Ginny sat on the grass, a few yards off the path to Hagrid's cabin, late on a warm spring afternoon. She sat hunched over, her knees pulled up, her eyes closed, listening to the tinkling and splashing of water cascading in the fountain behind her, and to the cooing of two doves perched in the rowan tree growing next to the fountain.
A happy thought filled her mind and she lifted her head. Harry was striding towards her. He waved and she smiled and waved back.
He plopped down next to her and she leaned over and kissed him. "Hey, sweetie, did they set the date?"
He grinned. "July 1 next year. Ron's promotion will be the same day. He and Hermione are coming over Friday for dinner to celebrate."
"Oh, Harry! We can start to make plans."
"Right, and I talked to Stan before I came, and he doesn't see any problem with buying the inn next summer. Harriet's due in October, so by the summer they'll be able to handle it."
Harry meant The Hog's Head Inn, which he himself had bought six years ago, two days after the Battle of Hogwarts. He had wanted a place for him and Ginny to be together while she finished her last year at school. He had renovated it, of course, being that it had been a dump and a hangout for shady characters, unfit for habitation let alone a love nest. Stan Shunpike became his barman, and after Harry joined a new Auror training program at the Ministry of Magic, Stan took over running the inn. He later married Harriet Smythe, a waitress at The Three Broomsticks.
The renovations included a three-room flat on the second floor, and during the first year that Harry lived there it had been a place of refuge and romance for him and Ginny. They had intended to move out after their wedding the following summer, but life has a way of changing even well-laid plans.
Harry was being groomed to become Head Auror, and became engulfed in all the political and administrative intricacies of running a department in the Ministry. Ginny had successfully tried out for the all-witch Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team, and her role on the Harpies grew with each match as her skills blossomed and her passionate spirit infused the whole team. Her popularity with fans grew too, and soon, as one of the best Chasers in the British and Irish League, she became as well-known and maybe even more popular than her husband.
Weeks, months, and years slipped by, and the small flat over The Hog's Head became cozier and more comfortable, if a little crowded with the accumulations of five years of marriage. Moving out did not seem as urgent, and besides, as Ginny often said, she liked being as close as possible to her sweetie.
Now, sitting on the Hogwarts lawn at the end of a lovely day, listening to the sounds of the fountain, Ginny was silent. She looked up at the doves; they had built their nest on a branch a dozen feet up, and the female was sitting in it. Ginny knew from Hagrid, who checked the nest every day, that there were three eggs.
She leaned her head on Harry's shoulder and he put his arm around her. "I knew you'd be here," he said.
Ginny sighed. "I wanted to spend some time here alone. It will be too crowded on the second."
Next week would be the annual memorial ceremony for the Battle and the fountain, which marked the spot where Elizabeth Derby, a fifth-year Ravenclaw, had died. Ginny had found her here, horribly wounded, her face mutilated, her limbs broken, and had held her hand in the last moments of her life. The fountain was a memorial to Elizabeth and all students who had been killed. It was magical, filled with colorful fish and beautiful water lilies. Water fell out of two cupped hands held aloft above the basin. Flowering vines grew up around the white marble pedestal and around the basin. The fountain and the rowan tree had been created by Ginny and her Hogwarts professors, and the fish, the flowers, and the doves would live there as long as Hogwarts stood.
Ginny liked to come here when the weather was fine. The sounds of the water and the doves were soothing. Sometimes Hagrid or another professor or a curious student would stop by and they would sit in silence for a while, but mostly she sat or lay on the grass alone. She didn't even want to be with Harry at those times.
Today he had expected her to be at the flat when he got home from work because he was bringing news: the date he would officially become Head Auror, the job he had been preparing for these past five years. But he could tell that something else was on Ginny's mind, something that Harry couldn't see clearly. He knew it was not Elizabeth, but Ginny was not letting him see what it was.
They shared a connection, a link between their minds and their hearts that opened up every thought and every emotion; it allowed them to be with each other in total, engulfing intimacy. They often did not have to speak in order to communicate, especially about strong feelings or an important thought.
But along with total intimacy came the need to hold back, to keep from hurting the other with a sudden, uncontrolled emotion, or when they needed privacy. Minor annoyances were not a problem; after five years of marriage they knew each other well enough not to be bothered by a tub of ice cream left to melt on the kitchen counter, or a wad of long red hair clogging up the shower drain. They handled problems like those with magic. But right now, sitting on the Hogwarts lawn in front of the magical fountain, something more important was bothering Ginny, and Harry sat quietly without trying to intrude.
Her hand rested on the grass, and he put his over it. She looked at him, and instantly he knew what she was thinking. A fraction of a second passed, and Harry looked away.
"I don't like the idea. In August you could be three months along and still playing."
"You don't know that."
"You will be playing. There's no way they won't pick you. And what if you got hit with a Bludger? Can't we wait three months?"
