New Year, New Hope
The Hogwarts Express chugged steadily northward under a cloudless blue sky, passing snow-covered rolling hills and quaint little villages still dressed in holiday finery. Inside the train, the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry visited each others' compartments, talking eagerly of their Christmas presents and what they had done during holiday. Moreover, there was a sense of anticipation for what the coming term would hold.
In the last compartment, though, Ginny Weasley stood staring out the window. The other occupants, Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood, and Neville Longbottom, were all napping or reading, so it almost seemed to Ginny that she was alone. It was rather a peaceful moment for her and, she let her mind wander over the events of the last month and how her life had changed.
Ever since that first weekend in December when Harry and Hermione had accompanied her and Ron home, things had been more intense between Ginny and Harry. The trust that began building between the two of them in the Room of Requirement in November had blossomed into a real closeness which, in turn, had become more passionate after Ginny had found the courage to tell Harry how she really felt about him. He'd surprised her by actually returning those feelings in the weeks leading up to Christmas and, when he had joined the Weasleys at the Burrow for the holiday, his first ever there, the two of them had managed to find some alone time every day. It had been fun walking hand in hand through the orchard or sitting snuggled together on one of the garden benches, talking. Ginny had found that Harry was at his most relaxed in front of the fire, though, and they had often cuddled up on the lounge's hearth rug toasting marshmallows and discussing in hushed voices the events of the previous June.
Ginny now knew just how important a role she was playing for Harry. As his confidante, she was the sole keeper of Harry's big "secret," the one that had Hermione and Ron pestering her at regular intervals since she had accidentally let it slip that there was something more bothering Harry. So many things could go wrong if she were to tell someone outright, even if it was only Ron and Hermione; the first of which would be a breech of the trust Harry had in her. Secondly, it was imperative that nothing was leaked to Voldemort if Harry wanted to live to see his eighteenth birthday. Ginny knew her feelings for Harry were such that she would do all in her power to keep him safely out of Voldemort's clutches. He was that important to her and, it seemed, he valued her the same way.
The other part of her role had come almost as a complete surprise. On Christmas Eve, while snuggled under a blanket together watching the fairies flit amongst the branches of the Christmas tree and discussing which boxes held what presents for whom, Harry had revealed that no one had ever told him they loved him. Before she could stop herself, Ginny had taken his hand in hers and revealed that she indeed did love him. Harry's response would always be a wonderful memory to her; he had reached up and tenderly kissed her on the lips murmuring that she was the first to say, "I love you, Harry."
His gift to her the next morning had been shyly handed over with a stammered, "I—I l-love you, too, Ginny. You're the first person I've ever said that to." She had gaped at him for several seconds as his words sank in. Then, at his urging, she had opened the tiny box with trembling fingers to find a note and another box inside. The note had simply said, "Happy Christmas, Ginny. Thank you. Love, Harry." Inside the second box was a beautiful emerald pendant with earrings to match. There was a ring as well. Ginny had stared at the expensive present, not daring to believe he had given her a gift of such significance until she remembered the afternoon she had given him the box to hold his Pensieve. All the emotions of that day came flooding back, and she had flung her arms around his waist, burying her face in the hollow of his chest. When they broke apart at last, Harry had awkwardly hung the pendant around her neck saying, "You mean the world to me, Ginny. I wanted you to have something just as precious."
Needless to say, Ginny couldn't remember much more about the rest of the day.
Now, as the train sped ever northward, Ginny toyed with the pendant as she contemplated the rest of their stay at The Burrow. Not much had happened, really. The good news was that Harry actually had almost a week's worth of full nights' sleep, and though he was dozing now, he looked more rested than he had in six months.
As for Ron's reaction to Harry's gift to Ginny, well, that had been typical.
"Oi, Ginny...where did you get the jewellery?" he had inquired two days after Christmas.
Ginny had smiled shyly as she answered, "Harry. It was his gift to me on Christmas morning."
"Harry? Since when do you rate gifts like that from him? I thought you were still going out with Dean!"
"You know Dean and I are just friends, Ron. And it's none of your business that Harry wanted to give his girlfriend an expensive gift. I didn't pry into what you gave Hermione."
"G-g-girlfriend? That prat! He didn't ask my permission to go out with you! Besides, you're too young to be his girlfriend!"
"Oh, stuff it, Ron," Ginny had said irritably. "I seem to remember that you hinted pretty hard on the train last June that the only boy you'd approve of being my boyfriend was Harry. Now you have your wish, so quit bothering us."
"You've got me there, Gin," Ron had admitted, then added, "Congrats, little sister. Be good to my best mate, will you?"
Ginny had smiled at her brother then. "You can count on it."
