Ginny's House

Plans Gone Awry

Harry shook his head as if to clear it; he blinked and focused his eyes on Ron. "Damn, I'm sorry," he muttered. "That wasn't supposed to happen."

"Is Ginny okay?"

"I think so, but she's upset about something."

Harry knew that it had been important. In both of their occupations it was critical that they not be distracted by strong feelings coming from the other, so they had learned how to control what they let out. Whatever had happened to Ginny had overcome her containment and had poured over the dam into his awareness.

He glanced at the clock. "Can you go tell Sal what we're thinking about? I can't imagine she'd have a problem if we include Hermione."

"I'll go right away. What are you going to do?"

Harry stared into space for a moment, then stood. "I want to be home when she gets there. I'll see you tonight. You can tell me then what Sal says."

He left without another word. Ron shook his head, wondering whether the kind of intimacy between his best mate and his sister was a blessing or a curse.

Harry hurried down to the Atrium and Floo'd back to the Hog's Head. He stepped out of his fireplace into the flat and looked around. Now what? He could only wait, because if Ginny had wanted him to come to her she would have let him know. If he had stayed at the Ministry he would have been distracted and useless, so it was better to be here. But he was worried; when he officially became Head Auror he wouldn't be able to do this.

He didn't know how he and Ginny could stop it, though. They did not want to keep such strong emotions from each other. Their closeness was precious, a priceless treasure. How could he ask her to keep such a thing to herself? It was impossible and neither of them desired it.

He fell into a stuffed chair next to the picture window. The elm tree looked fresh, covered in its cloak of new green. He saw Bailey perched in one of the upper branches. The owl blinked at him and stretched her wings; Harry smiled and shook his head, and she settled down on the branch again.

Ginny had told him that she would be home at five, so Harry had three hours to kill. He got up and cast his eye around the room and thought about having a baby here. It was cluttered, no doubt, with five years worth of acquisitions. In addition to the half-dozen bookshelves around the walls, a trophy case with a dozen Quidditch trophies stood next to the bedroom door. Sitting on the floor near the casement window was a chest filled with gifts—some of them quite strange—from Luna Lovegood who was traveling the world and sending them things from wherever she happened to settle down for more than a couple of weeks, usually in a far-off country Harry had never heard of.

He continued gazing around the room. Another cabinet next to the kitchen door contained a full sterling silver service and a set of fine china, gifts from Molly and Arthur that did not fit in the kitchen because that room was also stuffed with gifts from them. They hardly ever used any of it, and Harry had suggested a magical storage bin but Ginny wanted to keep everything out where her mother could see it when she visited.

At least Molly never Floo'd in unannounced anymore. That habit had ended four years ago when she had stepped out of the fireplace and tripped over the naked bodies of her daughter and son-in-law as they lay making love on the red rug. She had scrambled back, scarlet-faced, and in her confusion had Floo'd to St. Mungo's Hospital instead of returning to the Burrow. She had to explain to her co-workers why she was bringing a set of nested copper bowls, a set of tea towels, and a toilet paper cozy to the hospital. Harry and Ginny had laughed for a week and continued to shag on the rug.

There were other things scattered about that Harry knew should be put away, magically or otherwise, or even got rid of. The only wardrobes in the flat were in the bedroom, and they were full of clothes and shoes, mostly Ginny's. All of their outdoor jackets and cloaks hung on hooks next to the door; boots and Wellingtons stayed in a box out on the landing.

They never seemed to have the time or the inclination to really fix up their flat. Ginny liked things to be snug and cozy; she liked "warm fuzzies," as she put it, and Harry liked to give them to her. One of the by-products of warm fuzziness seemed to be a messy home, but was it unlivable? Harry thought not. Certainly it should be possible for Tony to build an addition that would give them enough storage space so that Ginny could have both a cozy home and a neat one.

He went to the love seat and sprawled in it, draping his leg over the back and resting his head on the arm so that he was staring up at the ceiling. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to leave the Ministry when there was no emergency at home, but he didn't feel guilty. He and Saliyah occasionally took Friday afternoons off and sent home the rest of the staff, leaving only two or three Aurors on duty to handle emergencies. Hell, half the Ministry did the same thing.

And now he was glad that he had had this time to himself to think things through. He felt confident that he could convince Ginny that they did not have to move from the flat, that they could fix the things she didn't like and they could continue to be happy here.

Because in fact they were very happy. The closeness that came from being able to experience each other's most intimate feelings and thoughts was beyond description. They truly lived each other's lives. Harry closed his eyes and smiled as he thought about the joy that came with their closeness, from the physical sensations of love-making to the mental pleasure of sharing a good book. Yes, he was happy and he did not want to change anything that might jeopardize his and Ginny's happiness.

He awoke with a start when the fireplace flamed green. Ginny stepped out and stopped when she saw him laid out before her on the love seat.