Ginny frowned. "I only got hit in my middle once, ever, and that was five years ago at my tryout."
They looked at each other and were silent again as the conversation went back inside. Another fraction of a second ticked, and Harry stood; they had decided. He gave his hand to Ginny and pulled her up into a hug.
"April is a good month to have a baby," Ginny said as they walked away from the fountain, their arms around each other. "But if we don't start trying until July we'll have to go at it hot and heavy."
He smiled down at her. "Maybe you'll finally wear me out."
"What are you talking about, Potter?" Ginny pulled away from him. "Don't you remember Paris last year? You couldn't walk for a week."
Harry laughed and pulled her back. They strolled through the tall pillars of the castle gate and continued on past Hogsmeade Station, up the High Street, past The Three Broomsticks, the post office, and Honeydukes. Passing Zonko's Joke shop, they glanced in the window but didn't see George or Angelina. They went around The Hog's Head and up the back stairs to their flat.
# # # #
What concerned Harry about Ginny's becoming pregnant too soon was the Quidditch World Cup. The tournament was to be held this August in Ireland, home of the two-time champions. The manager of the British National team, Philbert Deverill, who had moved over from managing Puddlemere United, would be choosing the team members any day now, according to the Daily Prophet. Ginny was First Chaser for the Harpies, and Harry and everyone else were confident that she was a cinch to make the National team. She was the current league scoring champion, and a sure bet to win it again this year. She and the Harpies' Second Chaser, Ginger Beale, a feisty former East-Ender, had led the team to two straight league titles.
During their meal that evening Harry and Ginny talked about having babies and names they liked. When they went downstairs to the inn's dining room, as they usually did after dinner, they saw George and Angelina sitting at a table near the front door. George waved and they went over and joined them.
"Congratulations!" George held out his hand and Harry shook it. "Let me buy you a drink and be the first to attempt a bribe of Britain's new Head Auror."
"Thanks," said Harry. "I don't drink, but you're welcome to try gold. And how the hell did you find out?"
"I have sources, my lad. As for bribing you with gold, I draw the line. Honestly, how corrupt do you think I am?" George grinned. "Seriously, it's brilliant news. And little brother is moving up with you, I assume?"
"He'll be my Chief Assistant. And Saliyah is becoming the first director of Intermagic," Harry said, referring to Saliyah Ushujaa, Kingsley Shacklebolt's wife, and Head Auror since the days following the Battle of Hogwarts.
"The international magical police bureau?" Angelina asked. "I thought someone from the States was getting that job."
Harry shook his head. "People are soured on the Yanks at the moment because of that Muggle war." He frowned. "I really hate politics. Thank Merlin for Kingsley. He knows all the right buttons to push and all the right hands to shake. He just keeps smiling, and of course it helps to have a voice that can overpower everyone else's."
"It wasn't just Kingsley," Ginny said. "Sal knows a few tricks herself. She really wanted that job."
"I imagine there were a few conversations behind the bedroom door at the Shacklebolt residence," George said with a grin.
Angelina frowned at him. "She deserves the job, and I don't think her competence has anything to do with her living arrangements."
"Just kidding, as usual," George said with a slight roll of his eyes.
Angelina grinned at Ginny. "Weren't you going to teach me that bat-bogey hex?"
George put his arm around Angelina. "Now, now. Ginny is way too busy with Quidditch to be teaching you stuff like that. Aren't you?" He looked at his sister hopefully.
Ginny laughed. "The season ends on Friday, so I will have some free time, and if Angelina does too . . ."
"No, wait! What about the Cup team? You'll be starting that soon, I'm sure."
Ginny reached across the table and patted his hand. "Relax, Brother. No one would dream of hexing you; your history of retaliation is too well known. But no one's told me anything about the Cup team. Deverill hasn't talked, and there are at least four other Chasers who—"
"No way!" Harry, George, and Angelina cried at the same time; everyone laughed.
"You are way too modest, Sis," George said. "The Quidditch writer at the Prophet predicts that you'll be First Chaser, and he's supposed to have all kinds of inside information."
"I read that article," Ginny said, shaking her head. "Herbert Hailfellow, he's the worst Quidditch writer I ever read. I could write a better piece with my eyes shut. He interviewed me and Ginger last December. All he wrote about was how nice we looked in our uniform robes. He's a bloody lecherous old git."
"Blimey, I didn't realize you liked him that much," George said.
The front door opened and two young witches walked in, obviously identical twins. They had curly, light brown hair; their complexions were fair, and their blue eyes danced as they swept the dining room. They were wearing school robes sporting the Gryffindor colors and crest, but instead of regulation blouses and neckties, they wore tee shirts with the logo of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes blazoned across their chests.
