Millie Collins, the Reserve Keeper, watched as Ginny folded herself to the bench in the changing room and began to patiently tease the tangles from her hair, starting from the ends, and working her way up to the top of her head. It was a time-consuming process, to say the least. Milie ran her hands through her damp, cropped hair to settle it into place. 'Ever thought of cutting it?'
Ginny sighed and set the comb down before pulling her hair over one shoulder to plait it. 'No,' she replied shortly. It was a question that had been asked at least once a day since they'd left Britain. Her fingers swiftly wove the strands in the familiar pattern and she bound the end of the plait with an elastic. Admittedly, it would be much easier if she did just hack it off and be done with it, but something held her back each time. Ginny preferred not to think about the last time she had a significant length of her hair cut, and letting it grow nearly to her waist was her way of giving a rude gesture to the memory of Tom Riddle each time she went through the laborious task of washing, brushing, and otherwise styling it. She knew Gwenog wasn't fond of her players having such long hair, but Ginny refused to budge. Years of practice had given her the skill to plait it tightly to her head, and training as a witch had taught her dozens of small ways to keep it from unraveling in the high speeds of broom travel or flying out behind her and giving an opponent a convenient rope to grab and yank Ginny off course. It was a dirty play, to be sure, but a Chaser in Slytherin hadn't been above using during Ginny's early career on the Gryffindor team.
And Harry loved her hair.
That was quite enough of a reason to keep it as it was just now. Perhaps someday, she might consider cutting her hair, but not right now.
'So how do you know Krum?' Lauren Allison, one of the Reserve Beaters asked.
Ginny picked up the bottle of water she'd left on the floor and took a long sip. 'I don't really,' he told her. 'I was in my third year when he was at Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament.' She shrugged. 'We didn't talk much. He was more interested in following my friend Hermione around.' She bundled her damp towels together and tossed them into the basket in the corner. 'The last time I saw him was at Bill's wedding two years ago.'
Julia Adams, the second Reserve Beater, joined Ginny on the bench. 'Your set-down is becoming legendary,' she said admiringly. 'Bat-Bogey, was it?'
'It's about time someone emphatically turned him down,' Mandy Seaforth, the starting Beater, noted sardonically. 'Keep hearing him go on in pubs about how he's a bloody famous international Quidditch player, and that ought to be enough for women to throw themselves at him.'
Matilda Daniels, the starting Seeker, rubbed her dripping hair with a towel. 'I'd throw myself at him, but he's never even thrown me bone,' she sighed.
Mandy flicked her on the ear. 'Oh, for Merlin's sake,' she huffed. 'Could you please not behave like the stereotypical female player for once?' She glanced at Ginny apologetically. 'We're not all randy bints,' she said.
Matilda rubbed her ear and scowled at Mandy. 'Randy, yes. Bint…? That's one up for discussion,' she said loftily. 'Besides, a girl's got needs,' she stated. 'And it's been months…'
Millie pursed her lips thoughtfully. 'Who was the last one? That bloke in the pub after the Caerphilly match last October?'
Anna Horton, one of the Chasers chimed in. 'And a Muggle to boot. Not that there's anything wrong with that,' she said hastily. 'It's not a bad thing to date Muggles. They haven't the foggiest idea who you are.' She sank to a bench and rubbed a towel over her hair. 'It's nice, actually.'
'Lots easier if you don't live in a mostly magical area,' Matilda noted. 'It's only if you're planning to have a shag with a Muggle, you've got to do a few things to your flat. Freezing charms on your photographs, block your Floo for the evening – if you're on the network, that is. Or you go to his flat.' She glanced at Ginny. 'Most blokes don't bother with a good cleaning. It's disgusting.'
Anna nodded in agreement. 'Especially if they don't know what a laundry basket look like, haven't changed their sheets in ages, and the bathroom is worse than a public loo.' She tilted her head to one side, combing her fingers through her dark blonde hair. 'But there aren't many like that.'