"What are you doing home?" she said, pleasantly surprised. "Did you take off early from work?" She stood her broomsticks in the rack next to the fireplace and tossed her Harpies duffle bag onto a nearby chair. Harry swung his legs aside and she sat, then he put his legs in her lap.

"I must have dozed off. What happened this afternoon? I came home because I knew I wouldn't be any use at work, but I didn't want to bother you as long as you didn't want me there. Where were you?"

Ginny smiled and rubbed his leg. "Oh, sweetie, that was nice of you. I was in the locker room at the clubhouse, and it just hit me that I wasn't a Harpy anymore. Everyone was so very understanding, and then someone said that I should bring my daughter back and they'll make her an honorary Harpy. I felt sad and happy and I started crying."

They both reached out and took each other's hand. Harry pulled Ginny down and she lay on top of him; her head rested on his chest and she sighed. "When are they getting here?" she said without looking up; her hands slipped inside his shirt.

"Around seven, I think."

Ginny scooched herself up until her face was level with his. She kissed him and whispered, "Make me feel good."

Ron and Hermione Floo'd into the flat early in the evening. Harry was setting the table in the middle of the sitting room when they arrived. Hermione went into the kitchen where Ginny was carefully lifting a soufflé out of the oven, a dish she had learned from Fleur; it was one of Harry's favorites.

"Is everything okay?" Ron asked Harry.

"Fine." Harry Summoned two butterbeers from the kitchen. He handed one to Ron, pulled two chairs up to the table, and they sat. "I'll let her tell you."

Ron glanced into the kitchen where they could hear their wives talking. "Sal wants to talk to us on Monday morning before we head up to Hogwarts. You, me, and Hermione."

Harry nodded, and looked up as the wives came in carrying the soufflé and a salad. Soon they were eating, drinking, and talking. The first topic was babies.

"It's wonderful news!" Hermione excaimed. "We've been thinking about it too," she glanced coyly at Ron who grinned back, "and you may have made us decide."

"Wouldn't it be cool for the cousins to be the same age?" Ron said to Ginny.

"Mum would be beside her herself. She wouldn't know which way to turn first. But we didn't tell you something else that you probably figured out. I'm retiring from the Harpies after the Cup tournament. That's what was going on this afternoon," she added to Ron."

"We guessed," said Hermione. "I'm sorry, Ginny. It must have been hard."

Ginny shrugged. "It was, but it's time, and we don't want to take any chances when I'm pregnant. That's why I was so upset." She smiled at Harry. "My sweetie left work early so he'd be here when I got home."

"And I fell asleep in front of the fireplace," Harry grinned. "Some sweetie."

Ginny reached over and patted his hand. "I'll be plenty busy, even before the baby is born," she continued speaking to Hermione and Ron, but looked out the corner of her eye at Harry. "We're going to move."

Harry glanced around the table; Ron and Hermione looked back a little uncertainly, but Ginny's gaze was firm, even challenging. Harry spoke even though his mouth was full. "Well, I've been thinking, and it's possible we can clean up the place and get Tony to put an addition, and—"

"We already talked about that." Ginny scowled. "The baby needs a room of her own, or his own. Harry, it's not a proper house for a family."

Harry had no response. He now realized that, during his reveries that afternoon about the flat, he had incomprehensibly forgotten about the baby. He stared at Ginny, silently acknowledging her rebuke.

"Okay," he said aloud, "you're right. But I'm not agreeing to the other thing."

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances, and Harry answered their unspoken question.

"Ginny thinks we should live in Godric's Hollow. I won't." His eyes were locked with Ginny's as thoughts flew back and forth. For a moment there was contention, but sadness came into Ginny's eyes, and she took his hand again.

"I know it hurts, and it hurts me too," she said softly.

"Ginny, please don't ask me to do it," Harry spoke just as softly. Ginny sighed and let go his hand.

Hermione watched Harry, biting her lip. Her hands were clasped; she had an old habit of twisting her fingers together when strong emotions took her.

"Harry," she said as her fingers worked, "I was there with you. It was horrible, but we lived. You lived. Ginny is right, you should tear down that house. If it's still standing when your children are old enough to understand, they'll wonder why you left it there. Just think how much it would mean to them if you build a real home on that spot."

"Hell," Ron interjected, "it would mean a lot to everyone. Isn't that sign still there, the one with all the slogans on it?"

"I don't know," Harry replied without looking at him.

There was silence for a long moment, then Ginny said, "Harry, please talk to us."

There were many blandishments that Harry could resist, but two he could not were Ginny's blazing look and Ginny's face when there were tears in her eyes, as there were now.

"I'm sorry," he said, looking down at the table, "but if we lived there, I would always be reminded of two things: my parents being murdered, and that snake. I've dealt with both of them. I can live my life quite well without having to be constantly reminded of them."

