Ginny's House

A Pinch Portkey

Fifteen minutes later, down at the end of the curving drive, Harry and Ginny, who had come to wait there with Hagrid, heard five loud pops. Ron, Parvati, Tony, Katie, and Seamus stood in their Auror robes outside the gates, their wands at the ready. Hagrid swung the gate open and they entered.

"What's up?" Ron asked, looking around the empty front lawn and up to the castle. No one was in sight. "Why are the gates closed? Where is everyone? It's a beautiful Saturday morning. The kiddies should be out frolicking."

"They're all in the common rooms," Harry replied. "McGonagall has them locked down. Come on, we need to get up to her office. I'll answer your questions there. Katie and Seamus, stay here. Don't let anyone in unless you know them, and ask questions to make sure they're not Polyjuiced."

"Merlin, Harry," Katie exclaimed as the other Aurors gaped at him. "Are two of us enough? It sounds like the castle is being attacked."

"It isn't. I'll fill you in later, but this is just a precaution."

He turned to Hagrid. "You don't have to stay here. Why don't you come back to the castle with us? Maybe you can talk to Firenze."

Hagrid shook his head. "Perfessor McGonagall told me to stay here, and here's where I'll stay until she says I can leave."

Suddenly Seamus pointed to the castle. "Look!" he cried.

Everyone turned. A palomino centaur, his white hair streaming behind him, was galloping across the lawn towards the Forbidden Forest. He carried a bow and a quiver of arrows strung over his shoulder. In a few moments he was over a small rise and disappeared from view.

"No talking to Firenze," Harry said dryly. "At least the kids can come out now."

"Do you still want the gate guarded?" Ron asked.

"I think so," Harry said after a moment's thought. "I told McGonagall I'd put Aurors on it."

"Have you told Saliyah?" Ron spoke again.

"Sent an owl just a few minutes ago. Let's go."

"We can still get some flying in," Harry told Ginny as they walked up the drive. "This doesn't feel like a real emergency. Once Minerva calms down we'll head over to the pitch. I still want to see how high you can go."

"Sure." Ginny's eyes looked in the direction where Firenze had gone. "We could do a little aerial surveillance while we're up there."

"Are you sure you don't want to be an Auror?" Harry laughed. He looked back at Ron. "Do you think Sal would let me hire my wife?"

"Why not? Her husband hired her."

"They weren't married then," Ginny said, "so it's too late for us. I'll have to be the power behind the throne." She grinned at Harry.

Harry returned the grin. "Have you been taking lessons from Slughorn? That's fine with me. But I still want to see how high you can fly."

They mounted the steps into the entrance hall, which was eerily quiet and still empty. As they walked upstairs and through corridors to the Headmistress's office, several portraits called out to Harry, asking about the Divination teacher, but he just waved at them.

"They were empty a few minutes ago," Ginny observed. "They must have been lurking. Someone ought to go let the students out. It's almost lunchtime."

"That's for McGonagall to decide," Harry said. "If the staff are back . . ."

They all stopped in the middle of a flight of stairs. Footsteps and voices from above echoed off the stone walls, and several portraits looked up apprehensively. The Aurors drew their wands, but Ginny stepped forward.

"It's all clear," she called.

"We thought so," came the answering voice of Emma Athair. A moment later she and Claire appeared at the top of the flight; they both had their wands out. "What happened? Professor McGonagall told us to stay in the common room. Is the castle being attacked?"

Harry stowed his wand. "No, the castle is not under attack, and Professor Firenze has left. Why did you leave the common room, and did anyone else come out?"

"Nope," Claire said, ignoring Harry's first question. "Only us. What was he so angry about?"

"Firenze? No one knows. But come with us. If the Headmistress says it's okay, you can go tell everyone else they can go to lunch."

They heard more voices, but these came from below, and soon Professors Flitwick and Longbottom came up the stairs. Flitwick was out of breath as he ran to keep up with Neville. The Charms professor leaned against the banister and puffed.