Millie chuckled and pulled a jumper over her head. 'That happened to me once. I didn't bother to stay. Or shag. I suddenly "remembered" I had something to attend to early in the morning and left straightaway.'
Ginny felt her cheeks burn. 'How can you just take someone home with you like that?' she asked curiously. 'Without feeling anything for them?'
Matilda shrugged expansively. 'It's not like we do it all the time.' She finished buttoning her shirt and pulled a pair of jeans from the locker and sat back down on the bench, clad only in her shirt and knickers. 'I think I've only taken home someone I've just met once or twice. I wasn't drunk, and neither was he. We both did it with the understanding it would be that one night and that was it. Just needed to blow off some steam, is all.' She poked her feet into the jeans and yanked them over her legs and hips. 'The life of a professional Quidditch player doesn't lend itself to long-term relationships.'
Lauren bent to tie the laces of her trainers, eying Ginny appraisingly. 'Aren't you dating Harry Potter?'
'Erm, yeah,' Ginny replied, slipping into her khaki trousers. 'About a year.' She bit her lip as she leaned forward and removed her socks from her locker, recalling the day Harry had moved into his flat, and his attempt to initiate something more that mere kissing and cuddling. She'd been more than a little startled to feel his hand slip between her thighs. Afterward, when she'd had more time to think about the matter, she realized she did want to do more, as evidenced by her behavior the couple of days she'd stayed with Harry after the trial.
Claire Russell, one of the other Reserve Chasers, grinned dreamily at Ginny. 'He looks like he'd be great in bed.' She gazed into the distance. 'So intense.'
Ginny felt her cheeks burn painfully. 'Ah…'
Julia's eyes narrowed. 'You're still a V?' she blurted.
Ginny's shoulders stiffened defensively. 'So?' she challenged. 'Is there something wrong with being a virgin?'
Julia held her hands up, as if to ward off Ginny's ire. 'Nothing at all,' she placated. 'It's just you've been seen together. Not in a compromising position.' Her lips pressed together. 'Just after the trials, a blurb was in the gossip column of Witch Weekly. Someone had seen the two of you just before you Disapparated together one morning. They said it looked like you were going to rip each other's clothes off as soon as you were able.'
Ginny's head fell forward and she buried her face in both hands. 'Oh, bloody hell. My mother reads Witch Weekly.'
Marion coughed loudly. 'Could we please change the subject?' She yanked her bag from her locker.
'It's just girl talk, Marion,' Samantha Hughes, the starting Seeker retorted mildly.
'Uh-huh,' Marion grunted. 'Let's go. We're going to be late for dinner.' She strode toward the door and walked out without a backward glance. The others scrambled to finish dressing or gathering their things, and scurried after her. After all, it had been a long hard day on the pitch, and dinner pushed all other thoughts aside.
The pub was noisy and crowded. Ginny didn't care for alcoholic beverages, aside from an occasional glass of wine or champagne during celebrations or special dinners. She nursed a ginger beer and all but ignored the other players' conversations. 'How do you now when you're ready?' Ginny interjected.
'What?' Lauren, the closest player to her turned to face Ginny with a blank look on her face.
Ginny passed a hand over her eyes, mortified. 'How do you know when you're ready for…' She gulped. 'Sex.'
Lauren rapped the table to get the others' attention. 'Oi! One of our newest members has a question!' She tilted her head at Ginny. 'Go on, then,' she whispered encouragingly. When Ginny visibly hesitated, Lauren added. 'Look, nobody else in the pub is paying attention, and I promise you, we won't breathe a word to anyone.' She gave Ginny a searching look. 'I won't say you have to trust us, but if you can't trust us off the pitch, how can you on it?'
Ginny inhaled slowly and lifted her glass to her mouth. She drained it and replaced it on the table with a thump. 'I just wanted to know how you know when you're ready for…' She paused significantly. 'You know…' she added, unwilling to say more in the pub.
Julia studied Ginny thoughtfully. 'I suppose the pat answer is, if you have to ask, you're not ready.'