He looked defiantly around the table. Ron and Hermione had care and concern on their faces. Ginny was hovering around the edges of his mind, giving him space, waiting for him to let her in.

"I've been a good husband, a good friend, and a good Auror. I'll be a good father. I just don't see why I have to prove anything by going back to Godric's Hollow."

"No one is asking you to prove anything," Ginny said. "We're—I'm—asking you to be strong."

"You don't think I'm strong?" Harry said in a quiet voice.

"You know I do. But I think you're not being strong now. It's your home, you have ancestors buried there. Right now that house is a scar."

Harry bowed his head and put his right hand to his forehead. He could not feel his scar as he ran his hand over it; it was as smooth as the rest of his skin.

Suddenly Ginny came flooding into his heart and his mind. It only took an instant, but in less than a blink of an eye he heard her voice. I love you. I will always love you.

Harry glanced at Ron from under his hand, then at Hermione. A small smile played on his face. "Don't mind us, we're having one of those moments."

The mood was broken and everyone laughed. They had all stopped eating, and now they picked up their forks and spoons and passed the serving dishes around and helped themselves to seconds, Ron to fourths.

"I still say you have to teach us that trick," Ron said between mouthfuls of tossed salad. "I would so love to know what's going on in that brain of Hermione's."

"It's a good thing you don't know, "she responded archly, "because you'd never get over the humiliation of total incomprehension."

"See?" Ron said to Harry, pointing his fork at Hermione. "That's why I'll never want your job. I'd have to be constantly telling her what she's doing wrong."

Everyone knew that in a few years, maybe sooner, Hermione would become Head of Magical Law Enforcement and Harry's nominal boss. And the four friends knew that Ron was only half-joking about not wanting to be Head Auror. He would have to report directly to Hermione, and that could send their marriage onto rocky ground.

"You've always been good at telling people what they were doing wrong," Ginny said dryly. "How many times did you tell me who I could date and who I couldn't?"

"That was different," Ron replied airily. "You were my baby sister. I was allowed to do it. In fact, I was required to do it by the elder-brother-little-baby-sister laws."

Ginny snorted; she picked up her wand and pointed at him. Ron involuntarily flinched, but Ginny laughed and turned it to the table. The serving dishes flew into the kitchen, followed by all the plates and utensils.

Ron sat back and grinned at Harry. "Elementary bat-bogey avoidance. Did I ever tell you about the time she aimed one at me but hit Dad instead?"

"Only five or six times," said Harry, standing. "I'll get dessert."

He pushed Ginny back into her seat and went into the kitchen. He was soon directing a large chocolate cake on a platter through the air. He set it down on the table, went back, and came out with four mugs of coffee floating before him.

"Bravo!" cried Hermione, clapping her hands. Harry grinned and set the mugs down. "Let's talk about the Pensieve," he said.

'What about the Pensieve?" Ginny asked. "It's been on your mind all week."

Harry proceeded to tell her what they knew about Dumbledore's old Pensieve. When he finished, Ginny was frowning slightly.

"It's a little disturbing that Professor McGonagall won't tell you what the problem is. And why didn't she just tell you right from the beginning that there was a problem? Why did she wait until you had to ask all those questions? Didn't she think you would wonder what was going on?"

"Excellent questions," Harry nodded. "We never wondered about her motives, actually, but we should."

"It's not like her at all. She's worried about something."

"Or someone," Ron said.

Harry stared at him. "First thing on Monday, ask Parvati and Tony to start checking Death Eaters who were released in the past year. I know there were a few who got short sentences after the war. And tell them to send a query to Intermagic. I want to know if someone is rattling around out there who might have just been released from a foreign prison."

He chewed on his lip for a moment and then looked at Ginny. "How would you feel about talking Mundungus Fletcher out of retirement?"

Ginny smiled. "I'd be happy to. He's such a puppy."

"Are you sure? We might need him, but I feel funny about using you."

"It's fine. He'll be flattered that both of us want him back."

Harry nodded and took a sip of coffee. Ginny cut the cake—she had been ignoring Ron's pointed looks for the past five minutes—and for a short time they were silent as they enjoyed one of Winky's special desserts.

Harry covered his mouth to hide a belch and pushed back his plate. "Okay, let's throw out ideas. What could go wrong with a Pensieve?" He looked at Hermione.

"A memory can't be retrieved."

"A memory can't be stored," said Ginny.

"A memory has been damaged," Ron said.

"Deliberately?" Harry asked.

"Or accidentally."

"There's a difference. n the first case, someone is trying to hide something, like Slughorn did with that Horcrux memory, and it's my problem as a potential crime. In the second case, it's a repair job for the Department of Mysteries."

"If they know how to do it," Ginny put in.