A particularly loud snore from Harry brought Ginny's thoughts back to the present. She wrenched her gaze from the passing scenery to let it rest on the boy who meant so much to her. At the moment, he looked rather peaceful in his somewhat uncomfortable position, his head resting on the back of the seat. Ginny sat down next to him and pulled a textbook from her bag before gently guiding his head onto her shoulder. Harry sighed contentedly and snaked an arm around her waist as he made himself comfortable.
Ginny smiled and looked out the window again, this time thinking of their one and only kiss on Christmas Eve. Since then, for all the hand holding and cuddling together that they'd done, they had never exchanged a passionate snog again. Of course, Ginny had felt Harry brush his lips on the top of her head or on her forehead, but no other kiss had been directly aimed at her mouth! Ginny sensed that Harry was holding himself back for some reason. She suspected that it had to do with some of the secrets he was keeping from her and Ron and Hermione and that Harry was still afraid to let himself completely love her for some reason. She knew that Sirius' death had taken the one adult from Harry that he had probably loved like a parent; maybe he was afraid to love someone completely because he was afraid to lose them, too. Oh, it was so complicated this psychoanalysis stuff. It made her more tired to think about it than revising for her O.W.L.s!
The view from the window was now almost completely dark, and as the lamps in the compartment flickered to life Ginny finally opened the book which rested on her lap. She was a little surprised to find that she had pulled out her Potions book, but opened it anyway to a random page which turned out to be the entry about hellebore. As she read about the plant's uses in potion-making and its effect upon the mixtures it was used in, something began to surface from the depths of her mind. Finally, at the bottom of the page, a list of potions containing even the smallest amount of hellebore caught her attention and sent her mind wandering again, for at the top of the list was the Draught of Peace.
Ginny remembered that the Draught of Peace was the first potion her class had been set to brew their first day back at Hogwarts in September. She had been proud that she had eventually managed to receive an "A" for her attempt at this fiddly potion. Several others in her class hadn't been so lucky. Colin Creevey had received a particularly nasty detention from Professor Snape when he had upset his cauldron and accidentally caught the teacher's robes on fire. Luna Lovegood had also encountered Professor Snape's wrath later in the day for being more interested in watching the steam patterns issuing from her cauldron than stirring her mixture the correct number of times one way or another for a specific amount of time.
Thinking back, there was something that Professor Snape had said about the potion that now made Ginny flip to the index in search of more information. Turning to the new page, Ginny read about the potion itself and began to grin as her eyes flew over the page. The words "calms anxiety" and "sooths agitation" interspersed with her own ideas: nightmares, depression, and grief.
This is it, she thought. This potion could possibly help Harry!
What had made her so hopeful was the description of the potion's effects: "The Draught of Peace is used to calm the nerves and quiet agitation," she read. The excerpt gave a list of ingredients as well as confirmed that brewing time was exactly an hour and a half. Ginny knew she had copied the exact quantities of ingredients and the method into her notes after she had turned in her flask to Professor Snape; all she needed to do was a little more research on the effects of the potion. She resolved to go to the library before bed that night to get the missing information.
The train began to slow as it approached Hogsmeade Station. "Harry, wake up sweety," Ginny whispered and began playing with fringe covering his forehead, an action which Harry had admitted felt rather nice to wake up to. "We're almost home. Ron and Hermione will be back shortly to get their trunks."
"Mmmm, fi' mo' m'nts," Harry mumbled, now burrowing his forehead into her neck.
Ginny giggled. "Sorry, love. There isn't time. Besides, we're due for our usual visit from Malfoy, and he's certain to turn up since we've not seen him the entire trip."
That got Harry's attention. He jerked his head up from her shoulder and looked around the compartment a little dazed and slightly confused. "Where's Malfoy?" he asked shaking the last vestiges of sleep from his head.
"Not here, thank goodness," came Neville's relieved observation from across the compartment. Looking directly at Harry, he commented, "I didn't see him on the platform. I don't think he went home for Christmas this year. Or if he did, he didn't take the train back to school."
"Well, no matter. It's been a rather pleasant journey without him."
The others agreed and began gathering their belongings as Hogsmeade station came into view.
Harry and Ginny stepped out of the train onto the snowy platform and followed the crowd that was shuffling its way toward the path to the coaches. Ginny could see Hermione and Ron up ahead helping some of the younger students with their belongings and showing them the correct path to take, even though there was a steady stream of students going in one particular direction.
The cold air felt good to Ginny after the sleepy confines of the coach compartment. She breathed in deeply, savoring the faint pine scent that drifted from the surrounding pine trees. As much as she loved going home, she decided, it was always a thrill to be once again gazing upon the towers and battlements of Hogwarts Castle.
