A/N — This one–shot is a missing moment — more accurately, a missing twenty–four hours — that takes place at Christmas–time during Harry's fifth year. It begins as Harry and his companions are returning to Grimmauld Place from St. Mungo's where they have seen Arthur Weasley after his attack by Nagini, and after Harry has overheard the adults talking about his being possessed by Voldemort.

This was the second fan fiction I wrote, after The Long Walk. I hope you enjoy it!



Ginny's Owl

Ginny watched the walls of the Underground tunnel as they zipped by the windows of the train. She was uncomfortably conscious of Harry sitting next to her, and far too conscious that he was barely aware of her. Whenever her mother leaned across to talk to Harry or the train swayed, her shoulder touched his. Whenever she glanced at him he was scowling. He answered her mother's questions in monosyllables or grunts, or not at all.

She tried distracting herself by looking around the car. The Muggles were all uninteresting and uninterested. George and Fred sat across from her and stared at Harry. She wished they wouldn't, and glared at them, trying to make them stop, but they ignored her. Ron was sitting on the other side of Harry and she couldn't see him. Mad-Eye and Tonks stood side by side in the aisle, holding onto the same pole, watching opposite ends of the car. Some of the Muggles were starting to notice Moody. His bowler had slipped, revealing part of his magical eye, but the eye was looking out the back of his head, not twirling around like it usually did, and he was oblivious to the hat.

Ginny wanted to say something to Harry, but he was obviously not in the mood for talking. And even if he wanted to talk, it would be foolish to say anything here in public about St. Mungo's or her father; Moody would just tell her to shut up. So rather than solicit grunts from Harry, she sat for an unhappy half–hour until they arrived at their station.

They filed off the train and up to the surface; Harry lagged towards the back of the group as he had on the way into London. He was trailed by Moody, who had adjusted his bowler to hide his eye once again, now that it was rotating in every direction and he could tell that the hat had slipped. Twelve Grimmauld Place appeared from between its two neighbors, and Ginny trooped inside with the others. The house seemed even more dank, dark, and depressing than usual, even though Sirius was in a good mood. He tried to start a conversation with Harry, but he got the same response as Ginny's mum had on the Underground..

Ginny, Harry, and Ron followed the others down to the kitchen. After a few minutes Harry left, looking tired, angry, and dispirited. Ron sat down to eat a sandwich, and Ginny poked around for a few minutes trying to help her mother, but couldn't keep her mind on anything. She soon left and went upstairs to the dingy parlor, hoping not to encounter Kreacher or arouse Sirius's mother into another screaming fit.

She sat in one of the ancient, dusty, decrepit overstuffed armchairs, and stared into the fire that Sirius had lit as soon as they had returned from hospital. She was depressed, probably not as much as Harry, but she felt the house and the circumstances getting the better of her. Too much had happened in a day and a half: awakened in the middle of the night by Professor McGonagall with news that her father had been attacked; Portkeyed from Hogwarts to Grimmauld Place; a sleepless night waiting for her mother to arrive; all the bizarreness of St. Mungo's; and Harry's foul mood. Now they would be spending Christmas in this dump, not at the Burrow. Ginny had spent every Christmas of her life either at home or at Hogwarts. She felt very sorry for herself.

There was a loud thump on the ceiling from the room above. The cobwebs on the chandelier fluttered and a haze of dust rose from it. Then came the sound of something quite heavy being dragged across the floor, and Ginny looked up. The room above was Ron and Harry's. It sounded like a piece of furniture being moved, but why would Harry be moving furniture? Besides, there was hardly anything there except for the two beds. The only other heavy things would be... Ginny abruptly stood up. Harry must be dragging his trunk across the floor, and in the direction of the door. Why would he be doing that? She knew, with a sudden lurch of fear, that Harry was going to leave.

She put her hands on her temples as she stared up at the ceiling, biting her lip. What could he be thinking? If he walked out and started wandering around the city, he would be spotted by a Death Eater for sure; they must be on the lookout for him, for anyone connected to the Order. They would certainly know by now that Harry and the rest of them had been at St. Mungo's. Harry would be dead within hours if he went out without an escort. And if he used magic to fend off an attack, or a Patronus to ward off a dementor, the Ministry would haul him in for another hearing, and who knew what would happen then.