"If they do or they don't, it's still not a criminal matter."

"I don't agree," Ginny demurred. "Maybe a Pensieve uses Dark Magic. You said we don't know anything about it. Aurors know more about Dark Magic than anyone, so you could be asked to fix it even if it broke accidentally."

"Okay, but it's not too likely."

Hermione leaned forward. "What about Professor McGonagall? Why is she playing this so close to her vest?" She looked at Harry.

"Because it's a serious matter and she doesn't want every Tom, Dick and wizard in Britain to know about it."

"Because she'll be embarrassed," Ron said.

"Because she simply doesn't know what's wrong," said Ginny.

Hermione sat back. "I think it's all of those."

"Why do you think that?" Harry asked. He knew that Hermione must have been giving this problem a lot of thought.

She ticked the answers off on her fingers. "First of all, it's obviously a serious matter. Why else would she ask the Department of Mysteries and Aurors to get involved? But more basic than that, a Pensieve in and of itself is a serious matter, especially if it's unique, as I believe this one is. It was a source of power for Dumbledore. I don't think it's quite as critical for McGonagall, but it still must be very important to her.

"Second, we all know that even with that stoic Scots attitude of hers, she's been a worrier ever since Dumbledore died. And how could she not be? In ten years she may get over the circumstances of how she became Headmistress, but I don't think enough time has passed for her to relax completely. She's a perfectionist as far as her own performance is concerned, and if there's even a remote chance that she messed up the Pensieve, she'll be mortified.

"Third, if she knew what was wrong with it she would either fix it herself or bring someone in who would knows how. She—"

"Wait a minute," Harry interrupted. "Who would that be? Who's left from before the war who might have that kind of knowledge?"

"I don't know. Someone in the Wizengamot? There are wizards all over the world. Do you know all of them?"

Harry ignored the question. "That was a good summary of what we know, but I'm skeptical. I just have a feeling that something else is going on here."

"I'll never argue with your intuitions, Harry," Hermione smiled. "But I think I'm right."

"We'll find out on Monday." Harry looked around the table. "Is there anything else? Any brilliant ideas? No? Good. Let's go see who's downstairs tonight. And I think Winky has done more baking." He clapped Ron's shoulder.

"Why do people always do that to me?" Ron muttered as they trooped downstairs. "I'm not the only person in the world who eats a lot, or even eats the most."

"No, you're not," agreed Ginny who was right in front of him. "But it's a close run thing."

"My own sister hates me."

They entered the downstairs kitchen and saw Kreacher lifting three large pies onto a tray. Ron looked at them longingly, but ostentatiously straightened his back and walked slowly past them and into the dining room. The others followed; Harry took Ginny's hand and grinned at her. He never grew tired of the Weasley family.

The dining room was full with the usual Friday night crowd. Stan was busy behind the bar, and Kreacher and Harriet were in and out of the kitchen with food orders. Harry waved to Tony Trostle and his foreman Carlos, sitting with their wives at their customary table near the back. Other regulars from the village called out to Harry and Ginny. A few strangers were also there, as well as one or two Aurors.

Harry glanced to his right and was surprised to see Hagrid sitting at a table off to the side of the bar; he would have been out of sight from the rest of the room except for his being a half-giant. The gamekeeper didn't come to the Hog's Head often because the ceiling was too low; he preferred The Three Broomsticks, which had more headroom.

Hagrid had a large mug of his favorite mead in his hands, and he nodded at Harry. "Gimme a minute when yer free," he said in a low rumble; the words also surprised Harry. He could think of no reason why Hagrid should be secretive or even if he could be secretive. Whenever he did show up at the inn he was always his boisterous, outgoing self. He seemed thoughtful now, almost worried.

Harry nodded and went with the others—who had stopped and had also heard Hagrid speak—to the table next to Tony. On their way people called out congratulations to Ginny, and someone waved the Prophet's late edition at her. On the back page was a photo of her scoring a goal, and a large headline about the Harpies' record-breaking championship.

The contractor greeted them warmly. Ron went back to the bar for butterbeers and Ginny and Hermione started chatting about a planned shopping trip to Diagon Alley.

Harry was silent; he glanced at Ginny occasionally, but she didn't give any sign of knowing what was on his mind. He shifted his chair so that he could talk to Tony without turning his head. Ginny glanced at him when he moved, but then did a double-take and stopped talking to Hermione. Her brow creased as Harry said to Tony, "How would you go about putting an addition onto the inn so that we could have more storage space in the flat?"

"Harry!" Ginny spoke before Tony could answer; the burly contractor looked at her, then at Harry.

"I'm not sure," he said slowly. "Why do you need more storage space? If you don't need it long-term, just use magic."

"If we do it, it would be for long-term," Harry replied without looking at Ginny.