The peace of the afternoon was suddenly shattered by a drawling voice which could only belong to Draco Malfoy. "Well, if it isn't Potty and the Weasle-ette."
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry spat, but didn't stop walking.
Malfoy followed Harry and Ginny. "I've heard rumors, Potter, that you stayed with this Mudblood-lover's family in their shack during the holiday," the other boy drawled.
"Shut it, Malfoy," Harry said fiercely as Ginny put a restraining hand on his arm.
"Easy, Harry. Ignore him," she whispered. She could feel him tense up for Malfoy's next barrage of insults.
"Oh, I think not. It's funny that you can't find some place better, Potter. Where did you have to sleep? The pigsty?" Malfoy asked.
"Of course not. He slept in the guest room like a proper guest," Ginny chimed in airily trying to dispel the tension. It didn't work as Malfoy continued to follow them. "Come on, Harry," she whispered. "Let's find someplace to sit." She led the way toward the nearest empty coach. "Tell me Malfoy," she said, turning at the door to look over her shoulder at their tormenter, "Where are Crabbe and Goyle? And how come you weren't on the train?"
"None of your damn business," the Slytherin spat at her. He turned his attention back to Harry. "I find it incredibly funny that the dog pound closed its doors last June. Maybe you could have spent the holiday there playing with all the dogs."
Harry turned to look at Malfoy. The allusion to Sirius had clearly gotten to him. "I wouldn't know," he said, the rage in his voice barely controlled. Ginny could feel something radiating from Harry that seemed to shimmer through the air. She watched in trepidation as he walked toward the horseless end of the coach and reached out a hand, making a patting motion. It seemed to calm him a bit. "My room at the Weasley's probably had a much better view and accommodations than the prison cell you slept in."
Malfoy stiffened, his face twisting angrily at Harry's words. "What exactly are you hinting at?" he asked.
"I should think it's obvious, don't you?" Harry said his voice dangerously level.
Suddenly, Ginny heard the unmistakable sound of harness traces being undone. The coach shuddered. Malfoy must have heard the sound as well because his attention swivelled from Harry toward the coach. The Thestrals! Ginny sucked in her breath as she watched both Harry and Malfoy. Both boys were riveted on the seemingly empty space between Harry and the coach now; Malfoy looked mildly alarmed, Harry grinned shrewdly.
What happened next was anybody's guess except Harry's. Ginny, and several others who had stopped to watch the exchange between Harry and Malfoy, looked on in fascination as the sleeve of Malfoy's robes was torn from shoulder to wrist in one fluid motion. For a split second, the piece of material dangled in mid-air after which it was dropped abruptly onto the snowy ground. The next instant, Malfoy was flying through the air, landing unceremoniously on his backside in a snow drift. The crowd burst into raucous laughter as Malfoy picked himself up, grabbed the piece of his sleeve, and stomped away muttering threats under his breath.
Only then, did Ginny turn back to Harry. He seemed to be leaning against a Thestral's neck talking to it in a whisper. Walking closer, she heard a faint whinny before Harry seemed to lead the horse back to the coach. Again, there was the rattle of harness traces as the coach swayed slightly. Harry gave the Thestrals one last pat and joined Ginny as she climbed inside the coach.
"That was interesting," she commented as he sat down. "What's with the Thestrals?"
Harry shook his head. "I think the two pulling this coach were part of our transport to London last June. They both nuzzled me when I walked up to them. I think they recognized me."
"They did more than that, Harry. I think they were defending you!"
"What makes you say that?"
"Well...did they...or did you unhitch them from the coach?"
"You mean magically?"
"You did use a spell, didn't you?"
"N-no. Why do you ask?"
"I felt something, Harry. Something powerful. I think the Thestrals felt it, too. Maybe that's why they acted the way they did."
Before Harry could reply, Ron and Hermione entered the coach along with Neville and Luna.
"What's wrong with Malfoy?" Ron asked. "He looked like he could use a trip to Madam Malkin's."
Harry smiled wickedly. "The Thestrals don't like him."
Ron grinned. "So it's true, then. He really did end up as a horse's snack. I wonder if he'll sue."
Hermione shook her head. "I don't think he will. Malfoy hates to admit he's done anything wrong, the arrogant git."
Everyone stared at Hermione for a moment, and then burst out laughing. The good mood from earlier was back and Ginny and the rest of the coach's occupants filled the rest of the journey with talk of something other than the malicious Slytherin.
After dinner, Ginny bade the others good night at the Portrait Hole and headed for her dormitory to organize her books for the next morning's lessons. It was still early, and since there was time, she was going to slip away to the library before curfew at nine o'clock. She shoved her Potions notebook into her rucksack and headed for the door.
