your name. They let you know this; maybe they didn't mean to, or maybe you just didn't think of it, but it was definitely a big thing after they'd used Avada Kedavra on your cat and proven that they're certainly serious.
"They practically threatened your family, but you still didn't do as they asked. And then they went after me. That got you moving," Harry tiredly rubbed his eyes, holding his glasses up with his other hand. "So now whatever you actually think of me doesn't matter – they think I'm one of your weaknesses. That makes me a very useful bargaining tool for them. Maybe your entire family is in danger, or then it's just me. We'll just have to wait and see."
"I've already dragged you into this mess permanently?" Ginny's skin was developing a greenish tinge, and she looked ready to pass out as Harry nodded.
"It looks like it. Mind you, I don't know how much of this is actually true and how much I'm guessing, and even if I'm right, well... You didn't do it on purpose. You went to see George because you wanted to keep me out of it. Besides, I've dragged you into a few tough spots along the years. You're just... evening the score. I don't really mind." Ginny chuckled, staring into Harry's eyes, smiling slightly.
"You're still a lousy liar, Harry. You do mind. And we were already even – you hardly ever put me in any kind of danger, and when you did, I had to practically fight my way in. I always volunteered. I should've come to you earlier, I shouldn't have just blindly believed that they'd leave you alone," she muttered. "I was so stupid."
"Well, it won't happen again, right? There was no harm done – well, no permanent damage, at least – so don't feel too guilty. I'm fine and we'll get to the bottom of this before they can hurt anyone else." Harry's tones left no room for arguing, so Ginny let it drop.
"What did Ron and Hermione think about all this? When did you talk with them?" Harry couldn't shake the feeling that he was interrogating Ginny – in a way he was, but for some reason, that whole idea seemed wrong to him.
"I was with them for hours before I came here. I left the Burrow at ten, went to Ron and Hermione's place, and came to talk to you," Ginny chose to reply the last question first. "Their point of view was a lot more subjective than yours. I don't know... Ron just reacted like he used to, jumped to conclusions and got angry, especially when I told them you ended up in St Mungo's because of this. You really gave him a scare earlier.
"I think it was a little too close to home for him, you know? His best mate nearly got killed by the people who want something from his baby sister. He'll be more help when he calms down, I knew that even before he told me so. And Hermione didn't know what to make of it – first killing my cat and then sending letters didn't seem logical to her. Ron was right, everyone should know you're a lot better at this sort of thing than they are – you already have a plausible theory, they just kept asking for details. I don't know why I didn't come to you earlier."
"You're still a lousy liar. We both know why you didn't come to me earlier," Harry stated dryly. Ginny snorted again, but this time it was not in amusement. She shot a dirty look at him, but he ignored it completely, not really bothered in the slightest.
"Wait – what did you just say? Ron was right, everyone should know I'm a lot better at this stuff than they are?" Harry asked suddenly, his brain kicking into action again as the dishonesty of Ginny's last statement was pushed aside. As Ginny nodded, the alarms went off in his head. "And by everyone, did he really mean everyone?"
"Yeah, just about. According to him, it's clear at the Ministry that you'd be the best man to a job like this," Ginny replied, somewhat baffled. Harry just stared at her, his thoughts racing a mile a minute.
"Harry? Is everything all right?" Ginny was looking at him worriedly, obviously concerned as he had just fallen into a pensive silence.
"When you left, what did you tell the press?" Harry's abrupt question surprised Ginny.
"I thought you didn't want to talk about our history?" Her expression was highly sceptic. It was clear to Harry she wanted to know what was going on.
"I don't want to, but it looks like we have to. What did you say in your statement?" Harry's frustration was beginning to become clear in his tones, and Ginny sighed slightly.
"That I wanted to concentrate on Quidditch for a while and even though you had never been anything but supportive, our relationship had slowly turned into an unwelcome distraction. We both needed to focus on our careers, so it was for the best," she recited dully.
"Yeah, right, unwelcome distraction, that was the phrase I was looking for," Harry told her with a wry smile that had no real humour behind it.
"You know press releases about relationships are mostly codswallop. Did you have a point to this?" Ginny asked, visibly irritated. Her ears were getting reddish – as with any other Weasley, it was a sign of trouble ahead.
"Yes, actually, I do. Everyone in the Ministry knows I'm good with stuff like this. It's not a farfetched idea to say that a lot of people outside the Ministry know, as well, given how eager people still are when it comes to everything I do." It couldn't be more evident from his tones that Harry was very irritated with this fact. "Everyone also knew how close we used to be, after all the fuss the press made about it. Loads of people read the statement you gave when we went our separate ways, to use a term your mother seems to be very fond of. What if these people aren't after you? What if they're after me?