She moved toward the door, feeling panic. She would stop Harry from leaving, and even if she couldn't forcibly prevent him, at least she could make enough of a racket to bring Sirius and her mother.

The noise from above stopped. For a moment there was quiet, but then she heard Harry talking loudly. Then quiet again. Then Harry talking loudly. Then quiet. Then Harry shouting, and Ginny could make out a few words; one of them was "Dumbledore." After a moment, the trunk was dragged away from the door, and there was silence.

The silence went on. Ginny stood for several minutes in the middle of the room staring at the ceiling. When nothing happened, she went back to the chair and sat down. She had no idea what it all meant, but obviously Harry intended to leave Grimmauld Place. How did he think he could he get past Sirius, Mad-Eye, her mother, and, thank you, herself, carrying that ridiculous trunk? But what if he tried sneaking off without the trunk? He could easily slip out at night. Ginny jumped up and started to pace around the room. For as long as she had known him, Harry had always done exactly what he wanted to do, even if it was exactly what the adults around him did not want. But maybe he would listen to a friend.

There was still no sound from the room above. Ginny slipped out of the parlor, listened for anyone nearby, and quietly went up the stairs. Outside Harry's room she took a breath, and knocked on the door.

"What?" came from inside.

'Harry, it's me. Can I come in?" Ginny said in a low voice.

"What? I can't hear – oh, come on in." Harry sounded annoyed. Ginny opened the door. He was lying on the bed, and sat up when he saw her. Ginny stepped inside and closed the door.

"Harry, are you okay?" He just looked at her, and she realized what that must have sounded like. "No," she gestured and shook her head. "Stupid question. How could you be okay? I'm sorry." Now she was embarrassed and becoming nervous. She glanced around the room. There was no one else in it, and it was as rundown and sad as the rest of the house. The only unusual thing was an empty portrait frame on the wall. For some reason it looked familiar.

Ginny turned to Harry, who seemed just as annoyed as when she had come in. He was looking out the window, which showed, through cobwebs and grime, nothing but grey sky.

"I heard you shouting. Was anyone here?" Ginny said.

"No." Harry did not look at her.

Ginny stared at him for a moment. This was not a good idea, she thought, then said aloud, "Okay, I'll see you later." She walked out and closed the door. She paused with her hand on the doorhandle, wondering why she had done that.

She met Moody and Tonks coming up the stairs. "How's Harry?" said Tonks. Mad-Eye had his good eye on Ginny and the magical one staring at right angles at the wall to Harry's room.

Ginny did not want them to get involved with Harry's problem; it would only make it worse. "I think he's all right. I just asked if he needed anything." Mad-Eye grunted and looked at her with both eyes. "He's been through a lot, you know," Ginny added. Tonks stared at her with non-magical but decidedly female eyes. Ginny blushed, and was instantly furious with herself, and she pushed past them. A few steps down she turned. "Do you know where Ron is?"

"In the kitchen with everyone else," Tonks answered, and they followed Ginny back to the basement.

Ginny knew that Moody had seen her go into Harry's room. She was angry that they had gone upstairs after her, but then thought that maybe they were afraid that she would help Harry leave. After all, they must have also heard the trunk being dragged across the floor.

In the kitchen the crowd was sitting around the large wooden table, except for Mrs. Weasley who was directing a brush cleaning pots in a tub of water. Everyone looked up as they entered.

"Where's Harry?" Sirius asked. "He needs to eat something." Ginny did not answer; she did not want any more adults wondering about her motives.

Moody spoke. "Up in his room, stewing. The boy needs to get over it. Doesn't he know he saved a man's life?"

"Give him a break," said Tonks, picking up a butterbeer from the table. "He's having a bad day." She looked at the bottle and blinked; the cork flew out, hit the ceiling, and dropped to the floor. She sat down.

'Why don't you pick up your trash?" said Sirius. "It's not like the elf does it." Tonks raised her eyebrows and gave him a smirk.