Anna leaned forward across the table. 'If you're questioning why you want to go to bed with a man – certain green-eyed wizards or otherwise – you shouldn't do it.' She tapped the table with a forefinger for emphasis. 'If you're not sure you want to do it, then don't.' Her eyes narrowed. 'You talk to someone else first. That sister-in-law of yours, the French girl.' Ginny's brow rose at the idea of going to Fleur for advice about anything. Not that she didn't respect the Frenchwoman, but Ginny wasn't entirely certain it would stay a secret. 'Or someone else you admire. Friend, or even one of us.'
'Actually,' Millie said slowly. 'You should question it. Are you just trying to scratch an itch, or is it a physical progression of a romantic relationship?' She took a sip of her fruity drink, and toyed with the paper umbrella. 'It's one thing to just shag another person, as long as there's an understanding that's all it is. But when there are emotions involved, it can get complicated. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just sex changes things.' She slowly opened and closed the paper umbrella. 'If you're just trying to relieve, ah, tension, and he's looking to make it part of the relationship, the two of you ought to sit and have a chat.'
Samantha frowned. 'Have you ever dated anyone else besides Harry?'
Ginny nodded. 'Two boys at Hogwarts.'
'And?' Samantha prodded.
Ginny shrugged. 'Oh. Well. Michael was nice enough. But we had an awful row when Gryffindor beat Ravenclaw my fourth year. And when he kissed me…' Ginny's nose crinkled as she search for the appropriate words.
'Didn't make your toes curl,' supplied Anna, with a laugh.
'Exactly,' Ginny sighed. 'Then, I dated Dean. Again, lovely boy. Gryffindor. Wonderful artist. He also has two younger sisters, and always seemed to want to look out for me, like he does for them.'
'That's not a bad thing,' Julia observed.
'Well, no,' Ginny allowed. 'Once in a while is fine, but not all the time. It felt like he didn't think I could do anything physically without help of some sort. He hovered,' she said with an air of mild disgust. 'Even after that incident at the Ministry my fourth year.'
'It felt like he didn't respect you,' noted Lauren, nodding sagely.
Ginny sighed a bit morosely. 'Yeah… I mean, my brothers were not going to wait up for me. I had to learn to keep up or get left behind.'
Matilda signaled for another round for the table. 'And Harry?'
'We've had our moments,' Ginny said quietly. 'But he's… willing to listen to my side and work something out.' She took a sip of her drink and slowly spun the glass in wide circles. 'I mooned after him quite a bit when I first started school, then found the real Harry was much more interesting than the one I'd dreamed up in my head,' she found herself admitting. 'And after a couple of years, I thought it was best to be realistic and face up to the face he just saw me as his best friend's baby sister.' She exhaled in a long breath and suddenly smiled brightly. 'That was the smartest decision I made regarding Harry. Especially during my fourth year, when he and I became friends.' Ginny suddenly realized how much she'd said and bit her lip in a fit of shyness. 'Erm, thanks,' she stammered, burying her nose in her glass.
Matilda burst into peals of laughter. 'No worries, little one. It's hard enough to talk about things like this with my own sister. I can't imagine going to my mum with this.' She shuddered dramatically, making Ginny snort with laughter.
'If it's anything like when my dad had a bit of a chat with my brother Ron,' Ginny muttered. 'Ron said it was beyond awkward.'
Anna groaned. 'Trust me. It was. I thought at one point my mum was going to tell me to close my eyes and think of England.'
'Something to look forward to,' Ginny sighed, shaking her head. She glanced at her watch and let out a muffled yelp. 'Bloody hell, is that the time?' It was well after eleven, and while Gwenog didn't have a team curfew, it as understood she expected them to at least be in their rooms before eleven at night. There was a mad scramble as the team settled their tab for the evening and hurried down the street to their hotel. The few times on their trip they'd attempted to test Gwenog's boundaries, she had exploited it at practice the next day. The unspoken message was: if they wanted to behave foolishly, then they would suffer the consequences for it.