"Just think about it. You're not that hard to locate – any idiot could find out where you live, it would only take a few minutes if you knew where to look. Your wards aren't the best in the world. If they wanted to get to me, they couldn't use anyone that really is close to me, because they're all much harder to get to. Ron and Hermione's wards are almost as strong as mine. Andromeda and Teddy are out because their wards are better than in Hogwarts – Andromeda upgrades them once a year. After all that's happened to her, I can't blame her for being careful. I visit your parents occasionally, but I could count on one hand the times they've been here, even though I've lived here for years, and Ron's lived here, too. Same goes with most of your brothers."
"But if they were after you, why would they pay so much attention to me for so long? This started before Christmas, and it's May now. There would've been faster ways to you," Ginny argued, slightly confused. Harry shook his head slightly.
"They needed to start early with you. I was an unwelcome distraction from Quidditch, remember? If you hadn't come to me, there would've been a chance that they would get caught by whoever you asked for help, and I'd be blissfully ignorant of the whole thing," he explained. "But this is all speculation. They could be after me, but it seems more likely that it's you they want. I don't know what it is that you've done to deserve this – probably nothing – and I have absolutely no idea who I'm referring to when I talk about 'them', so I don't really know anything yet."
"So you're saying that it could be me, you, or then we're completely missed something and it's neither one of us?" Ginny's tones and expression were thoughtful. As far as Harry was concerned, she had gotten the gist of what he was saying, so he nodded in agreement.
"Why couldn't it be both? It makes sense that they've been driving me towards you, but if they just wanted you, any random witch would've been as useful as I am. Picking someone more easily scared would've been a lot faster – you're the best man for the job, so it would have been assigned to you, anyway." Ginny was a little hesitant as she began explaining her thoughts to him, but something about Harry's expression seemed to encourage her, for her voice grew stronger as she spoke.
"Of course we have to take that into consideration. It's just that... Well, I could name about a hundred people who could do something like this to me, and I'm sure that not everyone loves you, but someone who wanted something from both of us?" Harry asked dubiously, shaking his head slightly.
"Why do you keep saying they want something from one of us? There are plenty of people who'd like nothing more than seeing you get killed. You sound like that's ruled out," Ginny questioned. Harry shrugged.
"They had a chance to do that already. These people don't seem to be shy with the Unforgivables – there would've been plenty of different ways to kill your cat, but they chose Avada Kedavra. Yet, they didn't kill me. I made a big mistake, whoever attacked me could've just as well got it over with and do me in. Besides, if they wanted to kill me, they'd only need to arrange a trap and lure me there. It'd be easier than all this, no need for big schemes," he explained. Ginny stared at him in shock.
"You know that the way you talk is just a little too casual, don't you? You nearly died today and you're not even upset about it!" she exclaimed, looking a little ill again.
"I almost get killed every other week. Duels and attacks are part of the job, and there are risks in every fight. You could ask Ron and Hermione, they both know it's not the safest job there is. Getting upset about is useless – I chose this job myself," Harry pointed out. "Oh, and no telling your mother about all this. There's enough fuss about the tight spots she happens to hear about somewhere else, and those are mild compared to most our cases. Ron doesn't want to worry her for nothing."
"For nothing?" Ginny repeated shrilly. "This is nothing?"
"Ginny, after all Ron and I did during the war, we get most of the toughest and trickiest cases. Kingsley's orders. This is almost nothing yet compared to everything we've handled, aside from the personal ties to it. You know this, we told you when we found out," Harry retorted, slightly irritated. She knew all this, he didn't really need to explain it again.
"Oh. You're right, I'd just forgotten," she said quietly. "This is certainly... strange. I used to know so much about you and you knew just about everything about me, but now... It feels like I don't know you at all anymore."
"Yeah, funny how that happens," Harry remarked dryly. It would be easier, he decided, if he just treated Ginny like someone he used to know but who was a complete stranger to him now. This shouldn't be anything but a job to him. It would better for his sanity, and much easier in the long run.
"You should make a list of people who don't like you, seem odd to you or who you're not on speaking terms with – we'll see if there's anyone who I know. That should take you a while. It might be safer to stay here for now, we'll talk about your living arrangements later – with Ron. Now, while you do that, I'll go get some sleep. Otherwise, I'm liable to start hexing people at work later," he continued nonchalantly.
"You're going to work today? You were injured yesterday!" Ginny cried out. Harry smiled slightly.