"Whatever you say. It's your house, and welcome to it." She blinked again and the cork flew off the floor and deposited itself on top of Sirius's head, where it burrowed into his hair. Sirius picked it out with a disgusted look and threw it at her, but, with another blink it vanish in mid–air. The twins and Ron hooted.

While this entertainment was happening, Ginny sat down between Ron and Fred. The adults started a conversation about magical possession and whether or not Harry would know if Lord Voldemort somehow did manage to take over his body. Ginny nudged Ron. "We need to talk," she said in a low voice. "Alone."

Ron indicated upstairs, and they left the room together; no one took notice except for Moody's magical eye. Ginny knew it was useless to hide from it, so she decided it was better to act openly. But no one seemed to care that they left. When they got upstairs Ginny steered Ron into the parlor. "What's up?' he asked.

"Harry. I tried to talk to him. He won't even look at me. He's just lying on his bed thinking that the world is about to end."

"Yeah, I know," Ron grimaced. "I tried talking to him, too. He just has to get over it."

That annoyed Ginny; Ron seemed much too casual about Harry."What do you mean, 'get over it'? He may not get over it. He was up there talking to himself, yelling actually. He was dragging his trunk across the floor to the door. I don't know why he stopped, but I think he wants to get out of here and away from all of us."

"Well," Ron retorted, "I wouldn't blame him for going somewhere else. This place is depressing."

"Oh, for— Where on earth would he go? What would he do? The second he steps out the door without Tonks or Moody or someone guarding him, they'll pick him off like a pigeon. How can you just let him do that?"

"I'm not letting him do anythingཀ" Ron snapped. But before he or Ginny could say more, something near the door caught their eyes. They both turned and saw two thin, flesh–colored strings snaking into the room. Ginny swore. She grabbed her wand from her pocket and pointed it at the Extendable Ears.

"Impedimentaཀ" she strings froze. Ginny strode over to them and started stomping on them, swearing and shouting. "This is ridiculousཀ Get these stupid things out of hereཀ Out, outཀ This house is wacko, and everyone in it's a nutterཀ Mad-Eye Moody sees everything you do, and Fred and George Weasley hear everything you sayཀ Get these bloody things out now, and keep them outཀ"

She flung the door open and kicked the Ears into the hallway. She looked up the stairwell as the strings were pulled up to the landing above.

"If I ever see those things again," she yelled, pointing her wand at them, "I'll turn them into wormsཀ" She heard sniggering from upstairs. "And you, tooཀ" She shook her wand at the voices, swore again. and turned to go back. But Ron was standing just inside the door.

"You're nutters yourself," he said, shaking his head and looking at her as though he had never seen her before. "Nice swearing, Sis, but what's wrong with you, anyway? Everyone here is looking out for Harry. It's not your job. Just leave the poor bloke alone. He has enough problems without having some ditzy girl trying to be his mum."

Ginny glared at him, fists clenched. "Best friend, huh? Just leave him be, he's a big boy?" She pushed past him into the parlor and then turned. "Harry is totally capable of doing something dumb, just like you. The only difference is that You–Know–Who isn't waiting to kill you."

Ron looked up at the room above, then at Ginny, who was still glaring. "How's Michael Corner?" he asked.

"Good Godཀ What does that have to do with anything?" Ginny's face was the color of her hair. "All right, goཀ Go to your juvenile delinquent brothers and use those pathetic Ears to listen for Death Eaters hiding under your bedཀ That's all you're good forཀ" She walked over to the door and gestured Ron to leave. He left shaking his head and muttering about ditzy girls.

Ginny slammed the door so hard that dust fell from cracks in the ceiling. She covered her head with her arms, then decided that she'd better leave before the ceiling fell in. She stormed upstairs to her room and flung herself on her bed, buried her face in the pillow, and pulled the ends of it over her head. Did everyone think that she was "interested" in Harry? She was pretty sure that even if Ron did, he wouldn't say anything; the last thing he would want is for Harry and Ginny to be an item. Besides, boys in general seemed to be fairly dense about things like that, Harry being a prime example. Tonks probably suspected something, but there was nothing Ginny could do about that now. Still, she didn't want people to start thinking about it; if her mum got ideas she would never hear the end of it.