When she reached the bottom of the Girl's staircase she paused to look for her brother and his friends. She spotted them at Hermione's favourite table; Ron and Harry were absorbed in a fierce battle across the chess board, Hermione had her nose in a book with Crookshanks curled comfortably in her lap. None of them noticed as she quietly left the common room and headed for the library where she found a private table near the Potions section.
Taking out her notebook, she scanned her entries for her notes concerning the Draught of Peace. In addition to the formula and method, she'd made detailed observations in the margins about vapour colour, stirring direction and duration, the consistency of the liquid, and other addendums to what she had copied from Professor Snape's board. What she didn't have was the history of use, a more detailed description of the potion's effects on the body, or suggestions for use. A quick search of the potions section revealed little by way of medicinal uses for the potion. Sighing heavily, she walked over to Madam Pince's desk to ask for her assistance.
"May I help you?" the librarian asked as Ginny walked up.
"Yes. I need what Muggles would call medicinal information about several potions including dosage, suggestions for use, and the effects on the body," Ginny told her a little nervously.
Madam Pince's eyes bore into Ginny's. "Any specific potion, or do you want a broader search?"
Ginny thought for a moment. "General information is mostly what I need right now. I can start there and organize my essay from what I find," she said, crossing her fingers behind her back.
Madam Pince stepped out from behind the desk. "Very well. Follow me," she requested crisply and led the way back to the section Ginny had just left. "Medicinal Potions are on the top two shelves. Use the stepladder," she pointed down the stack, "to reach the books you want. Do not use levitation charms on these books. Some of them have been rather badly damaged by students dropping them. Understood?"
Madam Pince nodded and went to investigate some muffled noises issuing from the next row over.
Ginny stood on tip toe to see the titles of the books; there were several she wanted to check out. She retrieved the stepladder and took down two heavy volumes which she laid next to her notebook before going to get two more that she was interested in. With a glance at the library clock, Ginny sat down and began leafing through the first book, Common Medicinal Potions for the Household.
The Table of Contents seemed helpful, even mentioning the Draught of Peace. However, when she turned to the entry, all she found was the exact recipe she had copied from Snape's board. She wondered whether the Potions Master had taken the directions from this book verbatim. Ginny closed the book with a soft thump and reached for the next book. It, too, only gave the recipe as did the next four she chose to look in. With a sigh, Ginny rose from her table and mounted the ladder. It was going to be a long night...
As closing time neared, Ginny wearily climbed the ladder for the seventeenth time that evening. The books were surprisingly heavy the higher she climbed and she wondered why the librarian insisted this section be placed so high out of reach. She reshelved her latest load and scanned the next few books for promising titles. A small, thin volume, Uncommon Uses for Everyday Potions, caught her attention, so she plucked it from between the two huge tomes which flanked it and began turning the fragile pages.
What she found fascinated her. Not only did this book give the exact information for the Draught of Peace she needed, it also included detailed methods of changing the potion to suit the exact use: happiness restorative, solace of the mind, comfort for the soul, relaxation, nightmares, insomnia. There were several others listed, but Ginny had stopped reading. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she climbed down and took her place at the table to peruse the book more thoroughly.
She flipped through the pages, eagerly looking for other common recipes that could be changed to suit her purpose. Eventually, she found and made a list of the variations on teas, tinctures, elixirs, and decoctions which produced a variety of calming effects, insomnia cures, nerve tonics and body balance restoratives. I've found it, she thought happily as she cleared her table. All I need now are the ingredients.
Madam Pince frowned at Ginny as she brought her book up to the desk. "The library closed ten minutes ago," she said bruskly.
"I was putting away the books I was using as you requested: no magic," Ginny told her evenly.
The librarian harrumphed. "I see you found the most dangerous book in the section," she observed as she completed the check-out procedure. "Don't get any ideas on attempting any of the variations to these potions without plenty of caution and extra research. Otherwise, you'll end up poisoning whoever ingests your concoction."
Taken aback, Ginny asked, "How do you know?"
Madam Pince's eyes bore into Ginny's as she said, "Just go ask Madam Pomfrey about the number of poisoning cases she's treated which have resulted from the use of this book."
Ginny rose to the challenge. "All right, I will. And why, may I ask, isn't this book in the restricted section?"
Madam Pince smiled slyly. "It usually is, my dear. However, there's something about that book that causes it to migrate between sections at random. It somehow senses the seeker's need for it and appears when least expected. That book contains an immense amount of knowledge which conforms itself to the reader's needs. I will check this book out to you on the condition that only you read it, for the information contained herein has matched itself to your desires. Do I make myself clear?"
Ginny gulped as she reached for the book. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you and good night." With that, Ginny jammed Uncommon Uses for Everyday Potions in her book bag and fled, Madam Pince's warning ringing in her ears.