He awoke to the sound of voices. His body felt stiff and he turned his head slightly to hear better. The voices came in clearer and soon he was able to discern whose they were.
"Hermione, why can't I stay here with you?"
"You need to be involved, Ronald. Michaels and Robards are waiting on you. I'll send you a patronus when he wakes up. Besides, you need sleep."
"You need sleep too, you have work in the morning."
"I sent an owl saying I'm sick, it's fine. You are in desperate need of a kip and a wash, Ron. You stink."
"Well, thanks for the complement. I've only just survived an explosion!"
"That's why you need rest and calm! You're dead on your feet."
"I can sleep here! You're going to, so I don't see why I can't as well–"
"Will you two stop that bickering? It's enough to drive any bloke mad," Harry mumbled, opening his eyes and blinking though the blurriness.
"Harry!" he heard Hermione say, before a bushy brown shape obstructed his vision momentarily. Then everything came into view as she placed his glasses on his nose. Then he could see her face. There were dark circles under her eyes and her hair was frizzier than ever; things that contrasted with the wide smile on her face and the twinkle in her eyes. Then his gaze moved further down the bed to see Ron, also smiling, walking towards the bed.
"Blimey, it's good to see your eyes open, mate. We were beginning to wonder about that potion they gave you," Ron said, coming to stand next to Hermione. He also had bags under his eyes and his clothes were dirty and bloodstained. He smelled like smoke.
"How long have they been closed?" Harry asked, looking out the window to see almost total darkness.
"A whole day. It's 8 o'clock in the evening right now," Ron answered, looking at his watch.
"How are you feeling?" Hermione asked, looking concernedly at his face.
"I've been better. And worse, I suppose," Harry said, trying to sit up slightly. A blinding flash of pain in his side stopped him, though. "Blimey, what is that?" He looked under the blankets to see thick bandages around his middle. He looked around the room. "Who else is here?"
"Everyone," Ron said, gesturing as if the people he were referring to were in the room.
"Not anymore, Ron," Hermione said looking up at him. "Andromeda left to put Teddy to bed and McGonagall needed to return to Hogwarts."
"Well, almost everyone, then," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
"Is Ginny here?" Harry asked, quietly. Hermione smiled.
"Yes, she went to get tea. I'll go get her," she said, and she stood, patting Harry's hand and left the room. Harry looked at Ron. Ron, sensing Harry's train of thought, pulled his wand out of his sleeve, pointed it at the door and whispered 'muffliato'.
"Let me guess. Rowle?" Harry asked, gesturing towards his injuries.
"Yeah," Ron said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "He was still there. He blew up that tavern. He thought we'd be in there."
"Well, how'd he know that...?" Harry said, as comprehension dawned on him. "The bartender..."
"Yep," Ron said, nodding. "Robards thinks he had the bartender under the Imperius curse, to warn him if anyone suspicious came into town. He's got a hunch that there was someone else involved as well, so the situation's still a little hairy until we find out who it is. But, the bartender's a definite. Must've figured out who we were. And when he told Rowle it was us? He just couldn't resist giving us a surprise before he tried to leave."
"He must have had the bartender listen in on our conversation in the room, then," Harry said, frowning. "But how?"
"Well, that'll be a good question to ask him at his trial," Ron said, giving a small smile. "It's the day before Christmas Eve, and the healers say you'll be able to go by then."
"Great, I wouldn't miss it," Harry said, shifting slightly. Then, something occurred to him. "Wait, what did you mean, he 'tried to leave'? Did we get him?" Ron smiled.
"We did. We got the bastard. Well, Michaels did, anyway," Ron said with a shrug that looked a little forced.
"Michaels? Really? Hm, maybe he could be promising after all," Harry said, thinking it over.
"I know. I was surprised, too. I thought he had just run off and abandoned you, but he went to get Rowle," Ron said, shaking his head as if he still didn't believe it. He looked at Harry. "You should have seen it, mate. I nearly took his head off."
"Well, it was a long time coming. You've just been waiting for a chance to let loose on him," Harry said, grinning.
"I have not! I was fine with him before he took off!"
"Oh, please, you two argued more than you and Hermione do," Harry said, thoroughly enjoying messing with Ron.
"Hermione and I have gotten better!"
"Is that why I woke up to that nightmare of a conversation? I thought my ears were going to bleed." They both laughed, but Harry had to stop when the movement reached his middle. Ron looked at the pain on Harry's face.
"Listen, Harry, I'm sorry I left you alone out there. I shouldn't have done that," Ron said, looking away. Harry stopped grimacing.