So she could not talk about her worries to anyone else. She turned over on her back. When she put her head down she noticed that her pillow was damp; she had not even realized that she was crying. She sat up to get a towel to dry her face, and, looking at the empty bed next to hers, thought of Hermione.

Of courseཀ Why hadn't she thought of Hermione before? Even if Ron would not help, at least she and Hermione could talk to Harry together, and they would both be able to keep an eye on him. Hermione would come, Ginny was sure of it. And what a relief it would be, to have someone to talk to.

She paused. She had no idea how to contact Hermione; in fact she wasn't even sure where Hermione was. She was supposed to spend the holiday skiing with her parents. Then again, even if Ginny knew where she was, how could she contact her? She started pacing around the room, trying to think. Hermione was probably still at Hogwarts. Maybe Ginny could get someone from the Order to take a message, but she would have to tell them what was in the message, in which case she might as well tell them everything, which was the last thing she wanted to do. The floo network was out; even Dumbledore had not used it to get them out of the castle. A Portkey was a possibility, but Ginny had never made one, and although she knew the incantation, she could end up Porting Hermione anywhere, like into Lord Voldemort's hideout.

Ginny kept walking around the room, growing more and more desperate. What about the Knight Bus? Hermione would have to do it alone, and without anyone else knowing about it. Ginny had never ridden it, though, and was not even sure how to summon it. She knew that Harry had taken it from his aunt's house to the Leaky Cauldron at the beginning of her second year, but she couldn't go up to Harry's room and say, "Harry, by the way, how do you get the Knight Bus to come?"

She wandered over to the window and looked out at the grey sky. It was snowing lightly. A few birds flew by and disappeared into the fog. "Yesཀ" she said loudly, and slapped her hand over her mouth. "Yes," she whispered. Errol was in her mother's room. She could send Errol. But there were dangers there. Owls were being intercepted by the Ministry and by Umbridge. How could she summon Hermione without giving away any secrets? And she could not allow a return message; Moody or someone else would notice an owl approaching Grimmauld Place, and the whole thing would blow up.

And what about Mad-Eye? He would certainly see her sneaking into her mother's room. Well, she would have to deal with that later. Maybe she could do the job openly and send Errol before Moody or anyone else could stop her. As long as they didn't know what was in the message, they wouldn't know that it concerned Harry.

She sat down on her bed, still thinking. Okay, she could probably get an owl to Hermione, but how would Hermione get to Grimmauld Place? Well, why not leave that to her? After all, if there was a way to do it, Hermione could figure it out better than Ginny, who was hundreds of miles away from Hogwarts and whatever atrocities Umbridge was committing now.

Then she thought of Fred and George, and groaned. She would also have to do something about those two snoops. But immediately she had another idea, and smiled. "Ginny," she said to herself, "you will be carrying on the Weasley tradition." Still smiling, she got a piece of parchment and a quill from her trunk, thought for a few moments, and wrote:

Instructor not doing well. Needs organizer. Bring owl.

She studied the message. She could not think of how to be less explicit and still convey to Hermione that Harry was in trouble. It would have to do. She folded the parchment as small as she could and put it into her jeans pocket. "Now for the fun part," she thought.

The morning passed and Ginny wandered down to the kitchen to help prepare the mid–day meal. The others trickled in, and when Fred and George showed up Ginny waited until their backs were turned and slipped out of the room. A short while later she returned and was able to move back to the fireplace near her mother without drawing attention. Soon the meal began. Most of the conversation concerned her dad, and speculation about how long he would have to stay in St. Mungo's. Moody began telling a story about a snake he had encountered while hunting a Death Eater in a swamp.

There was a loud crash from upstairs, followed by shrieks and screams from the hallway. Mad-Eye stopped in mid–sentence; both of his eyes were peering up at the ceiling. Lupin's wand was out. The screaming now became clearer, and it was obviously coming from the portrait of Sirius's mother. Sirius stood up and strode to the door, pulling out his wand and muttering a string of swear words that Ginny listened to with interest even as she also got up with everyone else.