The twins were Emma and Claire Athair, Muggle-born sixth-years who had started at Hogwarts in Ginny's seventh year. They became fast friends with her and Harry during that year, and had also started working with George when he and Lee Jordan bought the old Zonko's building and re-opened it as a branch of the Diagon Alley joke shop. The girls distributed advertising and operated a small joke outlet in the sixth-year boys' dormitory in Gryffindor Tower.
They were standing right next to the table where Harry and Ginny sat with George and Angelina, and didn't notice them at first. But Emma glanced around and grinned. "Hey, Boss," she said to George. "Who's minding the shop?"
"Chico. He can almost speak English now, so I figure he's perfect for the job."
"Is he there by himself?" Claire asked.
"Now why do you want to know that?"
Chico Tomás was an immigrant from Argentina who had come to Britain six months earlier to work for the local Hogsmeade building contractor, Tony Trostle. Tony had done the renovations on the inn for Harry; he had also led the villagers who had attacked the Death Eater army from the rear at the crucial moment during the Battle. He often hired immigrants, but George had taken a liking to Chico after he had come to do some work at his and Angelina's home, a few miles outside the village. Now Chico was an employee of Zonko's and had shown an interest in learning English from Claire.
Claire blushed and George laughed. "Pull up a chair, both of you. I know you two don't go to bed early, and Señor Chico will be at work for a while."
"I wasn't planning on stopping by there," Claire insisted. "We knew you'd be here, so we came directly."
"Can I go see him if you aren't?" Emma said with a sly grin. "I'll tell him I'm you."
Claire scowled. "Ha, ha, he knows the difference."
"So," Harry cut in, "is this a new school policy, letting sixth-years out on weeknights?"
Emma glanced around and lowered her voice. "We told McGonagall we were conducting a sociological survey of attitudes in Hogsmeade toward the school."
"It's a cover we invented a month ago in History of Magic," Claire added.
"That's why we're wearing robes," said Emma.
"But we really needed to talk to George," said Claire.
Ginny was listening with an amused expression. "Why not send a message? You both have owls that roost in your room."
The twins' owls, Rosie and Mocha, were the offspring of Harry and Ginny's owls, McPherson and Bailey. By now several generations of Barn owl descendants were living at Hogwarts. Rosie and Mocha were from the first clutch of eggs that Bailey had laid five years ago.
Both twins looked askance at Ginny. "You of all people are asking why we don't stay at school?" Emma said. "As I recall, you had about twenty-five detentions our first year because you were off the grounds hanging out and otherwise occupying yourself with a certain green-eyed lad."
Ginny laughed. "It was only four, and besides, I was bringing criminals to justice."
"Well, times are better these days," said Claire. "We don't have any Death Eaters to fight, so instead we sell jokes."
"A much more worthwhile activity," said Harry. They all nodded in agreement.
"So what's on your mind?" George asked.
"Two Hufflepuff second-years had to go to the hospital wing this afternoon," said Emma. "I think one of the Skiving Snackboxes got jinxed. The Puking Pastille started working from the other end. It wasn't pretty."
George frowned. "I wonder if Chico got them mixed up with Reverse U-No-Poo. Someone needs to inspect the inventory. We might need a product recall."
"I'll go check it out." Claire jumped up and headed for the door.
"I'd better help," said Emma. "It sounds like a big job."
"I can handle it."
Claire tried to close the door behind her but Emma put her foot between the door and the jamb.
"But can you handle him?" Emma pulled on the door, and finally Claire gave up and the two girls left for Zonko's, up the lane and across the High Street from the inn.
Ginny shook her head. "What a pair."
"Did you hear what they did to the statues in the Ministry?" Harry asked.
They all looked at him. "You mean the Fountain of Magical Brethren?" Ginny said.
After the defeat of the Death Eater regime five years ago, the hideous black statue in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, Magic Is Might, was replaced by statues of four children—two girls and two boys—holding hands. The models for the girls were the Athair twins.
Harry nodded. "No one noticed at first because the magic they used was so slow. But they charmed the statues to grow. Now they look like they're around thirteen years old. No one can figure out how to stop it. It's hilarious. They had half the Ministry up there yesterday, all these pompous wizards and witches from the Improper Use of Magic Office waving their wands, and no one could get rid of the spell."
"How do you know it was the twins?" Angelina said. "It could have been anyone."
"Ron saw them hanging around the fountain during the Easter holiday. It has to be them."
They all chuckled, and George looked at the clock over the bar. "Time to get going, love," he said to Angelina. "It's a long walk back to the house."
"Then why don't you Apparate?" she said. "That's what I'm going to do."
George put his arm around her. "You're not being very romantic. Let's take a leisurely stroll arm-in-arm through the moonlit vale."
She smiled and took his arm. "Okay, lover, you sweet-talked me into it. Good night." She waved to Harry and Ginny as they left.
Harry watched them go and took Ginny's hand. "He seems to have gotten over a hump. He's lost that melancholy air he used to have."