"My goodness," he squeaked. "What's happening? Your Aurors were somewhat hard-nosed, Mr. Potter. They wouldn't let me pass until I recited the names of all their classmates, and Professor Longbottom had to tell Mr. Finnigan who he had taken to the Yule Ball."

"I'm sorry," Harry smiled. "Those were their orders. Better safe than sorry at the moment, Professor, but I'd rather explain things in Professor McGonagall's office, if you don't mind."

The group, now numbering nine, proceeded up the stairs and down the corridor to the Headmistress's office, but before they reached the gargoyle they heard more people coming from downstairs. This time it was Professor Sprout, Professor Maxime, and Madam Pomfrey. They joined the procession after a brief apology from Harry for the situation at the front gate. He gave the password to the gargoyle, but as the others were passing through the stone door, he stopped Emma and Claire.

"Sorry," he told them, "I can't invite you up, but would you mind waiting here? I'll come back down as soon as I talk to Professor McGonagall."

"Sure," they chorused cheerfully.

"We'll figure out on our own what's happening," Emma said.

"And we'll let you know right away what you need to do," Claire added with a grin.

Harry left them outside the door and smiled to himself as he ascended the spiral stairs. They probably would figure it all out on their own, and long before anyone else did.

The office was crowded. Professor Maxime took up a corner all by herself, and the others stood uncertainly, watching Harry as he entered. The Headmistress stood next to the Pensieve, looking unsure of herself.

Ginny was just inside the door, and she put herself into Harry's mind as soon as he was in the room. Her eyes were bright and Harry felt a rush of pride coming from her, telling him that as far as she was concerned, he was handling things superbly. He gave her a smile and turned his attention to McGonagall.

The Headmistress walked to her desk and all heads turned to follow. She picked up a long-haired cream-colored Persian cat from her chair and put it on her desk as she sat. She spoke—with a strange hesitation—to her staff, who had gathered to one side.

"Professor Flitwick knows . . . why I called . . . you all back to Hogwarts. I will tell. . . . the rest of you now, but I must . . . ask you to keep this amongst yourselves. I do not want the students to know."

Harry glanced at Madam Pomfrey who was leaning forward, looking at McGonagall with her brow knit. Harry coughed into his fist. Everyone looked at him.

"Professor, I understand your concern, but it's bound to get out soon and besides, you have no control over Firenze. He could say or do anything. Also, I have to say, having been a student here when, um, things happened, the rumors were always worse than the facts. My advice is that you speak at lunch today and tell everyone that—"

"Mr. Potter!" McGonagall placed her clenched fists on the desk; she spoke at first without the little hesitations. "I not only beg to differ with you, I must insist on reminding you that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has no jurisdiction here. When you are on the grounds of Hogwarts you are subordinate to me, unless there is imminent danger of physical harm. And there appears to be no such danger now that . . . Professor Firenze is gone."

Harry glanced at Ron who was shifting his gaze from Harry to McGonagall and back. Harry felt Ginny around the fringes of his mind, not wanting to interfere, but gently pressing caution on him. When he looked quickly at Parvati and Tony, they made small hand movements, signals that they understood the tension that was now in the air.

Harry smiled at Professor Sprout who was standing next to him, and pulled a chair up for her. As she sat, he turned his smile to the Headmistress. "I'm sorry, Professor. Of course I'm subject to your authority here. I'm just offering my professional opinion. I'm at your service."

She stared at him for several seconds and nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Potter. Professors, I apologize for . . . this."

"Minerva, are you feeling well?" Madam Pomfrey said, moving closer to the desk. "I'm sure there's no need to apologize."

McGonagall shook her head several times. "No, no, of course, that's not what I meant. As I . . . said, I'm sorry for calling you back here. But . . ."

She stopped and stared down at her desk. She seemed to be struggling for words. When she didn't speak for a long minute, Professor Flitwick stepped forward.

"Minerva, are sure you're well?" He looked at the nurse who now was watching McGonagall with concern.

Harry leaned forward. "Professor, did you look into the Pensieve while we were gone?"

"No . . . Yes, I—I think . . ." She leaned back in her chair. Her frightened eyes darted around the room and her voice dropped to a whisper. "I can't remember."