The conversation paused as Ron returned with glasses and a pitcher of butterbeer on a tray which he put on the table. He glanced around at the silence. "Don't let me interrupt anything," he said.

Ginny glared at Harry until he finally looked at her. A second later he turned to Tony. "Never mind, I was just wondering. It's nothing important."

"I need some air," Ginny said to Hermione, and stood. The two women walked between the tables and out the front door. Harry and Ron watched them go while Tony turned away.

"That was stupid. Why did I do that?"

"Do what?" said Ron as he sat.

"I asked Tony if he could make storage space for us upstairs."

"Ah, I see. I don't know why you did it, but I agree it was totally stupid."

"Thanks for the support," Harry said, a little morosely.

"No problem. I'm sure the love seat is very comfortable to sleep on, especially if you're alone."

"Well," Harry sighed and heaved himself up, "we might as well see what Hagrid wants."

They went back to the table next to the bar and sat. Hagrid was fiddling with his mug, and still had a serious expression behind his bushy beard. After a moment he looked around, leaned across the table, and began speaking in a whisper.

"It's Perfessor McGonagall. I've never seen her so worked up, not since she had to put up with them Carrows. She doesn't come to meals half the time, and she asked Perfessor Flitwick and Olympe—I mean Perfessor Maxime—to teach some of her classes. And what's worst of all, every time I'm in the castle at night, I can hear Firenze stompin' around in his classroom, the one on the ground floor with that magical ceilin'."

He gave Harry a troubled look. "I don't know what's goin' on, Harry, but I heard that she sent fer you." He sat back with his mug, took a long drink, and leaned over the table again. "Don't tell me nothin' that yeh aren't supposed to, but if somethin's happenin' at the school, the teachers need to know."

"Something is happening," Harry said, also in a very low voice. "I can't tell you what it is because I don't know much myself. We're meeting with her on Monday, so I'll know more then. I can't promise anything, but I'll let you know what I can."

Hagrid nodded. "I'm glad yer on it, both of yeh. We've had smooth sailin' fer so long it's hard to remember how bad things used to be." He frowned. "Yeh don't think it's Death Eaters, do yeh? I know some of them just got out of jail."

"Only the ones who weren't in Azkaban," Harry said. "The ones who got out were low-level types who never committed any crimes, other than being a Death Eater."

"I don't trust none of 'em," Hagrid scowled. "Yeh should have kept 'em all under lock and key."

"What about Firenze?" Harry said before Hagrid could go on. "What's he upset about?"

"Don't know, but it's not like him."

Hagrid looked over their heads; Harry turned and saw Ginny and Hermione re-enter the inn. Ginny's face was blank and Harry knew that she didn't want him in her mind.

"I'm tired," she said when she got to their table.

Harry got up. "I'll let you know what happens," he said to Hagrid. "And thanks for the information."

The four of them went back upstairs, and Hermione and Ron left immediately. The green flames in the fireplace hadn't died down when Ginny turned to Harry; they were standing in the middle of the room, behind the love seat.

"Why did you do that?" She was calm and her voice didn't reveal any anger, but the fact that she was keeping her mind closed told Harry all he needed to know.

He spread his arms wide. "I'm sorry. It was stupid, I know. It just came into my head and I asked Tony. I don't know why I did it."

"I know why. You're a stubborn git, that's why."

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, but they both began to giggle, first Harry, who tried to suppress it but couldn't, and then Ginny, for whom it felt like a tickling in her mind.

"It was stupid," she said, putting her arms around his neck. "When we got outside, I told Hermione you were the most stubborn man I ever knew, except I didn't exactly say 'man'."

Harry put his hands on her waist. "I am sorry. Tony was sitting right there, and we had been talking about it earlier, and—"

She put her hand on his lips. "Don't get yourself into more trouble. I know we haven't decided anything, and I think we should give it a rest for at least a few days. What do you say?"

They were now sharing completely; feelings and thoughts sped between them, and in only a few seconds they were in each other's arms and kissing. As he pressed his lips to hers, Harry felt what he often did at these moments when there had been a disagreement, or someone—usually he—had done something to upset the other. He had nothing to hide from her, nor she from him. She knew his regret for his untimely words was total and without reservation. He knew that her acceptance of his apology was also total and she bore not even a trace of resentment. All that was in their shared hearts was their love for each other, which in fact fed on scraps like this and grew more encompassing because they saw each other's heart so clearly.

Finally the snog ended, and Harry leaned his head back and gazed down at her. "So should I make up the love seat to sleep on?"

"What are you talking about? Oh! I see," Ginny giggled. "That's Ron's typical reaction because it happens to him so often. No, don't make up the love seat, unless you want to share it with me."

"I do have something I want to share with you." Harry kissed her, which began another snog and a happily shared night.