"You're right. It's really nice to see him getting back to being George, after all these years."
They sat in silence for a few moments, until the door from the kitchen opened and the house-elf Kreacher shuffled in. The old elf was moving a little slower and his shoulders were a little more stooped than when he had first become Harry's elf, but he refused any of Harry's pleas to take some time off. He was the only waiter in the inn aside from Harriet. Ginny had told Harry long ago that the work was what was keeping Kreacher alive, in addition to threats from their other house-elf, Winky, that if he up and died she would revive him in order to beat him back to death with one of the ladles that always hung from a rope belt around her waist. Kreacher had scowled but didn't argue.
Winky had been disowned by the Crouch family, but Harry had rescued her from her despair when he offered her the job as cook for the inn, at the same time that he had hired Stan. Winky had gratefully accepted, and now she was the Potters' second house-elf.
Kreacher approached the table where Harry and Ginny sat. He bowed and his huge bat-ears brushed the floor.
"Miss Winky is asking Mistress Ginny Potter if she wants her usual breakfast in the morning." He reached up and adjusted the red cap on his head, the gift that Harry had given him making him a free elf.
"Tell her no, Kreacher," said Ginny. "I have to be in Holyhead at five in the morning. Winky doesn't have to get up that early."
Kreacher bowed again and shuffled away. They watched him go over to the bar.
"I hope he'll be okay when we move out of here," Ginny said.
Harry looked at her in surprise. "What do you mean, move out? Stan doesn't want to move into the flat."
She stared at him. "I mean when we move someplace with more room. A year from now we might have a child. Where is it going to sleep? In the bathtub?"
Harry blinked and looked away. Stan and Harriet were both behind the bar chatting with customers and pouring drinks into glasses sitting on a tray. When they were done, Stan leaned over the counter and handed the tray to Kreacher, who shambled off to a table of customers in the back.
Harry turned to Ginny. "But a little baby doesn't need all that much space. He can sleep in our bedroom for a couple of years."
"Harry!" Ginny looked worried and a little upset. "When you have a baby, you still need some privacy. I won't mind if he—or she—sleeps in our bed for a while. My mum did that with all of us, and she always said it made us closer." She paused and giggled. "Maybe too close. But why on earth wouldn't we get a bigger place? We've always talked about it, and the flat is filling up. There's junk everywhere."
Harry glanced at two witches sitting at the next table. He knew them well—regular customers, and pleasant enough—but now they were openly staring at him and Ginny with eager looks. When Harry stared back they quickly turned their heads and pretended to talk to each other.
"Let's go upstairs." He finished off his butterbeer, they said goodnight to the Shunpikes, and walked into the kitchen. Winky was sitting on a stool next to a counter polishing silverware. Her eyes moved as she watched them cross the room to the back door.
"Harry and Ginny Potter has a good night's sleep," she called. "House-elves is never making big decisions in the middle of the night."
They paused at the door; Ginny smirked and Harry raised his eyebrows. "Goodnight, Winky, and what big decisions do house-elves ever make?"
"Harry Potter would be surprised if Winky told him what they was."
"No, I probably wouldn't. But you're always asleep and snoring very loudly whenever I'm down here in the middle of the night."
Winky smiled sweetly, bowed, and resumed polishing.
They went upstairs and Harry lit a fire. Their cozy sitting room had a thick red rug in front of the fireplace, a love seat behind the rug, and several comfortable chairs around the room. Shelves lined the walls, filled with books about magical law enforcement, spells, Dark Arts, and Quidditch. Three broomsticks stood in a rack next to the fireplace. A large picture window looked out over an open field behind the inn; a lone elm tree about thirty feet away was just visible in the light from the window. Beyond the field, too far to see in the night, a rail fence and a lane led past farmhouses with lights glowing from their windows; George and Angelina were walking home on that road.
On the other side of the parlor was a closed casement window. Harry went and opened it and a moment later a large Barn owl flew in and alighted on a perch just inside. McPherson clucked and pecked at a sack of owl treats hanging next to the perch. Harry gave him a handful and stroked his back.
He turned as Ginny came in from the little kitchen that opened off one end of the parlor, carrying tea service on a tray. She set it down on the red rug and Harry joined her, leaning back against the love seat, sipping Magical Moments—a quiet blend—and watching the flames.
The silence was typical of their private conversations. Their thoughts and their feelings were completely open to each other. They spoke out loud because they loved to hear each other's voice or when they wanted to slow the conversation down, but they didn't need it to communicate.
After a few moments of silent intimacy, Ginny took another sip, set down her cup, and spoke. "We need a house. We need a place that will be a home for us and our children. You never had such a thing, but I did."
Harry sighed. "It's just that there are so many memories here. I—"
He stopped in mid-sentence; it was as if his mind had hit a brick wall. Ginny turned a baleful eye on him.