"That's just good news to you, since it means progress. My colleagues will try to get rid of me, obviously, even get the Minister to talk some sense to me, but they'll give up eventually. I'm not even going to do any fieldwork – taking up your case means loads of research first," he told her. "You know where I keep the parchment, get started on that list."
"Ginny? What are you doing here? What's that? A list?" Ron's voice shook Ginny out of her daze – she hadn't really slept at all last night, and now that her list was complete there was nothing to do, so her exhaustion was catching up with her. She looked up to see her youngest brother and his wife standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
"It's certainly been a while since the last time we came to visit Harry and found you here instead," Hermione remarked. Ginny sighed.
"I'm still here only because Harry told me not to go home. I'm supposed to be making a list of everyone who might be doing this to me," she answered her brother's questions. Ron sat down opposite Ginny, peering at the list curiously.
"Did Harry make any sense of your story?" he asked, suddenly all business. Ginny nodded.
"Yeah, he has a good theory already. Two theories, actually. Or three, depending on how you want to look at it. But you should ask him, I'd get it wrong at some point," she told him.
"Where is Harry, anyway? Has he escaped to the Ministry already?" Hermione asked, looking around as if she expected Harry to suddenly be standing next to her.
"He went back to bed. I suppose he's still asleep," Ginny replied, slightly puzzled by Hermione's odd behaviour – surely they would hear when Harry got there? Her musings were interrupted by a derisive snort from the doorway, the same spot next to Hermione where Ron had just been standing. Hermione, Ron and Ginny all jumped, Ginny nearly falling off her chair.
"Still asleep with all this racket you're making?" Harry shook his head remorsefully.
"Harry, I've told you to stop doing that!" Hermione cried out shrilly, and suddenly her wariness made sense to Ginny. Apparently, Harry had been picking up old habits. "I'll be as paranoid as you are soon if you keep that up!"
"Sorry," Harry said, chuckling, not apologetic at all, "old habits die hard. Besides, I'm not even really paranoid yet. You should know, you were there when Ron was yelling at me for it for half an hour last night."
"Not paranoid?" Hermione repeated dubiously. "So if I went to check that mirror on your bedroom wall, I'd see it hasn't been fixed today?"
"After being ambushed yesterday, waking up to the sound of a doorbell sounds enough like the alarms we use. Just be glad she didn't Apparate to my bedroom," Harry grumbled, his eyes twinkling in amusement.
"Yes, she would've been cut in half, I'm sure," Hermione told him dryly. Harry shook his head again.
"Cut in half? How barbaric do you think I am?" he asked with a laugh. "Don't answer that."
"Harry, what did you think of Ginny's story?" Ron piped up, efficiently wiping the smile from Harry's face. He sighed deeply.
"They've been rising the stakes, either to see how far they had to go to get her to comply, or to get her to me. I'm not sure about that yet. First they got her away from Quidditch, then they killed her cat, threatened your family and Ginny herself, and then actually attacked me, but didn't kill me. I'd say there's something they want from me, because otherwise I'd be dead now," Harry recapped. Ron and Hermione exchanged grim looks.
"They've used Ginny to get to you? Have you checked her for tracing charms?" Ron asked. Harry shook his head.
"It's no use. The wards here reverse all disguise and tracking enhancements," he reminded his friend. "But I don't think Ginny's been just a way to me – anyone else in the UK with a threat like this looming over their head would've been directed to me. She's involved, too."
"Why did you tell her to stay here?" Ron kept questioning Harry, his manners getting increasingly protective of his sister. Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Because they've been in her flat. The letters didn't come by owls and they can't get through her wards," he said shortly. Ron shook his head.
"They could send them by Portkeys," he insisted. Harry crossed his arms over his chest – a gesture that was a sure sign of mild anger, this time at Ron's over-protectiveness and his lack of faith in Harry's abilities.
"I designed the bloody wards myself, Ron. There are very specific limits on what Portkeys will get through, and I'm fairly certain none of the people capable of creating a Portkey that could get to her flat are involved in this," Harry told him irately. "You can just get over yourself and start thinking rationally. I'm not keeping her here to take advantage of her, I'm just trying to keep her safe. I can still do my job."
"This isn't just a job! This is Ginny! My sister and your –" Harry cut Ron off with a glare.
"Maybe this isn't an ordinary job, but it still is just a job. You can't be that subjective, Ron, and you know it," he said.
"You can't be entirely objective, either," Ron encountered. "With your history, it just isn't..." His voice faded out as he saw the murderous look on Harry's face.