"Don't be thick, Ron. This wasn't your fault. I'm the one that told you to go in, remember?" Ron still didn't look at him.
"Yeah, I guess," Ron said, scratching the back of his neck. "I still feel guilty though."
"Don't torture yourself. Don't act like me. You can't afford to obsess about things that are out of your control," Harry said, taking off his glasses and cleaning them on the bed sheets. Ron looked up.
"Who are you and what have you done with Harry Potter?" Ron said, looking at Harry in mock-disbelief.
Harry rolled his eyes and lightly kicked Ron's back with his good leg, causing Ron to teeter on the edge of the bed. Then, Ron slowly lost his balance and, even slower, toppled onto the floor with a look of bewilderment on his face. Harry laughed again, this time making sure the movement didn't jostle his bandages.
"Yeah, you can laugh now," Ron said, picking himself off the floor.
Just then Harry heard the door open behind the curtain. Instantly he could smell Ginny's shampoo. A second later, she and Hermione walked around the curtain and Harry saw her. She looked even more tired and frazzled than Ron and Hermione, but when she saw him looking back at her, a dazzling smile broke over her face and she ran forward and before he could say anything, she'd kissed him full on the mouth. Unfortunately, she was also leaning on his midriff a little. He pulled away.
"Ow, careful, Gin," he said, steadying her face with his good hand and looking deep in her eyes. In his peripheral vision, he saw Hermione drag Ron out of the room by his sleeve.
"I'm sorry," Ginny said, stroking his face. "It's just so good to see you awake."
"So I hear," Harry said, noting the lines in her forehead. "You look tired, how long have you been here?"
"I arrived around one in the morning. I haven't slept since. I must look a mess," Ginny said, brushing back her hair. Harry reached over and moved her hair back to where it was.
"Actually, you look beautiful."
"Liar." They both laughed. Then their laughter died down and they sat there smiling at each other. Then, Ginny's smile faded.
"Harry, I was so–" Ginny started, but Harry put a finger to her lips. Ginny looked at him and sighed.
"Well, you know..." she finished. Harry smiled.
"I know," he said.
And then, very carefully, Ginny laid down on the bed next to him, and Harry put his good arm around her and she laid her head on his chest. She closed her eyes and listened to the rise and fall of his breathing.
"Harry, what happened? All I could get out of Ron this morning was something about an explosion and Michaels being a rat bastard," Ginny said, and she felt Harry laugh.
"Yeah, he and Ron don't exactly see eye to eye," Harry said. Ginny frowned. Did he just sidestep my question?, she thought.
"But what happened?" she pressed. Harry mentally sighed. With a possible third accomplice out there, he couldn't possibly tell her. And though it killed him to do it, he answered with;
"Like Ron said, a building exploded. Some of the rubble landed on me."
Ginny shifted in Harry's embrace. She could tell he was holding back, and she felt her previous anger bubbling up again, but she made sure to hide it. It could wait until he was better rested. So when she pressed him for more information, she sounded genuinely curious and clueless.
"Why did it explode?" There, Ginny thought. I'll give him one more chance to tell me.
"I don't really know yet, honey. Ron's talking about it to Robards," Harry answered. Ginny held back a huff and nodded into his chest.
There, Harry thought. That ought to be enough for now. I mean she can't possibly be concerned if she thinks I don't know right?
The next week passed in a blur for most, but for Harry it felt as if he was using a time turner; repeating the monotonous hours over and over again. If a healer said the words "I insist that you let yourself rest" one more time he was sure he would spontaneously combust. And it didn't help that various fans kept sneaking in to get a peek at him. Although this could sometimes be entertaining; once, a patient from down the hall snuck in to sing him a song about a troll named Snappencrunch and his pet niffler, Nigel. Harry was practically rolling in his bed laughing by the time a healer entered to escort the patient from the room. The only other thing that brightened his days were the constant visitors. Hermione and Ron stopped by every day during their lunch hour to fill him in on happenings at the Ministry, and Ginny spent a few hours there every day, as well. Hagrid had come by before returning to Hogwarts, crying so hard he couldn't see, and the Weasleys popped in at various times to say hello. Even Kingsley and Robards came by once. Harry tried to apologize to Robards for failing at his assignment, but before he could speak, Robards had said, "None of the fault or blame lies on you, Harry. You performed admirably. Kingsley and I are very proud of you." Harry was stunned, but Kingsley had nodded in agreement, looking very sincere. Aside from Ron, Hermione and Ginny, the only other person who visited him every day was Mrs. Weasley. Every morning she arrived promptly at nine, kicked the healers out and began to fluff his pillows, or make him tea or try desperately to comb his hair. She always brought clean clothes and food as well. And whenever Harry insisted that he was alright and she needn't be there so often, she always muttered something like 'nonsense' or 'don't be silly, dear'. That in itself was almost enough to drive him batty.