On Saturday morning they decided to take their brooms to Hogwarts and do some flying. Harry didn't get to fly with Ginny very often because by the time the weekend rolled around, Ginny had been flying in practice or in matches every day of the week and wasn't interested. This morning he was pleasantly surprised when she proposed it.

"We haven't done it for a long time," she said as they strolled down the High Street; her arm was through Harry's and he was carrying both brooms. "I just want to go as high as I can and look at the world with you."

"Does last night have anything to do with this?" Harry grinned. "You know, when you were Levitated underneath the canopy and I was—"

"I won't confirm it and I won't deny it," Ginny giggled. "Can we just say I'm feeling on top of the world, and leave it at that?"

Harry put his arm around her waist and they walked on, exchanging their thoughts in silence. Ginny's high spirits were not only the result of last night's acrobatics, but also because she was now starting to feel the excitement of moving on from the Harpies. She was beginning something that she had wanted as far back as she could remember: a family with Harry. She was more excited about that than being on the Cup team. It felt so good, that for a brief moment last night she had formed the thought in her mind to skip the birth control charm, and to send Bailey with a letter to Philbert Deverill containing her regrets and declining her position on the National team. Harry, catching the thought, had become momentarily distracted, but Ginny had quickly dismissed the idea. Harry had just as quickly regained his firmness of purpose, and the night had proceeded apace.

She had briefly raised the subject in the morning over breakfast, but Harry knew that it was not what she really wanted, and it ended there. But Ginny couldn't help thinking about it again as they passed The Three Broomsticks and descended the street to the train station. She got an image in her head from Harry of herself lumbering along on her Ion One with her huge belly protruding from her Quidditch robes, and she punched his ribs with her free hand.

Harry grabbed the hand. "I thought you looked beautiful," he chuckled. "The first visibly pregnant witch to score a goal in the World Cup."

"I'm glad you said 'visibly,'" she smiled. "I can't imagine that no one's been preggers during the tournament before."

"You will be, I hope."

"Yes, I hope so too." She leaned her head on his shoulder as they continued up the lane to the castle gates.

"What on earth—?" Harry stopped in his tracks as the tall pillars with the flying boars loomed ahead. The gates were closed, and Hagrid was sitting on an enormous stool just inside. He saw them and stood as they hurried forward.

"What in Merlin's name are you doing?" Harry said to him through the bars. "When did this happen?"

"Harry, Harry!" Hagrid said in a state of high agitation. He was sweating in the cool morning and kept wiping his brow with one of his oversized handkerchiefs. "I'm sure glad yer here. McGonagall, I mean Perfessor McGonagall, sent yeh an owl. She wanted to know if yeh could come see her."

With a screech, a small, dark red owl swooped down from the direction of Hogsmeade. Harry extended his arm and the bird alighted; there was a sealed parchment in its beak, and Harry took it. He handed the owl to Ginny, opened the message, and quickly read it.

"I'll go back," she said. "I can wait at the flat."

"No, come with me. I want someone else to hear this . . . whatever it is."

Their eyes met and Ginny's appreciation washed over Harry's mind. He turned to Hagrid, who had opened the gates.

"Why are the gates closed?" Harry asked as they passed through. "Are the rest of the grounds sealed?"

Hagrid gave a massive shrug. "I don't know, Harry," he said, becoming more and more agitated as he spoke. "I ain't been told nothin', just get down to the gates and don't let no one in unless yeh know 'em. Blimey, she might as well have sent Filch. She tells me, don't wait fer nothin', just close the damn gates an' wait fer Harry Potter. I don't got my umbie or nothin'. Might as well be naked."

Harry stared at Hagrid. He had never known Minerva McGonagall to act hysterically, but that's what seemed to be happening. He and Ginny stood aside as Hagrid swung the gates closed.

"And why did she send you here?" Harry asked, even more puzzled as he thought about it. "Professor Flitwick or Neville or even Slughorn could have done it."

"No one else is here," Hagrid grunted as he took his seat again. His brow creased. "Lessee, Olympe is shoppin' in Diagon Alley with Pomona an' Poppy; Neville is off at the other end of the lake collectin' specimens; Sibyll is useless, as everyone knows; Filius had business at the Ministry; Slughorn is never here Saturday mornin', Merlin knows where he goes; Binns is . . . well . . ."

"I get the idea," Harry interrupted the recital. "What about Firenze? Yesterday you said he was out of sorts."

"Yeah, yeh might say that. When I left the castle about an hour ago he was makin' an unholy racket in his classroom, neighin' and shoutin at the top of his voice. I wasn't about to ask him fer help."

He looked at Harry, who was standing with Ginny staring at the gamekeeper. Hagrid's eyes shifted toward the castle and Harry gave a start. He had been lost in thought, but now realized that he needed to get going.

"Okay, we'll be back as soon as we can, and I'll try to get someone to take over here for you. Don't be a hero, Hagrid. If someone threatens you with a wand, just leave."