Sirius was now out the door and heading upstairs. Behind him came Lupin, Moody, Tonks, and the rest. Mrs. Weasley tried to keep the children back, but Fred and George were already gone, and Ron was close behind; only Ginny held back. When she reached the hallway everyone was standing in front of Mrs. Black, looking at the flesh–colored string–like objects draped over the portrait and wrapped around the troll's–leg umbrella stand which was lying on its side. Fred and George were staring at the scene, their faces white. The adults all turned to them at the same time. Sirius's mother had never stopped screaming.

Molly pushed her way through, took one look at the Extendable Ears, and rounded on Fred and George, who looked at her with real fear. As she began to yell at them in a voice even louder than the portrait's, Ginny sidled away down the hall, glanced back, turned the corner, and hurried up the stairs. She was certain that no one had noticed her; even Moody, whose back was turned, seemed to be concentrating completely on the twins.

Ginny opened the door to her mother's room and slipped inside. She took the parchment from her pocket. Errol was in his cage next to the window. When he saw the parchment he started to flap his wings excitedly and hopped out the cage's open door. Ginny hurried to him.

She whispered as Errol took the parchment in his beak. "To Hermione Granger. It's very important and very dangerous. Be careful. And don't fly back. Let Hermione bring you, or else go back to the Burrow." She opened the window. Errol hopped onto the sill, looked back at Ginny, and fell off, plunging toward the ground with a loud squawk. Ginny looked down, her heart in her throat, expecting to see Errol smashed on the ground below. But as she leaned out the window Errol soared past her and into the sky, still clutching the parchment in his beak and hooting triumphantly. He soon vanished into the soupy gloom.

Ginny breathed a sigh. "Well," she said to herself, "now I'm in for it." She hurried out of the room and back downstairs. When she got to the first floor the whole crowd was still standing in a circle around the twins. Everyone was shouting at them at once, even Sirius's mother. Sirius was trying to pull the drapes closed over the portrait. No one seemed to have noticed that Ginny had left and come back, not even Mad-Eye. He was standing directly in front of the twins, his flask in one hand, the other wagging a finger in George's face. As Ginny came closer, Fred looked at her and gave a start. He nudged George who also looked up. They turned to each other, eyebrows raised. Fred mouthed at Ginny, We will get you. They both glared at her.

Finally the adults had said their pieces, Mrs. Black was covered, and everyone went back down the narrow stairs to the basement. Ginny pushed ahead so that Sirius and her mother were between her and the twins. She knew there would be retaliation, but she didn't care. If she had to, she would sleep at the front door to make sure Harry stayed put. Hermione would come in the morning, she was sure of it.

Ginny hung around the basement after the meal. She wanted to avoid the twins, but she also knew that she would have to say something to her mother about Errol. Tempting as it had been to frame Fred and George for that transgression — she could have dropped a package of Skiving Skittles on the floor near Errol's cage — she did not want to get them into real trouble, not when they had actually done nothing. So when her mother finished the last Scourgify charm, Ginny followed her upstairs, and stopped her as she started to go into the parlor. "Mum, there's uh, something I need to talk to you about."

"Of course, dear. Do you want to talk here or upstairs?"

Looking past her mother, Ginny could see Fred and George sitting in the parlor. "Can we talk in your room?"

Upstairs, Molly closed the door and turned to Ginny, who took a deep breath.

"Mum," she began, "I did something I know I shouldn't have. But I really needed to. And I was afraid if I asked, you would stop me."

"Ginny, what in the world are you —" But Ginny was pointing at Errol's empty cage, and Molly turned to look. She stared at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned back to Ginny. She had a look that reminded Ginny of Tonks when Ginny had mentioned Harry.

"It's Harry, isn't it?" her mother said.

Ginny fought to keep her face blank and her voice calm. "Actually, Mum, no. I mean, yes. I mean, well, I am worried about him. Aren't you?"

"Of course. Everyone is." Molly looked at Errol's empty cage. "Then again,"she said almost to herself, "I wasn't the one who jumped into the seat next to him on the Underground." She turned to Ginny and took her by the shoulders.