Two days before Christmas Eve, just when Harry thought he might crack, Healer Bisbee walked into his room when he was playing chess with Ron. As he approached the bed, Harry looked up and Ron's queen took the opportunity to crack his knight's head off with her chair.
"Hello, Harry. How are you feeling today?" the healer asked, scanning a scroll of parchment with a purple quill.
"I feel spiffing," Harry answered, looking back at the board to see the fate of his knight. He knocked his king over in defeat, and turned back to the healer. "Do you think I can leave soon? I'm really fine."
"Are you sure you can handle it?" Bisbee asked, surveying Harry's upright, controlled position.
"Absolutely. I can walk fine and my side barely hurts anymore. I've got to be somewhere else for a change."
"Well, then you're in luck. The other healers and I have decided that you're well enough to go home today," He said, with a small smile.
"Really? Today?" Harry said, grinning.
"Yes, indeed. Why don't you gather your things and I'll see that you have some potion to take with you for the pain."
"Thank you." The healer nodded and left the room.
"Finally," Ron said, folding up the chessboard. "I thought we were going to have to move here."
When they arrived at the Burrow, they were greeted by the entire family and a huge banner reading "Welcome Back, Harry!". Harry was surprised yet again, but before he could comment, Mrs. Weasley pulled him into a tight hug.
"Welcome home, Harry," she said as she released him.
"Thanks, Molly. You didn't have to go to all this trouble," Harry said, gesturing at everyone in the room.
"Nonsense, dear," she replied, patting him on the cheek. Harry smiled. There was no stopping her.
He was then passed around the room, given various forms of hugs and claps on the back, and then he was ushered into the sitting room, where Hagrid was still attempting to get through the door to greet Harry.
"Hagrid!" Harry exclaimed in surprise.
" 'Ello, Harry! Welcome back! Lil' help? Got meself wedged in," Hagrid said, waving with his one free arm. With the help of George and Bill, Harry pushed Hagrid back into the sitting room, where he promptly gave Harry a bone-crushing bear hug.
"Careful, Hagrid. I'm rather breakable just now," Harry said, his voice muffled in Hargid's armpit.
"Oops, sorry," Hagrid grunted, before releasing Harry and sinking down into the sofa.
"So, Harry, feel good to be back?" Bill asked plopping onto the love seat with Fleur.
"Oh, Merlin, yeah it does," Harry said with a groan, sitting down next to a rather stiffly-postured Ginny. Bill laughed.
"Anything interesting happen?" Charlie asked, walking into the room.
" 'Ow could anything interesting 'appen in zat place?" Fleur interjected. "It is as dull as cauldronwater."
"So, nothing of the St. Mungo's experience worth sharing?" George teased.
"Nah, Fleur's right, it was–" Harry started, before remembering. "Well, actually, I did hear a funny story..."
And he proceeded to fill them in on his singing visitor.
Later, after most of the family had dispersed and Hagrid had flown back to Hogwarts on Sirius's repaired motorbike, Ginny helped Harry carry his things up to his and Ron's room.
"Thanks for helping me carry everything, Ginny. The healer said I shouldn't be lifting heavy things. I would have levitated it all, but it's just too much. Your mum seemed to insist on bringing everything I own to St. Mungo's," Harry said. Ginny nodded, and Harry looked around the room.
"It really is so good to be back," he said, turning away from her and walking to the window to survey the setting sun.
Behind his back, Ginny fumed. She had expected that once they were alone, in private, that he would finally talk to her. But, judging by his position, by his posture, he wasn't even going to broach the subject. She tried to remain calm, and simply ask him about it, like Luna had said, but she could no longer contain herself. Without further debate, all her pent up thoughts were let loose.
"Why don't you ever tell me anything?" she burst out into the silence. Harry turned around slowly. Her sudden angry tone surprised him.
"Huh?" he responded, with a bewildered expression on his face.
"You never say what you're doing or where you are whenever you get one of these assignments. Why? Do you not trust me?" Ginny said, indignantly.
"What? How can you think that? Of course I trust you" Harry replied, his eyes wide. Her train of thought left him genuinely confused.