"Memories? Of course there are memories, good and bad. Sweetie," her voice softened and she touched his cheek, "there will always be memories wherever we live. I love the memories we have of this place. Do you remember that I wanted to stay here after our wedding? I wanted us to be close together, so that all I had to do to touch you was reach out my hand. I still want that."
"No, silly, there are no buts." She got up on her knees and faced him, taking his hands in hers. "There will be children. I said at our wedding that our children would come from inside me, and believe me, I can't wait to start trying. We're moving on, love, in the biggest way that anyone can move on. There will be another human being who will be one hundred percent dependent on us for everything, including love."
"Well, yeah, of course . . ."
Ginny sat back on her haunches. "And love includes a home. A proper home, not three rooms over a pub."
Harry sighed again and looked around. He had built this flat almost six years ago for Ginny. The fireplace was a copy of the one in the Burrow; the bedroom with its elegant four-poster was their sanctuary, their place of supreme closeness and joy; the elm tree in the back was the roost for their owls. There were photographs on the mantel of their wedding, his parents, his godfather, and all of Ginny's family, including Fred.
Harry peered at his parents' picture; he had taken it from the album that Hagrid had given him at the end of his first year at Hogwarts, one of the first photos he had ever seen of them. His father smiled at him, but his mother had a different expression, and when he looked from her to Ginny he realized that it was the same one his wife was wearing.
Ginny glanced at the photo and giggled. "See, your mother agrees with me."
Harry smiled. "I can't fight two of you. Okay, we'll look for a house. When should we start?"
Ginny leaned forward and took his face in her hands. She kissed him and sat back. "After the tournament. I just decided I'm going to resign as soon as we win the Cup. I won't go back to the team; I want to stay home with our baby."
"Resign!? For good? Merlin! And now you're certain you'll be picked?"
"Herbert Hailfellow says I will, and who am I to argue with the best pervy Quidditch writer in Britain?"
Harry took her hand and Ginny looked at him expectantly from under her eyelashes; they both knew what the other one wanted. They took their teacups into the kitchen and strolled back to the bedroom with mutual thoughts filled with anticipation of the night.
# # # #
Ginny awoke well before dawn the next morning and went into the shower. Harry got up a few minutes later and stumbled yawning into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. A copy of the Daily Prophet wrapped in a mailer lay on the kitchen table, and Harry smiled when he saw Molly Weasley's handwriting on it. Whenever she sent them a newspaper or magazine, it contained either an article about himself or Ginny, or else a discount coupon for something that Molly thought they should hurry out and buy, like underwear or toilet paper. Sometimes she had even circled an advertisement for a crib or a pram.
Harry ripped off the envelope and opened the newspaper. There were no interesting stories on the front page, only Ministry gossip and a brewing scandal about cauldron imports again. He turned to the sports section on the back page.
"Ginny!" he shouted, and ran into the bedroom. He heard the shower and dashed into the loo. He threw the shower curtain back and Ginny looked at him with a full head of shampoo about to run down into her eyes. He shoved the paper at her.
"The Cup team! You're in! They announced it last night! Second Chaser!"
Ginny grabbed the newspaper and stared at the headline as water spattered over it. Molly had circled in red ink, National Team Selected. Below it the subhead read, Power and quickness in the attacking line with Donahue, Weasley, and Brandon augur a plethora of goals. "Weasley" was underlined in red three times.
She grinned and gave it back to him. "Mum sent it?" She put her head under the water and started rinsing her hair.
"Right," Harry answered. "I'll put it on the bed for you."
Ginny finished showering, and Harry took his turn while Ginny got back in bed and drank coffee and read the story. Harry joined her in a few minutes. It was a routine they followed on mornings when they were both leaving early for work; it gave them a few more minutes together in their favorite place.
"Seeker is Forrester Salinger of Chudley," Ginny read. "Gwenog is First Beater and Pastorini the other. That's a surprise, but I guess they're going for quickness at all positions." Gwenog Jones was captain of the Harpies, and this would be her third World Cup tournament. "Keeper is Jim Leyting from Wigtown. That's bloody brilliant, he's the best in the league, no doubt."
"The papers were calling for you to be First Chaser. I guess it doesn't matter much, but how come you're Second? You're scoring champion, for goodness sake."
"I don't care. I suppose it's politics. Danny Donahue is a sweet flyer and he's been in the league eight years longer than me. He deserves the first spot."
"So what do you think?" Harry was reading over her shoulder with one hand around her back and his chin resting on her shoulder. "Do you have a shot at the Cup?"
"We do. We're going to score a lot of goals and Forrester is at the top of his game. I think we'll be the favorite."
"This is going to be fun. Do you know what the schedule is, who you'll be playing?"
"I'll try to find out today. What time is it?" She glanced out the door into the sitting room where she could see the clock on the mantel. "Time for work." She paused and looked at him quizzically. "What's wrong?"