Ginny tiptoed up the stairs and down the corridor to the room she shared with Marion and fumbled in her bag for the heavy key that would unlock the door. Neither Marion, nor Helen had gone out with them after dinner, and Ginny fully expected Marion to be fast asleep. Ginny eased the key into the lock and cautiously turned it. Keeping the key in her left hand, Ginny painstakingly twisted the doorknob and opened door just wide enough so she could slip inside. She took just as much care in closing the door and turned fully into the sitting area of the suite. Marion and Helen were entwined in a position that Ginny would not have found unfamiliar, had she been with Harry. The key slid from her nerveless fingers and fell to the uncarpeted wooden floor with a loud thud. Helen and Marion sprang to their feet at the intrusion, smoothing disordered hair and straightening clothing gone awry. 'Damn,' Helen breathed, complexion fading to a sickly hue. 'Don't say a word!' she barked.
Ginny stooped to pick up her key, tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She nervously shifted from foot to foot. It didn't bother her in the slightest to find her mentor in the arms of another woman. She was more distressed to have interrupted them in so intimate a moment. 'I'm sorry,' she babbled, edging toward her bedroom. 'I didn't know you… I'll just go to bed…'
Marion held out a hand. 'Ginny. Wait.' She motioned to the armchair across from the sofa and said, 'We're not angry.' She elbowed Helen, who nodded in agreement. 'Please. Sit…' Ginny padded to the armchair and perched on the edge of the cushion, the key still clutched in her hand. Marion looked positively miserable as she regarded her young teammate. 'Helen and I have been together for a couple of years, but it's a secret.'
Helen rubbed her hand over her closely cropped hair and studied Ginny. 'It's only because Gwenog would make one of use leave the team,' she stated. 'Neither of us wants to go to another team.'
'She thinks having relationships amongst the team is a detriment to the cohesion of the team,' Marion sighed. 'In case the relationship were to go sour,' she explained. 'It's not normally an issue. Helen and I have a flat in Monmouth, and Gwenog thinks we just share it.'
Helen snorted. 'Really? You think she doesn't know?'
Marion tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. 'Not really,' she conceded. 'But if she doesn't ask us outright, we don't have to lie to her, do we?'
Helen sent a stern glance to Ginny. 'So officially, we're not together.' Her face softened. 'It's a lot to ask of you.'
'No, it's all right,' Ginny interrupted quickly. Keeping their secret wouldn't be terribly difficult. After all, Ginny had her own secrets she'd successfully kept for years. 'I really am sorry I interrupted you.' A dull ache in her hand made her glance down. She found she still gripped the key tightly in her hand. Ginny forced herself to uncurl her fingers and tuck the key into her bag. 'I'll just go to bed,' she said. 'Good night.' She stood and started to make the short walk to her room.
'Ginny.' Marion's quiet voice halted her progress. Ginny turned to see the older woman's face creased with worry, hands folded in front of her body. 'If you'd like to change rooms for the remainder of the trip…' Marion trailed off, swallowing hard, as if to prevent the idea from forming words. 'I do understand.'
'What?' Ginny shook her head. 'Why would I do that?'
Marion exchanged a glance with Helen. 'It doesn't bother you?' she ventured.
Ginny shook her head. 'No.' She recalled the two Ravenclaw girls that were rumored to be a couple and Luna's typical response to it. It shouldn't matter, really, Luna had opined one afternoon in the library. Physical attraction is but a small part of love. And their love for one another doesn't diminish your love for Harry. They weren't the only ones Ginny knew who preferred their own gender. Blaise Zabini, for one. Kenneth Towler from Fred and George's year. Not to mention the revelations about Dumbledore, had anyone bothered to read between the lines of Rita Skeeter's biography. 'See you in the morning,' she added, and went into her room, closing the door behind her.
Helen and Marion sagged against the sofa cushions. 'Do you think she'll be able to keep it quiet?' Helen asked, nibbling her thumbnail.