"Then what is it? Am I not part of the 'trio'? I'm not allowed in that part of your life? I'm not supposed to solve mysteries with you and your friends? Is that it?" Ginny shot at him, her voice rising with every sentence.
"Whoa, whoa, Ginny, you are blowing this way out of proportion. Where are you getting this from? How can you even come to that conclusion?" Harry said, utterly aghast. Her reasoning was making no sense to him.
"I'll tell you how. You left for almost a year. A year! With no word and no news. Nothing! And I couldn't be there. And I get that there were reasons I couldn't go, I do, but it was always the same. It was just you and Ron and Hermione the way it always has been, scheming together, and hatching plans. I want to hatch too, I want to be involved. For once in my life I want to be treated like an adult, not some little girl who needs to be protected from things that will upset her! You are always going off without me and I have no idea where you are, when you're coming back, or even if you're coming back. Do you have any idea how worried that makes me?" Ginny spat, her voice nearing a shout now.
Harry's jaw dropped open, then his shock swiftly changed to anger. 'Scheming?' he thought. 'Hatching plans? What was she playing at?'
"How can you throw that in my face?" he snarled, all confusion fleeing his mind. "You know what was riding on that year! You knew it then, too! It was never 'fun adventures' or 'mysteries to solve', where did that come from? It was always important! And, you want to talk to me about worried? You weren't the only one who was separated, Ginny, there was plenty of worry on my end too! I spent nights thinking about you, wondering and hoping that you were ok–"
"At least you knew where I was. You said it yourself, you could see on the Marauder's Map that I was at school. You knew I was alive. And me? I was in total darkness, it's where I've always been. And this assignment was no different. You didn't think that maybe it would have helped ease my worry, if you just gave me one BIT of information as to where you were or what you were doing? You couldn't let me know the sort of danger you were in?" she shouted, her eyes shooting flames at him.
"For the record, it wasn't supposed to be dangerous, Ginny," he said coldly, crossing his arms.
"See? Couldn't you have at least told me that?"
"Don't you understand, Ginny? I CAN'T! I can't tell you ANYTHING about my auror missions!" Harry bellowed, his arms flailing out in frustration. "I can't say ANYTHING to anyONE! Do you know why? That could compromise the entire operation! An open case needs to be tiptoed around! It's not that I don't trust you, or that I want to keep you out, quite the opposite actually, it's that I CAN'T DO IT! It's against the auror code! No to mention against the rules and possibly the law! My whole soon-to-be job is based on the importance of secrecy and if you can't except that, we're going to have some serious problems on our hands!"
There was a pause. Ginny was standing very stiffly. Her eyes were still glaring.
"You really can't tell anyone?" she said in a low voice.
"No! No one!"
"Then how come you told Hermione?" That stopped Harry completely in his tracks.
"How'd you know about that?" he asked, quietly. Ginny gave a dangerous laugh.
"I didn't until just now." she said, as anger worthy of Molly Weasley seemed to emanate from her in waves. Without another word, she turned and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Harry stood there for a moment, staring at the closed door. 'How on earth did that happen?', he thought. One minute, he's happy to be home and he's being clapped on the back by family and the next he's staring at a slammed door, trying to fight off his anger. He paced for a second, before letting himself drop on his bed with his hands over his face. Unfortunately, he landed on the wrong side.
"Ow," he said to the empty room.
Harry woke up the next morning to a raging headache. When he opened his eyes and took in the blurry room, he remembered why.
"Crap," he muttered. As he sat up and summoned his glasses, his head pounded even faster and he groaned.
"Wassamatter?" Ron grunted from under his covers.
"Headache," Harry said. "I swear molten lava is leaking out my ears. Do you think your mum has a potion or something?"
"Yeah, she's got a whole cabinet..." Ron trailed off. Suddenly, he sat up so fast that Harry jumped, and started searching his bedside table. "Merlin's pants, we've got the trial today! We've got to go!"
"Ron, take a breather, we've got an hour until we have to leave, I didn't forget," Harry said plugging his ears against Ron's ruckus. Ron relaxed, confused.
"Really? It must be early then..." Ron said, still thinking hard. Harry laughed at his expression.
"Don't hurt yourself, mate." Ron looked up. "You look like you're translating ancient runes in your head," Harry explained.
"Oh, well, I'm tired," Ron said defensively, as he got up to search for his pants.
"By the way, nice phrasing before. I see Hermione's best qualities are rubbing off on you," Harry said, rubbing his head.