In the excitement Harry had managed to keep to himself his second thoughts about a new home. "I need to think some more about moving. I'm not saying I don't want to, but I don't think I'm used to the idea yet. Let's talk about it again, okay?"
"Sure," Ginny said, but with some obvious irritation.
"I promise we'll settle it by the weekend. But it wasn't fair. I just had a few hours to think about it. It's too big a deal to decide so fast."
Ginny chewed her lip for a moment, but the furrows on her forehead disappeared.
"That's true. We'll take our time, okay. I know we'll make the right decision."
Harry laughed, and Ginny couldn't help a smile. "No, I will listen to reason. You're right, it's too important to decide quickly."
They kissed, got out of bed, and dressed. Harry donned his Auror robes and Ginny put on a pair of jeans and a Harpies tee shirt. They ate a quick breakfast, and Ginny took her two brooms from their rack next to the fireplace—a Firebolt 21 that was her seventeenth birthday present from her parents, and an Ion One, her wedding present from her entire family and still the fastest model on the market. She went into the fireplace first and Harry followed a moment later. When the green flames died, the flat was quiet.
Ginny stepped out of the fireplace in the clubhouse of the Holyhead Harpies. She knew what was coming, but the screams and shouts still startled her. A dozen grinning, laughing witches surrounded her. She was hugged and pummeled; a few of them planted kisses on her face. The most boisterous celebrant was a small witch, almost as petite as Ginny, with sandy hair and a cocky smile.
"I knew it! I knew it!" Ginger Beale cried over and over. "I tol' Deano this mornin' that I 'ad a feelin'. It's in the bag, I says, from the very beginnin'. Bloody 'ell, Gin, this is brilliant!" Ginny laughed with her. They held each other at arm's length and looked at each other for a moment, their eyes sparkling.
Ginger and Ginny had tried out for the Harpies on the same day, near the end of Ginny's final year at Hogwarts. They had become true friends almost instantly, despite the huge difference in their backgrounds. Ginger grew up in a tough London neighborhood and had barely heard of Hogwarts; she learned her magic on the streets. Her mother had been the sole support of the family, and her father had been killed in a drunken duel when Ginger was only twelve. She had moved out of the East End five years ago when she became a Harpy, and for the past three years had been living with Dean Thomas, who she met at Ginny's wedding.
Ginger had arrived at Holyhead on the day of their tryouts with an obsolete broom that her brother had "found" for her, but her toughness and natural ability had won her the last open spot on the squad. Now she and Ginny were the Second and First Chasers, and their talents had led the Harpies to two consecutive British and Irish League championships; they were about to make it a hat-trick if they beat Kenmare later in the week.
Ginny took pats on the back from the rest of the players and coaches, and she and Ginger went into the locker room to change into their practice robes.
"Where's Gwenog?" Ginny asked. "I didn't see her."
"She's already out at the pitch. I guess she's used to it," Ginger laughed. "But, Gin, I never thought I'd see a day like this. I'm so 'appy for you. 'Ow did 'Arry feel?"
"He was the one who saw it in the papers and showed it to me." She looked around; nobody else was in the locker room, but she lowered her voice. "I'm resigning from the team as soon as the tournament's over. We're going to try to have a baby. Keep it to yourself, okay?"
Surprise followed by chagrin appeared on Ginger's face. "Well, that's bigger news than gettin' picked for the National team. Bugger me, Gin, 'ow're we gonna win another championship without you?" Then she smiled. "Merlin, what am I sayin'? Congratulations! That's wonderful!"
"Shh!" Ginny glanced at the door. "I don't want to say anything before the last match. We just decided yesterday. Harry's promotion is going through a year this July, and we want to have the baby before then."
"Will you stay in 'ogsmeade? You're not gonna 'ave a kid in that tiny flat, are you?"
Ginny's brow creased. "He doesn't want to move. He can be as stubborn as he bloody well wants, but I'm not having my baby there. I want a proper home for it, and I want it picked out before winter."
They looked up as more teammates entered. Everyone was boisterous; everyone was excited about having two starters on the national team, and they were also looking forward to the season's finale and another first-place finish. Soon they began leaving the clubhouse and heading down to the practice pitch, about two hundred yards away, overlooking the Irish Sea. Ginny and Ginger joined Samantha Semonova, a dour witch, the Third Chaser. She rarely smiled, but no one noticed when she was flying. She was relentless and immovable on the attack, a perfect complement to Ginny and Ginger's lightning-quick thrusts.
They talked about the upcoming match. It was almost fifty years since a team had won three championships in a row, and they all knew that they would never get this chance again. Kenmare was not strong, but no one could predict what the Golden Snitch would do in a match, so they wanted to run up the score as high as possible.
Gwenog was waiting when they walked onto the pitch. She came right over to Ginny and wrapped her in a hug. "I've never had a teammate with me in the Cup," she said. "This is brilliant."