"Now, yeh know I'm not about to do that," Hagrid scowled. "Go on now." He waved his hand at them. "Fin' out what the heck is happenin' with Perfessor McGonagall."

They walked quickly up the drive to the front doors. "This is totally bizarre," Harry said. "I wonder if everyone's being away at the same time is a coincidence?"

"That's what you were thinking about just then?" Ginny asked.

Harry nodded; they were climbing the steps to the oak doors. "What do you think?"

"It is a coincidence, but there's nothing sinister about it. Neville doesn't do things on the spur of the moment. I'm sure he and Professor Sprout had his outing planned weeks ago. And Madam Pomfrey couldn't just up and go shopping on a whim. She'd have to plan ahead for someone to cover for her."

As they entered the castle they were greeted by what sounded like a herd of horses thundering in the distance. Hooves beat on a floor; they heard both loud neighs and angry cries. It all came from a corridor off to the left, across from the marble staircase. The sounds echoed down the corridor and around the entrance hall, becoming magnified as they reverberated off the stone walls. The House hourglasses above their heads vibrated and shook. The entranceway was empty; there were no students in sight.

Harry took a firm grip on Ginny's hand and they crossed quickly to the stairs. They saw no one as they climbed, and the halls they hurried through were also empty. Even many of the paintings hanging on the walls were vacant. They could hear the violent noises from Firenze's classroom even as they arrived at the corridor that led to the Headmistress's office.

They had another shock when they stood before the stone gargoyle guarding the door. It was open. The gargoyle was standing aside, and it stared at Harry as he stood with his wand in his hand. He pulled Ginny through without taking his eyes from the creature, and was not surprised when it snapped shut behind them with a loud crash.

"I hope she knows how to open it," he muttered as they spiraled up.

"This is getting interesting," Ginny said; she also had her wand out.

Harry stared at her for a moment, then they both chuckled. "As I've often said, you should have been an Auror. Cool as a cucumber."

"Well, it is interesting. Where is everyone? Where are all the students? Did they all go shopping in London too?"

"Maybe it's a whole-school outing to Buckingham Palace."

No, no! To Scapa Flow. They're going to Levitate the Muggle navy."

Harry chuckled. "Or to Kent. They're turning the white cliffs of Dover pink and green."

They reached the top of the stairs before Ginny could top that, and their grins faded at the forbidding sight of the heavy wooden door bound in iron. Harry knocked, and it swung open.

The Headmistress's office had changed since Professor Dumbledore was alive. It now featured a tartan motif, with coats of arms, crossed swords, pikes and other weapons, and portraits of fierce Scottish chieftains on the walls next to former headmasters. Only a few of the tiny silver machines remained, smoking and spinning, and several cats lay sleeping on chairs and on the large inlaid mahogany desk that dominated the room.

Professor McGonagall was standing near a window with her back to the door, leaning over the Pensieve, which sat on a small table. The Headmistress was peering into it with her hands resting on the rim. Harry and Ginny could see the silvery glow from the swirling memories reflecting off her face and spectacles. When she heard them, she turned her head, and they received yet one more shock: her face was tight with fear, almost terror. Ginny sucked in her breath and Harry's grip on her hand tightened.

The professor slowly raised herself to an erect position. "Harry," she said in a shaky voice. "You're here. And Mrs. Potter—Ginny. I'm glad you're here too." She took a deep breath and gazed at them for a moment, then walked, a little unsteadily, to her desk and sat. Harry and Ginny watched her wordlessly.

The Headmistress gave them an uncertain, tight-lipped smile. "I apologize deeply for this. The past few days have been a struggle. Please sit." Two chairs appeared in front of her desk, one with a ginger tabby asleep in it. McGonagall smiled again, this time more cheerfully. "He finds his way into the most unlikely places. Just put him on the floor."

They put their wands away, Harry leaned their brooms against the wall, and Ginny picked up the cat and put it in her lap as she sat. The animal didn't seem to object, but curled up and closed his eyes again. Ginny stroked his back and glanced at Harry; they both felt the uneasiness that filled the room. Harry noticed that Professor Dumbledore's portrait frame behind the desk was empty.

"Professor," Harry said, repeating the question that Ginny had asked a few minutes ago, "where is everyone? Where are all the students?"

"I have requested that everyone stay in his or her common room, at least until the other Heads of House return. By sheer coincidence, most of the staff are away from the castle this morning. A remarkable coincidence, I might add. I can't recall it happening in many years, so many of the staff being absent at the same time. I did send owls and I expect most of them back soon."

"But . . . why did you ask the students to stay in their common rooms?"

"I actually didn't have to request it of too many of them. Most haven't been out in the corridors since early this morning when Professor Firenze began to carry on. You must have heard it."