Ron looked confused again before remembering his use of 'Merlin's pants' moments ago and grumbled something unintelligible. He located his pants and promptly stuck a foot into a leg before he was completely balanced and tipped over back onto his bed. Harry snorted.
"Don't say a word," Ron said, pointing his finger at Harry sternly. Harry held up his hands in mock-innocence.
As they traveled sleepily down the uneven staircase, Harry's uneasy feelings about his fight with Ginny seeped back to the front of his mind. And as he thought about the possibility of running into her in the kitchen, his heart began to race, but his careful pause on the second landing went unnoticed.
Later that morning, Ginny came down the stairs, slightly puffy-eyed. After she had left Harry upstairs the night before, her sudden rush of fury had turned to tears fairly quickly. She walked into the kitchen and was surprised to see her father there instead of her mother.
"Oh, hi dad," she said, taking a chair and sitting down. "Where's mum?"
"Visiting George and Percy at the shop," Mr. Weasley answered, without looking up from the copy of The Prophet he was reading. "She's still determined to do all their laundry for them." He smiled at her, and noticed her eyes. "Ginny, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, dad. I'm fine," Ginny said, brushing her hair back and attempting to smile back at him.
"Ginny," he said, giving her an I-know-you're-lying-so-you-may-as-well-tell-me look. Ginny sighed.
"Harry and I had a fight last night," she admitted, looking down at her hands.
"A fight? About what?" Mr. Weasley asked, putting down the paper. Ginny sighed again.
"Well, I always feel like I'm being left out of the things he does."
"How do you mean?"
"Well... you know how he, Ron and Hermione are so close?" Mr. Weasley nodded. "I feel like I'm always on the outside of their little circle, he doesn't tell me things," Ginny said quietly. "Especially lately with all his auror missions."
"Well Ginny, you know aurors can't reveal information about ongoing cases, right?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I found that out when he was yelling it at me last night," she huffed.
"He yelled at you?" Mr. Weasley asked, taking his spectacles off of his nose.
"Well, truthfully I'm the one who started yelling," she confessed a little sheepishly.
"You should have gotten the whole story before you accused him of anything, Ginny," he scolded.
"I know, I know, I maybe went a little overboard, but that isn't even the part that really bothers me."
Ginny looked at her hands again. "He went on about how he can't tell anyone, but he had already told Hermione!"
"He did what?" Mr. Weasley said a little sharply.
"He and Ron talked to Hermione about the whole assignment! They all tried to figure it out together, just like they always do!"
"He shouldn't have done that."
"I know!" Ginny said loudly, throwing her hands in the air a little. There was a pause.
"Why don't you talk to him?" Mr. Weasley asked quietly.
"No, you yelled at him, Ginny. You should talk to him. Calmly. Get his side of the story."
"Nothing he says will excuse what he did!"
"I'm not saying that, but every argument has two sides, Ginny. And maybe if you ask him about it calmly, you might understand where he's coming from. You shouldn't just jump all over him without having all the facts."
Ginny leaned back in her chair. "That's what Luna said," she grudgingly admitted.
"She's a smart one, that Luna," Mr. Weasley smiled. He placed his hand on Ginny's. "And so are you, Ginny. I know you'll fix this."
"Thanks, Dad. I'm not sure if I'm ready to talk to him yet though."
"Don't worry, Gin. You will be."
"Mr. Rowle, If you do not name your accomplice, we will be forced to give you Veritaserum to gain the truth," Kingsley said.
The trial was near it's end and Harry and Ron, having already given their witness, were sitting off to the side of the very same courtroom where Harry had had his appeal before his fifth year. Rowle, looking very grungy, was chained to the seat in the middle of the dark room.
"I won't drink it," Rowle drawled. His arrogant words, however, were negated by his frantic eyes and his twitching fingers.
"Well then, we will have to use the Imperius Curse on you," Kingsley continued.
Rowle's eyes darted up to look at Kingsley. "That's against the law," he said quietly.
"We've made an amendment to that law in regards to Death Eaters," Kingsley lied smoothly.
Rowle looked down and mumbled something.
"What was that?" Kingsley asked, cupping his hand to his ear. Rowle glared up at him.
"Frank Doyle," He stated clearly. "He worked in the inn also. He'll still be there."
"Thank you. You are hereby sentenced to life in Azkaban. You may take him now," Kingsley finished, gesturing to the Hit Wizards on either side of Rowle.