Marion gazed at Ginny's door. Something told her the girl had her own story she'd rather not tell, given the way Ginny had reacted that first morning in Sweden. 'I do, yes.'
Harry's working life in the Ministry had settled into a pleasant sort of routine. He had spent some considerable time in the spring preparing to question the Death Eaters who had managed to avoid a lengthy sentence in Azkaban, as well as the mandatory semiannual trip to Azkaban to ensure the imprisoned Death Eaters weren't being mistreated. Of course there was the paperwork. Scrolls and scrolls of paperwork, taking care to make multiple copies of each report and file he completed. He took his turns in keeping surveillance on the few from Voldemort's side who hadn't ended up in prison. Avoiding direct conversation with the Auror Head was another ongoing task on Harry's list. He joined the trainees for a few classes – mostly a twice-a-week potions lesson and dropped by once a week or so to fill in the gaps of his charms and transfiguration repertoire. At first, he had thought the trainees might look down on him for needing the lessons, but to his muted delight, it was quite the contrary. He had unwittingly managed to earn their respect for being willing to admit he needed the classes and hadn't asked for special treatment.
In other words, by behaving as any other Auror-in-training.
So far, this particular morning had gone smoothly.
That is, until a small purple aeroplane landed on his desk. Harry didn't unfold it right away. If it had been urgent, the aeroplane would have butted him in the head until he did read it. Harry completed his current task and laid it aside. He left to meet Ron at the shop for lunch, and returned to his desk exactly an hour after he'd left it. Only then did he pick up the purple parchment and unfold the aeroplane.
Please come to my office at three. Something has come up that you and I need to discuss.
It was signed with a simple K.
Harry felt the blood drain from his face, while is stomach simultaneously clenched into a vicious knot. His mouth suddenly went dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. If he hadn't already been sitting down, Harry thought his knees might have buckled. Harry couldn't imagine what Kingsley might want to "discuss". His eyes closed tightly as he reviewed the past few weeks, drawing a blank as to what he had done that needed such urgent attention. Furthermore, it was highly irregular. Any issues within the Auror department were handled in hierarchy: an Auror's direct supervisor – in Harry's case it would be Peter Wilson, his supervisor; if the situation escalated, then it would go to the Head; then finally the Minister, if necessary. Harry spent the next two hours pretending to work, all the while wondering just what he had done that was so awful that it required them to skip two levels of discipline.
Ten minutes before three, Harry stiffly stood and stumbled from his cubicle to the lifts. He darted into the first one that arrived and numbly pressed the button for Level One, annoyed to see his hand shaking. He opened the outer door of the Minister's office and peered around the edge. Percy glanced up distractedly from his own work and motioned for Harry to come in. 'He's expecting you,' Percy mumbled, sorting through a large pile of correspondence.
'Thanks…' Harry responded in a bare murmur. He opened the door that led to Kinglsey's office and slipped through the smallest gap possible. Kingsley sat behind his massive desk, looking pensive. He said nothing, but made a gesture that Harry took to mean he ought to sit in one of the chairs on the other side of the desk, and quickly dropped to the edge of the nearest one. 'Sir?' he asked tentatively. Kingsley still said nothing, but let a thick book fall to the top of the desk and pushed it across to Harry. It was the extremely unauthorized biography Rita Skeeter had written about him. Harry had received an advance copy in the spring, managing to skim through most of it, before he'd hurled it at the wall in mingled disgust and outrage. 'Yeah, I've seen it,' Harry said dully. 'So?'
Kingsley rubbed his chin, then folded his hands together in front of him. 'She makes some remarkable insinuations,' he commented. 'Most of which we can discount, except the allegation that you used an Unforgiveable to facilitate breaking into Gringotts.' He paused before spearing Harry with a severe look. 'Did you?'
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat clustered around a table in a pub near Harry's flat. 'What are they going to do?' Ron asked wearily.