"It was impossible to miss, and Hagrid told us at the gate."

McGonagall's face tightened. "That was a precaution. I don't really expect anything to come from the outside, but I have several hundred children in my charge, and I must be careful."

Harry glanced at Ginny. "What do you mean by 'something from the outside?'" he said in a quiet voice.

McGonagall abruptly stood, causing the cat in Ginny's lap to jump down and scoot under the desk. "I have to show you the Pensieve, Harry. Or rather, I have to show you what has happened to it."

Harry stayed in his seat; he wanted to keep her as calm as possible. He had never seen Minerva McGonagall this discomposed, not even on that day five years ago when he had surprised her in the Ravenclaw common room while she was contending with Amycus Carrow

"Professor," he said, again quietly, "is there an owl nearby I can use? I want to send for assistance from the Ministry."

As he spoke a large barn owl flew down from a perch that he hadn't noticed near the high, vaulted ceiling. It landed on the desk and bowed its head to Harry. The Headmistress opened a drawer, handed him writing gear, and he quickly scrawled a note to Ron: Bring four people to Hogwarts immediately with yourself but quietly. Talk to no one.

He didn't have to show it to Ginny; she knew exactly what he had written. He sealed the parchment, tied it to the owl's leg, and took the bird to the window next to the Pensieve. Ginny opened it and the owl flew off, disappearing into the cloudless sky that Harry and Ginny had themselves planned to fly in.

Footsteps came up behind them and Professor McGonagall stood there, one hand on the Pensieve. The watery mist cast its translucent light, swirling, fading, clearing. She took out her wand and plunged it into the roiling memories, then quickly pulled it out. "Look!" she said to Harry.

Ginny's hand took his arm, and her concern filled his mind. He grasped her hand firmly, and carefully lowered his face into the Pensieve.

The mist cleared, a scene came into focus, and he heard himself cry out. His heart lurched. He was looking down into a small chamber with stone walls that glistened with moisture. A few torches guttered and cast flickering yellow light. A bier draped in black velvet stood in the middle of the room. On it, under a white shroud pulled back from her deathly white face, her eyes closed, her hands resting on her protruding belly, lay Ginny.

Harry jerked back and his face emerged from the Pensieve. He gasped for breath and looked around frantically. Ginny was at his side, looking at him in alarm. As the image he had seen entered her mind, her eyes grew wide and she turned pale.

"What was it?" she whispered.

Harry looked at Professor McGonagall. She wore the same fearful expression she had when they first entered her office.

"What did you see?" she asked, then quickly said, "No, I don't need to be told. I am certain it was Ginny. Am I right?" Despite the fright in her eyes, she spoke firmly.

Harry nodded. His throat had suddenly become dry and he had trouble saying the words. "Is . . . is it always her?"

McGonagall quickly shook her head. "No, no. Put your mind at ease on that score. If Ginny looked she would certainly see you, not herself. When I look into it, I see Madam Rosmerta, a dear friend, as you know. Yesterday I asked Filius to look and he saw a cousin with whom he is very close. What concerns me is that this Pensieve has been true for centuries. It has never shown anything that was not truly in a preserved memory. A memory could be altered, but then it would always appear in its new form."

Harry walked shakily to his chair and dropped into it. Ginny came and stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders. The Headmistress returned to her seat behind her desk.

"So what is it showing, then?" Harry asked. "And why?"

McGonagall's grim smile reappeared. "Why do you think I want to send it to the Ministry of Magic, specifically to the Department of Mysteries?"

"Of course." He thought for a moment. "But why all the precautions? Why did you post Hagrid at the gates?"

"Because of Professor Firenze. I don't know why, but I can't help feeling that his agitation is connected to this." She gestured at the Pensieve. "He won't open his door. Harry, you are quite aware of the powers that centaurs possess. Firenze is a potent Seer, even if his pronouncements are always obscure and difficult to understand." She leaned forward and peered at Harry through her square spectacles. "If he is as distraught as he sounds, then something is happening here at Hogwarts, or is about to happen."

She leaned back. "Putting Hagrid by the gates was mostly for show, in case a parent or a board member wants to know what I've done to protect the school, even if I don't know what to protect it from. I don't want to do anything that will alarm the students any more than they are, but I could not just do nothing."

Harry glanced out the window. Ron should be here soon; he might even already be in Hogsmeade, or just outside the grounds. This was all a puzzle, but he agreed with the Headmistress that unsettling things were happening. He reached up and took Ginny's hand and linked their fingers. He was glad she was here, standing right behind him. If she had not been, he would have certainly run from the room and out of the castle to find her, to make sure she wasn't lying dead in that cold room.

The picture of death shimmered in his mind. He took a breath and slowly let it out as he felt Ginny's kiss on the crown of his head. He closed his eyes and let her soul fill and comfort him.

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