"I think I know where you sent Errol. To Hogwarts with a message for Hermione?" Ginny looked down and nodded. "Well, what did you put in the owl? Ginny, look at me. I'm not angry. Not yet. But I need to know what you wrote. I know you understand what is at stake here. I need to know." Her voice was quiet, but held a steeliness that Ginny had never heard before. She was holding Ginny firmly.

Ginny told her. Molly let her go and thought for a moment.

"I think it's probably all right," she finally said, "although I don't have any idea what you're talking about. Harry's 'the instructor', but that's obvious only because I know why you sent it. But I don't know what he's the instructor of. And I don't think anyone would have noticed a solitary owl flying over the city." She fell silent again, thinking. "Hermione's taking a risk by coming here," she went on, "but I know that Dumbledore wanted her to come, so he should be able to arrange it. He was going to ask her to skip her — what was it? — skinning trip with her parents and come on Christmas Eve." She smiled. "So, the only thing your owl will do is push up her arrival by a day. Which is good."

Ginny felt a huge burden lifting, but she was also embarrassed. Hermione was coming to Grimmauld Place anyway. All of her scheming had been a ridiculous, hair–brained plot. She grimaced, and her mother smiled at the face she was making.

"No, Ginny," she said, "it wasn't a waste of time. I think you did the right thing. The ones who are going to help Harry are his friends. Hermione and Ron. And you."

Now Ginny could not help herself; she blushed and looked away. Her mother took her face in her hands and made Ginny look at her. "Ginny, I don't know what you or Harry feel. But you don't hide it very well from anyone who knows you that he is special to you. How special, is for you to know. And I don't know if you are special to him. But Harry is important to all of us in a way that goes far beyond what two people feel for each other. So Harry's friends are also extremely important."

Ginny sighed. "Mum, can I sleep in here tonight? I kind of framed Fred and George and I figure they'll try something."

"Of course, darling. I understand."

Ginny wasn't sure if that meant her mother understood why she wanted to avoid the twins, or why she did not want to talk about Harry any more. But it was done. And as she thought about the conversation, she did not really mind what her mum had said about Harry.

She spent the rest of the day in either the kitchen or the parlor, wherever anyone else was besides Fred or George. Nobody talked about Harry except Tonks, who mentioned that he had gone up to Buckbeak's room.

Ginny slept soundly that night. When she awoke it was still dark out and her mother was not in bed. Ginny went as quietly as possible to her own room, pushed the door open with her wand, and carefully went inside. She looked for any hidden spells but found nothing; apparently the twins were planning a surprise for later. She hurriedly dressed and went downstairs. Her mother was in the basement supervising a knife while it peeled potatoes.

"Good morning, honey," she smiled. "Sleep well? I don't think you even moved all night. Oh, by the way, Fred and George have told me that they completely accept the blame for what happened yesterday."

"Sure they do," Ginny snorted. "That would be a first."

Molly hummed while she charmed another knife to start slicing vegetables on a large chopping block. They both looked up as Tonks came in. "Hey, Ginny. Morning, Molly." She flicked her wand and a mug flew from a shelf to the stove where a coffee pot filled it. She took it to the table at sat down.

"Um," Ginny said. "Is, uh, Harry still upstairs?"

Tonks's eyebrows rose and a small smile played around her mouth. "Yup, as far as I can tell, he's —"

There was a loud banging from the front door, and Sirius's mother began screaming. Ginny jumped and looked at the ceiling; it sounded like the front door had opened. Tonks quickly got up. "I expect that's her," she said. As she left the room, Ginny looked at her mother who was placidly collecting peeled and sliced potatoes and putting them into a large bowl.

"You'll want to go upstairs, dear," Molly said. "Dumbledore sent us word last night that Hermione would be here early —"

Ginny was out of the room before Molly could finish the sentence. When she got to the front hallway Hermione was helping Tonks cover the ranting portrait.

"Everyone else has a doorbell, but Sirius has his mother. I think she's getting worse," Hermione said as they finally closed the drapes. "Ginnyཀ" she cried, going over and hugging her. "Come on, let's talk. I got here as quickly as Dumbledore could get me out of school. You wouldn't believe what Umbridge is trying to do to him. It's just outrageous. How can he let her get away with that stuff?" She started to pull Ginny down the hallway, but Ginny had spotted Errol. The exhausted owl was swaying precariously on a perch inside a small cage that Hermione had put on the floor.