Harry shook his head. 'I don't know. Kingsley was being a bit cagey about it all. He said the only reason they were looking into this is because of the allegations Skeeter made in her book about me. The Ministry's been getting a load of irate letters for weeks about me and my suitability to remain in the Ministry's employ. Kingsley and Percy thought it would die down after a week or two, and something else would catch their attentions.' He drew patterns on the scuffed table in a puddle of spilled ale with a forefinger. 'Needless to say, that hasn't happened.'
Hermione looked worried. 'But Harry,' she began, 'you did do what she says you did.'
'I know,' Harry said flatly. 'I could go to prison. Lose my wand.' His fingers stole to his right sleeve and flattened protectively over his hidden, holstered wand.
'Well, that's not going to happen,' Hermione said crisply. 'There were extenuating circumstances.'
'Hermione's right,' Ron offered, looking up from the table. 'Not like you were doing it for personal gain, innit?'
'No.' Harry slouched further into his chair. 'I just want to know how does she know?'
'Oh honestly, Harry,' Hermione huffed. 'It's Rita Skeeter. She has a penchant for dubious sources and an uncanny ability to make lurid deductions. How else would one break into Gringotts? She already thinks the worst of you, so she's not only going to imply that you're mad enough to use those curses, but that you also liked doing it.' She took a swallow of her drink. 'I read the book,' she told Harry. 'Most of it's outright lies, but she skirts the law by making it mere speculation. Besides, it's somewhat common knowledge that we were seen with that poor dragon immediately after the break-in. And the Wizengamot knows you've used an Unforgiveable as it is. She gets an anonymous Wizengamot member to confirm you're capable to using an Unforgiveable and puts two and two together, but can't verify you did it at that moment.' Hermione took another sip of her drink. 'It's quite clever actually. Too bad she's such a rabid cow.'
'Glad I'm not famous enough for her to bother with me,' Ron joked weakly.
'Just wait,' Harry muttered darkly. 'I wish there was someone who could advise me,' he said wistfully. 'Not that the two of you are hopeless, but I think I need someone with a bit more experience dealing with the Ministry.'
'Dad?' ventured Ron. 'Or Percy?'
Harry considered each one, and rejected them on the basis that he wanted to involve as few family members as possible. Not to mention Percy was already involved, and if he were caught advising Harry, it might drag his career into this maelstrom. 'No…'
Hermione chewed a hangnail. 'Harry,' she muttered around her middle finger. 'Didn't Professor McGonagall vouch for you after the war at the hearings?'
Hermione gazed at Harry with the air of one who faintly pitied someone else for not being able to come up with the correct answer. 'Why not talk to her?'
Harry drained his pint and stared at the empty glass. 'I'll send an owl in the morning.' He ran a hand through his hair and gazed unhappily at his friends. 'This affects the two of you, you know,' he said quietly.
'What? Why?' Ron yelped. Hermione shushed him with a scowl. 'I mean, oh. All right.'
'They consider us accessories, don't they?' Hermione said wryly. 'We were there, we did nothing to stop you, we were actively taking part in the break-in. So ridiculous.'
Alarmed, Harry shook his head vigorously. 'No, I won't let that happen. I'll tell them you didn't know I did it.'
Ron's fingers dipped into a packet of crisps and he shoved it into his mouth, crunching loudly. 'I don't think so, mate,' he said.
Bemused, Harry turned to look at Ron. 'What do you mean?'
Ron's other hand curled around Hermione's. 'If it comes to appearing before the Wizengamot, we'll do it together,' he stated, with only a glimmer of fear in his eyes. 'We did it together, we'll answer for it together.'
Hermione's lips curved in a smile. 'Like always.'
Harry sat on the edge of the proffered chair. 'Ginger newt?' McGonagall asked, extending the tartan tin. Harry took one and dunked it into his tea. 'So, Potter, why are you here?'
Harry hunched miserably in the chair. 'I needed some advice, Professor.' He bit off the head of the newt-shaped biscuit and chewed morosely. 'I'm to be investigated,' he told her. 'For using an Unforgiveable.'