"I want to know all about it," said Ginny. "Did they announce the groups yet?"
"We're with Finland, Spain and Togo. That should give us a clear shot into the knockout round." She gazed out to the west, across the nearby water. "My guess is that we'll practice here, it's so close to Ireland. Too bad you don't live around here."
"Why? What difference does it make where I live? I'll just Floo home during the breaks."
Gwenog shook her head. "You can't Floo or Disapparate during the tournament. They don't want people going back home. There have been too many scandals with jinxes and crap like that. They say it's for our own protection, but they want people close by so they can keep an eye on us. We'll charter a Muggle boat to take us back and forth." She grinned. "The Games and Sports folks at the Ministry didn't think of that. But you'll be sacked if they find out you Floo'd back to your home."
Ginny looked the other way, to the east. There was a pleasant wizard inn not far away, within easy reach by hired automobile or even by broomstick. She had stayed there once or twice when Harry was not at home and she didn't feel like being so far from Holyhead while she was alone. Maybe she and Harry could let a room there for the four weeks of the tournament.
There was a problem, though, with the village where the inn was located: Godric's Hollow. Harry had refused to go near it ever since Christmas six years ago when he and Hermione had almost been caught and killed there by Voldemort.
Two hundred miles due east, Harry was sitting behind his new desk in his new office on the second level of the Ministry of Magic. Several large trays of pastries sat on the desk, put there by Harry for the crowd he had asked to join him. Ron sat next to him, squeezed against the wall, listening to the conversation but doodling on a parchment; a plate stacked high with Danish and crullers was perched in his lap.
The other people in the room included members of Dumbledore's Army who were now Aurors: Seamus Finnegan, Ernie Macmillan, Katie Bell, Parvati and Padma Patil, Susan Bones, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Dennis Creevey, and Anthony Goldstein.
They and several others, all jammed together in front of and next to the desk, had been in the first classes of the Auror training program that Kingsley and Saliyah had begun in the fall of 1998, after the final battle of the war. That program was the most important part of the Minister's visionary plan to re-make the Ministry of Magic, and he had always known that Harry Potter would be one of the keys.
In the ensuing years, Harry had built a cadre of followers who trusted, respected, and loved him. It was all based on Dumbledore's Army and the trials and battles that followed the death of the old Headmaster and Voldemort's takeover of the Ministry. The loyalty of his little band was shown during the Battle of Hogwarts when they all returned to fight; two had died and others had been injured.
But the thing that had sealed the bond between Harry and his people was the sacrifice he had made when he walked into the Forbidden Forest to seek death. No one ever talked about it, but no one forgot it. It had created a fierce, almost savage loyalty. Kingsley had anticipated that, and he had no qualms about using it for what he believed was the just cause. He believed in his vision of the wizarding world, and he believed in Harry Potter.
For now, though, Harry sat in a stuffy, windowless room with a dozen of his best friends. He had moved into this office that morning and had not had time yet to order a magical window. Until today he didn't have an office; he was Saliyah Ushujaa's assistant and he did all his work in her office. But when they announced the date for Harry's promotion to Head Auror, Kingsley decided that the importance of the position, if not Harry's needs, dictated that he have a space of his own.
Harry was answering a question from Ernie. "I don't have any plans to change any part of the organization. Sal and I worked together to get us to where we are, so I'm completely comfortable with it. Nothing is etched in stone, of course. What we need will decide what we do."
He didn't want Ernie to get cranked up; he was hard to stop once he got on a roll. But even if not many people in the department would want Ernie to lead them, there was no one more dependable. The only person Harry would trust more at his back was Ron.
"If you have any ideas, Ern, we'll sit down later and talk about them," Harry went on. "For right now I just wanted to let you all know that everything is official, and that I want everyone in this room to move up with me."
Seamus spoke. "Harry, is anything big going on that you can tell us about? If some of us are going to take over units, won't there be things we need to know?"
"Yes," said Harry with a grin. "Dung announced his retirement, and we need someone with a lot of free time to sort through his booty."
Everyone chuckled. Mundungus Fletcher had been working for the Auror Department as an unofficial, undercover, all-purpose snoop who knew everything there was to know about the wizard underworld. It helped that he had a very soft spot in his heart for Ginny Potter, the result of kind treatment at her seventeenth birthday party. On several occasions Harry had been able to appeal to Fletcher's limited sense of honor because of that soft spot.
"So who's going to be the official snitch now?" Seamus asked.
"We're working on it," Harry replied.
"But we can't say anything yet," Ron said, looking up from his doodling and a raspberry Danish. "Besides, we're trying to talk him into staying on as a consultant." The chuckles were louder this time.
They talked for another half hour about Harry's new job and other goings on in the Auror Department. When everyone had left, Ron moved around to the front of the desk, leaned back in his chair, and put his feet up on the desk. Harry glanced at the shoes and Ron quickly put them down.