"Oh, Errolཀ Are you all right?" She picked up the cage. Errol hooted softly, and puffed out his chest feathers.

"Here," said Tonks. "I'll take our hero downstairs. We can find something for him to eat."

Ginny handed her the cage, then followed Hermione. Tonks watched them go up the stairs before turning back to the basement with Errol's cage and a smile.

They ran into Ron halfway up. He stopped, a surprised but pleased expression on his face. "Hermioneཀ Wowཀ What are you doing here? Weren't you skinning with your folks?"

"It's skiing, Ron. And I came because Ginny asked me to. Now listen," she dropped her voice. "We've got to do something about Harry. Ginny says that —"

"Harry?" interrupted Ron. "What's wrong with Harry? Yeah, he's a little upset, but you actually gave up a holiday skiing just to come to this hole and do something about Harry?"

"Look," Hermione glanced up and down the stairs, "just talk to us for a minute. Please, Ron? I did give up a holiday for Harry, so what does that tell you?"

Ron frowned, but nodded. "Okay, but just for a minute. I haven't eaten breakfast yet." He led the way back upstairs to his and Harry's room. He sat on his bed and Ginny sat on Harry's.

"So what happened?" Hermione asked. Ginny told her about the past twenty-four hours.

"Whoaཀ" said Ron. "That was you that set those Ears off? Good one, Ginny." He chuckled. "But, hey, what about Errol? Mum must have noticed him gone missing."

"Don't worry about it," Ginny said. "It's all sorted out. And Hermione brought him back."

"Huh," Ron said. "My little sister's mind has become devious."

Ginny scowled, but before she could say anything, Hermione went on. "Okay, what about Harry? And even if you don't think he's likely to do something stupid," she said to Ron, "don't you want him to enjoy as much of the holiday as he can? I mean, there's so much happening to him that's miserable. Your father, Umbridge, Quidditch, O.W.L.s . . ." She frowned. "He's got to do some studying over the holiday, or else he'll —"

"Okay, okayཀ" Ron put his hand up to stop her. "I'll talk to him. Just lay off the homework guilt, will you? It's bad enough that it's hanging over us without you nagging about it all the time."

There was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Weasley came in carrying a tray of sandwiches. "Here you go, dears. Tonks and I thought you might be hungry." She beamed at them, looked at Ginny for a moment, and left, closing the door behind her.

"Right you are," said Ron, grabbing a sandwich and stuffing it into his mouth as Hermione's eyes rolled to the ceiling. Ron continued to eat, taking another sandwich and starting on it before he had finished the first.

Ginny took a deep breath and said to Hermione, "I've been thinking about something, but I wanted to talk to you before I told Harry." She glanced at Ron, who was still cramming the sandwich into his mouth.

Hermione nodded. "Go on. What was it?"

"Well, he thinks he's possessed by You–Know–Who. Or at least he thinks that we think he is. But . . ." she hesitated, and before continuing in a whisper, "but I was possessed."

Ron stopped chewing and looked at her. He swallowed a mouthful of bacon sandwich. "Ginny, that's right. God, I'll never forget that." He shook his head. "Hey, tell him that."

"That's what I was thinking I should do." She looked at Hermione. "You know, I really don't see how he could have been possessed. It left me totally blank about where I was or what I had done. You didn't see him look like that, did you?" she asked Ron.

"No," Ron shook his head. "He was thrashing around in his bed and the next minute he was wide awake talking about a snake and Dad , , ," Ron's voice trailed off and he put down his unfinished sandwich.

"Ron's right," Hermione said. You've got to tell him." She looked intently at Ginny. "You are the only one who can talk to Harry about that and have him believe you."

"Well," Ginny said, "I don't like to talk about it. Or think about it." She looked down, but Hermione reached out and lifted her chin up. There were tears in Ginny's eyes.

"Ginny, you should talk about it, and Harry is just the person you should talk to."

Ginny stared at her, then wiped her eyes and set her face. She looked at Ron who nodded.

"Okay," Ginny said to Hermione, "go get him."

1