McGonagall's thin brows drew together. 'Nonsense. I thought that was taken care of after the war. Need I remind you that you weren't the only one that used one of those in the battle?'
'No,' Harry replied in a small voice, feeling like a first year. 'This accusation is from before that. When we broke into the Lestrange vault.'
McGonagall sipped her tea, examining Harry over the rim of the cup. 'And why is this just coming up now?'
'Why can't that woman keep her nose out of other people's business, I ask you?' huffed McGonagall. 'Bothersome twit.' She fixed Harry with a beady eye. 'Did you do it?'
'To get into the vault, yes. But we had to, Professor!' Harry said in a rush. 'We had to have something in there to defeat Voldemort.' He set his tea on the edge of McGonagall's desk.
'This is the last time you'll admit to doing so,' McGonagall ordered sternly.
Harry was shocked into silence. 'You want me to lie?' he managed to splutter.
'No, Potter, I do not want you to lie. If I might make a suggestion?'
Harry nodded. 'Yeah.'
'The battle didn't start the second you set foot on Hogwarts' grounds. If you inform the Minister that it happened as part of the battle, I'm sure he'll consider the matter closed. And I advise you to do so, lad. There are plenty in the Wizengamot who aren't very pleased with you for speaking on the Malfoys' behalf. And the rest have convinced themselves that you're in a position over your head with the Aurors.' McGonagall took a long sip of tea. 'I assume Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger were with you at the time?'
'Then I don't think either of them are going to reveal your secret.'
Harry shifted uneasily in the large chair. 'I dunno,' he muttered doubtfully. 'Not about Ron and Hermione,' he hastily added. 'But I can't say I'm comfortable stretching the truth so thin someone's liable to punch holes in it, yeah?'
McGonagall picked up a small, framed photograph Harry had never noticed in her office when she was the Transfiguration professor. A very young-looking Minerva McGonagall – possibly not much older than Harry himself – sat at a table littered with empty glasses, surrounded by four young men, who had the brash smiles most British associated with Yanks. They were all dressed in what looked to Harry like Army uniforms, but he couldn't be sure. She set the photograph down with a suppressed sigh. 'There are times, lad, where you have to do something that teases the line of ethical because it's a means to an end. In wartime, especially, you'll find yourself taking a course of action that's diametrically opposed to what you would do as a civilian. You bend rules to the point of breaking them. You have to refuse to help a treasured colleague, strictly because doing so would divert valuable resources from the larger goal.' Harry glanced curiously at the photograph, wondering just how much experience McGonagall had with armed conflict, Muggle or magical. She lifted her teacup to her lips. 'Did you particularly enjoy using those curses during the war?'
Harry squeezed his hands together. 'Just the one time,' he confessed. 'When that bastard spat on you…'
'War doesn't lend itself to making particularly ethical or moral decisions one hundred percent of the time,' McGonagall commented. 'Sometimes you have to make them for the greater good.'
'I never want to hear that phrase again!' Harry exclaimed bitterly.
'Neither do I, lad,' McGonagall told him softly. 'And if I never hear it again, I shall be a very happy witch indeed,' she added tartly, with a sidelong glance at the photograph. 'It's abused far too often.' The last was said in a tone that made Harry sit up a bit straighter and peer closely at his former teacher. In the best of times, McGonagall could present a façade as bland as porridge when she so desired. Nothing seemed to ruffle her. For a brief moment, Harry saw the surface of McGonagall's exterior tranquility ripple, as if the last statement were a rock thrown into a still pond. Burning with curiosity, but reluctant to pry, Harry merely resumed nibbling the ginger newt. McGonagall adjusted her glasses and fixed Harry with a typically stern glare. 'And you should know by now, lad, the world isn't colored in black and white. The ability to see it in shades of grey makes you stop and think about what you're doing.' She began to take a sip of her tea, but stopped with the cup halfway to her lips. 'These things have a way of working out in the end. You'll see.'