The rather large group of witches and wizards filed out of the stone room, their footfalls echoing up the walls. Ron and Harry followed. Though they both knew it was more polite to remain stoic and emotionless, Ron seemed unable to contain the slight bounce and he was still fidgeting during the lift ride to their floor. It was only when they were completely alone in Harry's cubicle that Ron let his excitement go.
"Alright, mate!" Ron said, holding up his hand for a high five. Harry smacked it with little enthusiasm.
"Finally! Merlin, it feels good to take a death eater down again!" Ron continued, making a fist pumping motion.
"Yeah," Harry said, sitting gingerly down in his chair.
"It's our first guy, Harry! We've got our first guy! Well, as aurors, that is," Ron said, his eyes bright with excitement.
"I know. It's great, mate," Harry said, running a hand through his messy hair.
Ron's smile began to fade. "Harry, are you alright? You've been acting strange all day."
"Yeah, I'm alright," said Harry, faking a smile.
"Liar. Tell me what's up," Ron demanded. Harry sighed.
"Ginny and I had a row last night." Ron's eyebrows raised.
"Is that why she was so tense yesterday?" Ron asked. Harry nodded, mildly surprised that Ron had noticed. "Well, what was it about, then?"
"This," Harry said making a wide gesture to the small three walls.
Ron looked around, confused, "You rowed about cubicles?"
" No, Ron. Keep up," Harry said, rolling his eyes at his friend's obliviousness. "We fought about being an auror and the missions and everything!"
"Oh," Ron said, looking slightly less confused.
"I mean, we go upstairs last night and boom! She explodes on me. I wasn't expecting a thing," Harry said, gesturing with his good hand and staring into space as if the memory of it still awed him.
"Yeah, I know that feeling, mate," Ron said sympathetically, straddling a chair backwards. "Completely random, out of the blue. Then, they get mad at you for not knowing exactly what they're talking about."
"I know! She was mad at me for things I couldn't change too," Harry said shaking his head.
"Oh that's the worst. What was she mad about?"
"She was yelling about how she never knew what I was doing, off on missions and such and how she was tired about being protected like a child."
"Oh. Well, that's a sticking point for Ginny. She's always butting heads with mum about that. But she's got to understand that you can't talk about all the details of the cases with her, right? At least the one's that are open," Ron said, scratching his ear.
"Yeah, well, I told her that. I think what really got her though was that I told Hermione almost everything and I told her nothing," Harry said, bowing his head.
"Wait, you didn't tell Ginny a thing?" Ron asked, leaning forward. Harry looked up.
"Well, no," Harry said, confused. "Like you just said, we're not supposed to tell."
"And you just said that you told Hermione," Ron said, looking accomplished in his argument.
"Well, you were there. You told Hermione as much as I did," Harry said, getting slightly annoyed.
"It's one thing for me to tell Hermione, she's my girlfriend. It's another for you to tell Hermione, your friend, but not Ginny, your girlfriend," Ron said, leaning back on his hands.
Harry blinked. Ron leaned forward again to better explain.
"Ginny's supposed to be the one you confide in, for everything and her knowing that you chose to tell someone else and not her, it makes her feel insecure. Like she's not number one like she should be," Ron said, with a smug grin on his face. Harry looked dumbstruck.
"How on earth do you know so much about girls all of a sudden?" Harry said, his mouth still slightly ajar.
"Hermione's been giving me lessons," Ron said with a grin. Harry chuckled, then sighed. There was a pause.
" How do I fix this, mate?" Harry asked quietly.
" Talk to her. Tell her it's all you're fault, that you're sorry for behaving like a total git and that it'll never happen again," Ron said, without missing a beat. Harry looked at him.
"You think Hermione could give me a lesson or two?" Harry asked.
Ron laughed. "I'll ask," he said before getting up to return to his own cubicle.
"Hey, Ron?" Ron turned back around.
"No problem, mate."
When Harry and Ron returned to the Burrow that night, Ginny was no where in sight. The air, however, was thick with tantalizing scents and the two followed their noses to the kitchen, where Mrs. Weasley, of course, was bustling about, making dinner. Percy, George and Hermione sat at the table already.
"That smells great mum, when will it be ready?" Ron asked, sitting down next to Hermione.
"Few minutes, dear. How was the trial?" Mrs. Weasley asked mildly, returning to stirring.
"Dull," Ron sighed, putting his head on the table. Hermione reached over to brush his hair out of his eyes. "It was exciting to finally put someone away though."
"It was fine, Molly," Harry said, flicking his wand at the cupboard so that several plates and various cutlery floated to their proper places at the table. "Everything went smoothly. It's all over now."