"Sorry, mate," he said sheepishly. "Hey, at least I waited until they were all gone."
"Well, just keep them polished, and be sure to scrape off the dog dirt first."
Ron grinned. "How's Ginny? I think even Hermione will want to go to the matches. Do you know if there's a schedule out yet for the tournament?"
"I don't know. Mum sent a copy of the Prophet to the flat this morning with the article on the back page circled in red. Usually she only does that if there's a sale on nappies."
"She sends us those, too."
Harry was silent for a moment, and Ron looked at him. "What is it?"
Harry frowned down at the desk. "She wants to move."
"From your flat? Out of those spacious quarters? Imagine that."
Harry gave him an annoyed look. "I like it there. If we had decided to move right after we got married, I would have jumped at it. A lot of great things happened there, but so did a lot of bad things. But now I like it. I like being able to drop in downstairs when Tony's there, or Ros, or George. I like being near Hagrid, and . . ." He paused. "And the Tomb. It makes me nervous when I go away for too long. I don't like leaving it unguarded."
Ron knew that by "it" Harry did not mean the White Tomb itself, he meant the Elder Wand. But it was no longer Harry who was master of the wand, it was Ginny. During the first year that Harry lived over the inn, there had been a series of incidents orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge, who hated Harry more than she hated being locked up in Azkaban. She had surprised him inside a house outside Hogsmeade and had taken his phoenix wand, but Ginny had been there under the Invisibility Cloak and had disarmed the witch a moment later. So now Ginny was mistress of the Elder Wand.
They had not told anyone except Ron and Hermione, who had performed a complicated Obliviate on Umbridge. She would be in Azkaban for the rest of her life because she had killed at least seven people in her obsession to get Harry, but now she would never know how she had got there.
"For God's sake, mate," Ron said, "you can't spend the rest of your life watching over the damn thing. It's safer there than it would be in Gringotts. Let it go. Besides, even if someone did manage to break in and take it, they couldn't use it against you or Ginny. You've already proved that."
"Yeah, I know." Harry looked grumpily at the desk. "But I'm trying to think of reasons not to move."
"Ah, it's starting to become clear. Ginny has a reason for wanting to move other than she keeps knocking into you on her way to the loo."
Harry smiled in spite of himself. "We're going to start trying for a baby."
Ron said nothing; he just looked at him.
"Well, we are!" said Harry. "She's going to quit the team right after the tournament." He got a dreamy look for a few moments. "It'll be nice to have her around. Half the time when I get home from work she's still down there practicing or else the team needs her for some barmy fundraiser. Last month they were in Diagon Alley and she had to dress up like a Snitch because she's the smallest one on the team."
"I saw that in the paper," Ron chuckled, but he still didn't respond to Harry's announcement. Harry waited, but Ron just continued to look at him with a slightly amused expression.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Harry finally gave up and asked.
"About what? I'm already an uncle three times," referring to Bill's children Victoire and Dominique, and Percy's daughter Molly. "It's getting boring."
"You bastard!" Harry threw a jelly donut at him. Ron ducked and it hit the door behind him, stuck there for a moment, then oozed to the floor.
Ron jumped up, reached across the desk and pulled Harry into a hug, pounding his back. "This is brilliant! Did you tell anyone else yet?"
Harry grinned back as he Scourgified the purple mess on the door and floor. "No, and I don't even know if Ginny wanted you to know. Please don't tell Mum or Dad or anyone else, and especially don't tell George. He'll start inundating us with jokes for the kid, and the place is already too cluttered, there's junk everywhere . . ."
Ron just nodded as Harry trailed off. He shot Ron another annoyed look. "Okay, so we need more room. I can get Tony to add on a storeroom or something."
"I'm sure he'd do a top-notch job." Ron kept nodding.
"Will you stop bobbing your head like that. You look like you did when you got jinxed in the Department of Mysteries."
"Okay," Ron nodded, and Harry picked up another donut. Ron leaned over and snatched it. "Don't waste good food," he mumbled as he stuffed it into his mouth. "Face it, mate, you need a bigger home. If you like Hogsmeade so much, build one there. You have enough gold to do whatever you want."
"What I want is things to be calm. I hated moving from Sal's office. I like things to be nice and steady."
"Well, you already married Ginny, so there goes that idea."
Harry smiled. "So true, so true." He looked at the clock on the wall, and at Ron with concern. "Are you okay? The cafeteria opened for lunch ten minutes ago."
"I'm fine," Ron grinned as he stood and reached for a cheese Danish. "In my new position as Chief Assistant to the Head Auror I need to act dignified as befits my rank."
"I'm not Head Auror and you're not Chief Assistant for another fourteen months, so you can cut the crap."
Harry followed his friend into the crowded corridor, where they joined the stream of wizards and witches on their way to lunch.