"Keep telling people that 'this isn't a job, it's Ginny'," Harry repeated coldly, "and you'll be put off the case faster than you can blink. I told her last night, and I'm telling you now, our history is not the subject here."
"Put off the case? Are you saying I can't do my job?" Ron asked, his ears flaming red.
"Not anymore than you're saying that I can't concentrate on what I'm supposed to be doing," Harry hissed. Ron snorted.
"Well, that isn't a very complimenting thought," he retorted. Ginny and Hermione exchanged worried looks – they had never seen Harry and Ron both this furious with each other.
"Fine. If that's what you think, fine. If you don't want me to help, I won't. I'm sorry, Ginny, but for as long as your brother can't keep his trap shut, you'll have to hope they assign someone decent to help you in the office," Harry said, his tones suddenly very light and unconcerned. "If you're lucky, you'll get Dawlish. He's got quite the track record – Fudge, Scrimgeour and Voldemort all depended on him when they were in charge, at least when it came to tracking Dumbledore and other insane escapades."
"Harry, don't talk like that," Ron growled warningly. Harry just smiled brightly at him.
"If you had listened, I would've told you I wasn't very keen on taking this case in the first place, but you just made the decision easier! I'm not taking it," he said cheerfully. "Actually, this would be the perfect time to have a holiday. I could do with a change of scenery. I think I have a house in Australia, inherited it from my dad. Or was it Sirius? Anyway, I've always wanted to see kangaroos."
"You can't be serious," Ron said, only getting angrier, knowing that Harry was deliberately winding him up.
"You're right. I shouldn't go to Australia, it'll be winter in there soon. The Caribbean sounds better, doesn't it? I've heard that the scenery in the Dominican Republic is magnificent," Harry chattered on, unconcerned of his friend's ire.
"Harry, you're not going to take off and leave my sister to fend for herself! Without someone competent, whoever is after her will get to her in a few hours!" Harry kept his cool even as Ron started shouting.
"And I'm the only competent Auror in Britain?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow, all the amusement gone as swiftly as it had come.
"Will you please stop that? She'll be dead in a week without you! You just can't pack your things and leave her to fend for herself! " Ron was more desperate than angry now, and Harry realised he really was worried, not just being a git. That did very little to lessen the sting of everything Ron had told him, however, especially of the last line.
"You can't just pack your things and go! You can't just leave me like this and tell me to have a good life!" he called after her, still standing in the kitchen, his tea now spilled all over the floor. The kitten was playing with the pieces of the broken mug.
"Considering you're supposed to be the hero of the wizarding world, you sound so desperate it's almost pathetic." Her cold retort left him more shocked than hurt.
"So you're really not going to explain?" he asked in a whisper when she came back to the kitchen to get Sparkles. She shook her head shortly.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually." With that, she Apparated out. Just a quiet 'pop', and she was gone from his life, leaving him to stand alone in the kitchen for hours to wonder just how easily he had let her go.
Harry turned to Ginny, noticing that she had also found some words of Ron's very familiar. He smiled at her, hoping he didn't look as bitter as he felt.
"I agree with you now, that does sound a little desperate," he stated. Ginny flinched noticeably, and Ron's anger seemed to change into bewilderment.
"What did I say?" he asked, looking from Harry to Ginny in confusion.
"So you're really not going to help me, then?" Ginny's voice was quiet and hesitant. Harry sighed.
"I really don't need Ron breathing down my neck all the time. If he can get over himself, well, I kind of promised already, didn't I? But one more 'she's my sister' and I'm moving permanently to some other continent." He was technically speaking to Ginny, but he was staring at Ron the entire time. "Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Ron replied instantly. "Listen, I'm sorry, mate, I kind of flew off the handle... again. I just don't want either one of you getting hurt, and this really isn't the ideal situation for that."
"No worries, Ron. Just don't start that again. I get it that you're worried, but this is not my fault, OK?" Harry was still frustrated – Ron had been acting like he thought Harry had wanted this to happen. He had wished nothing of the sort – actually, he was still sort of hoping that this would be one of his more realistic nightmares and that he'd wake up any minute now.
He would be dead in a week if he had to keep seeing Ginny daily. He just wouldn't be able to handle it. Knowing that, and still offering her the other bedroom in his flat – Ron's old room – was, for all intents and purposes, a suicide. But Harry did it anyway.
Hermione knew him, and that was why she was shaking her head sadly and staring at Harry worriedly when the petite redhead accepted his offer. Because to Hermione it had been clear since the day it had first happened; when it came to Ginny Weasley, Harry was addicted to heartbreak.