"That's great, mate," George said, clapping Harry on the back and he sat down. Harry glanced over at Percy to notice that his eyebrows and eyelashes were blue.
"Trouble at the shop today?" Harry asked, reaching for the boiled potatoes Mrs Weasley had just set on the table. Percy grunted slightly and looked down at his plate.
"Percy had an issue with the wildfire wiz-bangs today," George said, grinning at the memory.
"I was setting it on the shelf and boom! Exploded right in my face. I healed all the burns, but for some reason I cannot seem to get rid of this blue color," Percy said, slightly mournfully. Ron, Harry and Hermione exchanged glances.
"It'll fade in a few months," George said, through a mouthful of potato. Percy's eyes widened and his mouth fell open.
George laughed. "I'm joking, Perce. It'll be gone by tomorrow. Nice face though," he said.
Harry, Ron and Hermione burst into laughter. Percy's look change from shock to half annoyed, half amused. Then Harry's laughter died in his throat as Ginny appeared in the doorway. She spared him one stony look before walking up to the table and filling a plate.
"I'm going to eat in my room, mum. I've got some studying to do before tomorrow," She said stiffly.
The laughter had awkwardly subsided and Harry stared intently at his plate, not seeing, but feeling Ginny moving about the table. He had intended to find a moment alone with her tonight to talk, but evidently talking, or even being in the same room together was not on Ginny's agenda.
"Are you sure, dear? You'll have plenty of time for studying after Christmas," Mrs. Weasley asked, her eyes flitting from Harry's stiffness to Ginny's stony face.
"I want to get this done before," Ginny said, grabbing a knife and fork and heading toward the door.
"Alright, well no studying tomorrow. It's Chrismas Eve," Mrs. Weasley said to Ginny's retreating form.
"Yes, mum!" Ginny called over her shoulder.
Harry looked up just in time to see Mrs. Wealsey looking curiously from him to the place where Ginny disappeared. Mercifully, she said nothing.
Christmas Eve morning was crowded. But, in a good way. It as refreshing to have the house packed again. The chaos was comforting. However, the awkwardness of Harry and Ginny in the same room was not. Harry had hoped that overnight, some of the tension between them would have eased, but it remained the same. Until Christmas Eve lunch. The whole family had dug into the massive meal that Mrs. Weasley had prepared, when George broke the conversation.
"Everybody?" George said, clinking his glass. Everyone looked up except Fleur, who continued to devour her piece of turkey. Bill put a hand on hers to still them.
"Percy has an announcement," George finished, kicking Percy's chair for him to stand up. Percy stood and surveyed the family with a surprisingly not-arrogant look. He took a breath.
"I've decided to quit my job as minister's assistant and work with George at the joke shop full-time," Percy said, rather proudly. "I believe it's where I should be."
There was a series of laughs and 'Merlin! Really?"'s, but everyone seemed to like the idea. Arthur got up to ruffle Percy's hair and Bill and Charlie clapped him on the back. Harry and Ginny looked at each other, both with bewildered smiles. They continued smiling at each other, before it slowly dawned on them that they were in a fight and the smiles faded and the awkwardness returned. Their silence went unnoticed by the rest of the table, however, as Percy began to fully explain his decision.
The rest of the afternoon passed in good cheer, with the exception of Harry and Ginny, until they began decorating the sitting room. Mrs. Weasley had brought down the Christmas boxes from the attic and they had begun to put ornaments on the tree. Mrs. Weasley was kneeling on the floor to tack the stockings to the mantel.
"You know, Fleur?" she said, sorting through the giant socks.
"Yes, Molly?" Fleur said from across the room.
"I was thinking, by this time next year there will be a brand new stocking up here," Mrs. Weasley said, smiling at the mother-to-be. Fleur smiled back.
Mrs. Weasley picked up a stocking and was about to tack it up when she noticed something. Emblazoned on the front was none other than Fred. Mrs. Weasley's hand began to shake.
"Molly, dear? Are you alright?" Mr. Weasley asked, coming over. Then he noticed the stocking in her hand. She leaned into to him and began to cry.
"Oh Arthur, what am I going to do?" She sobbed, dropping the stocking on the floor.
"Shh, come on," he said, picking her up off her knees and leading her from the room.
The entire room had gone silent and everyone was staring at the stocking. There was an awkward pause.
"I have an idea." They all looked at George, to make sure that he really was the first one to talk. He looked at the top of the tree.
"Who wants to go degnomeing?" George said, with a slight grin on his face.
Everyone stared blankly for a moment, before it began to dawn on them. Harry smiled once he understood. That Christmas years ago, when Fred and George had captured a gnome, spray-painted it silver, dressed it like a ballerina and put it on the top of the tree. Suddenly the sad, tense atmosphere had been replaced with one of memories and excitement.
"Come on," George said, getting up and heading to the door. "There's bound to be some in the bushes closest to the house."
Ron stood up, pulling Hermione by the sleeve. "Can I paint it?" he called after George before they followed him outside. Bill, Charlie and Percy were next.
"Where are we going to find a tiny tutu?" Percy asked as they passed.
"We'll just have to wing it, mate," Charlie said. And bringing up the rear was Fleur.
"Bill! Do not leave me alone! What's going on?" she cried stumbling slightly, before she too disappeared from the room.
That left only Harry and Ginny, sitting on opposite sides of the room. It was dead silence, save the fire crackling in the hearth. They glanced at each other and looked away. There was a pause. They took a simultaneous breath.
"Listen–", they said at the same time. They looked at each other.
"You go," they said together. There was another pause.
"I just wanted to say–" they said in unison before breaking off.
Harry smiled and Ginny gave a giggle. They stared into each other's eyes. Harry moved over to sit beside her on her sofa. He brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear and left his hand there.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I left you out. I didn't mean too, honestly. I would never deliberately exclude you. I love you and I do want you to be in every part of my life. There are no separate circles. It's just you and me. Also, I asked Robards, and he says I can give you details once the cases are closed," he said, without pause. Ginny smiled and took his hand off her face to hold it in hers.
"I really appreciate you saying that," she said, looking down at their hands. "And I'm sorry for refusing to understand your job. And yelling at you like that. That was uncalled for. And I shouldn't have placed blame on you by bringing up last year. that was wrong. Because I certainly don't blame you for that, Harry. That's the truth."
They smiled at each other, before leaning in for a brief kiss and leaning back. There was another pause.
"Wow, that was certainly mature of us," Ginny said, moving closer.
"I know, we've come a long way. You're nobody's little girl anymore," Harry said, leaning his forehead against hers.
"And you're no knobbly-kneed little boy with the broken glasses any more, are you?"
"Excuse me? knobbly-kneed?" Harry asked, drawing back.
"Oh, please Harry, they looked like chicken legs."
"I'm just kidding, I'm just kidding!" She shrieked, as he attacked her with tickling. Just then the Weasley band of boys trooped back in, Ron holding a body-binded gnome.
"Look's like they've made up, then," Bill said, as Ron reached up to place the metallic gnome on the top of the tree.
"It's about time," George said, plopping down on the sofa next to them. "I was almost about to build separate houses for each of them."
Christmas day was incredible. Mrs. Weasley had recovered and all the family came, and even some unexpected guests. After breakfast, Andromeda came by with Teddy, to Harry's delight, and Mcgonagall and Hagrid made an appearance before lunch. Even Luna and Neville showed up and Hermione's parents came by for dinner (Mr. Weasley insisted they sit by him). The highlight of the evening though, was when Kingsley stopped by to tell Harry and Ron that they'd been made full Aurors, much to their surprise. And as Ginny leaned into his shoulder and George joked about finally getting a nice visitor from a minister of magic, Harry imagined that the joyous day was like a gift to those who couldn't be there. It was a way of showing their lost loved ones that they were living for them and that they would continue to lead the life they should have led. Harry closed his eyes and thought, "Thank you mum. Thank you dad. Thank you everyone. I won't ever forget what you did for me. I'm happy now." And before he could open his eyes again, he had vision in his mind: King's Cross station. It was white and empty like he remembered it from last May, except there was now a large, marble table in the center of a platform. Around the table were his parents, Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Fred and countless others, some of which he didn't even recognize. Harry gasped. Then in unison everyone at the table raised their glasses and toasted him. He blinked. He was back at the Weasley's table and the loud chatter roared back to his ears. Ginny felt him stir and leaned back.
"Harry? You alright?" she asked, studying his face. Harry stared back into her deep brown eyes.
A/N: I can't even begin to explain how sorry I am for the extended delay in posting. I have no real excuse, but I will tell you that it's been a rough couple of months. Anyway, I hope the extra long chapter will start to make up for keeping you all waiting. I know this sounds like an ending, but don't worry! There's more to come. I'll try to get it out sooner, rather that later. Please review! I need a pick me up and reviews are like candy :)