A shocked silence filled the air. Madam Pomfrey moved quickly around the desk and took McGonagall's hand. She felt her pulse and peered for a moment into her eyes. She patted the Headmistress's hand. "It's fine, Minerva. Why don't you lie down for a few minutes? I'll get something for you to drink. Pomona?"

She motioned to Professor Sprout, who joined her behind the desk. Everyone else stood stock-still. Pomfrey and Sprout helped the shaky Headmistress stand and led her to the back of the office and through a door that opened before them. They went inside and it closed.

Harry suddenly found Ginny's hand in his. She was standing next to him and he looked at her. Their eyes mirrored the identical fear in their minds: It's the Pensieve.

Professor Flitwick moved around the desk and stared at the closed door for a moment. When he turned to the others, his face was as white as his bushy eyebrows and hair. "I agree with the Headmistress," he said looking at Harry. "We must keep this quiet until we know more. This is so sudden. I can't imagine what has happened."

"It's the Pensieve, Professor," Harry said. "I won't argue with you about Professor McGonagall's wishes, but if the Pensieve caused that, then there is Dark Magic inside Hogwarts, in which case, I have to tell my chief immediately. There will be a dozen Aurors poking around plus, I'm sure, half the Board of Governors. You won't be able to keep it or them quiet."

"Harry." The booming voice of Madam Maxime spoke from the corner where she was standing, her head slightly bowed to keep from scraping the ceiling. "What is going on with this Pensieve? Why do you say it's the cause of Minerva's behavior? And why did Firenze leave the castle? Does he no longer fear the other centaurs?"

Harry looked at Professor Flitwick, who nodded. "Please tell her."

Harry thought for a moment while Ginny pressed his hand briefly. "The gist of it is that three people, I think, have looked into the Pensieve since Professor McGonagall discovered that something was wrong with it, and each one of us saw a loved one lying dead instead of a memory. I looked once. Professor," he turned to Flitwick, "how many times have you looked?"

"Just once."

"Then Professor McGonagall is the only one who's looked into it more than once."

"I don't understand," Neville said, a puzzled look on his face. "Can a Pensieve be tampered with? It's just some kind of a storage container, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Harry said. "I asked Hermione about it, but she doesn't know much, either, which means that there might not be anyone who knows much. But Professor Flitwick, Hagrid is at the castle gate with two of my Aurors. There's no need for the gates to be guarded now, so I'm going to bring the Aurors up here. Can I tell Hagrid that he doesn't have to stay there any longer?"

"Why, I . . . Of course," The professor looked a little uncertain. "Are you sure? What about the centaurs?"

"They're inside the grounds, in the Forbidden Forest. Keeping a guard at the gate is a waste."

"Well, of course. Yes, please tell Hagrid he's relieved, or whatever it is you say in a situation like this."

Harry smiled. "We just tell him to go do whatever he wants."

He walked over to the Pensieve and looked down into the swirling silver mist. It looked exactly as it always had: translucent, mysterious. He beckoned to Parvati who nodded and took a stance to one side of the little table, her back to the wall. Harry looked at Tony; he walked wordlessly to the door and stood next to it, facing into the room.

"My apologies," Harry said to Professor Flitwick. "I can't leave it unguarded. The rest of the office is yours or Professor McGonagall's to use, but until Saliyah Ushujaa gets here and tells me differently, the Aurors have to stay."

Flitwick bowed his head and was about to speak, when the door behind him opened and Madam Pomfrey hurried out, an alarmed look on her face.

"We must get her to St. Mungo's," she said to Flitwick. "I don't know what's wrong, but it's affected her mind." She cast a glance at the Pensieve, and noted Parvati standing next to it. "I hope you are guarding it, Miss Patil."

"She is," said Harry. "But don't concern yourself with that, just do what you have to."

Tony opened the door for her and her footsteps rapidly descended the spiral stairs.

Harry ran his hand through his hair. He looked at Ginny and she gave him a quick smile. He had been on dozens of cases during his five years of training and apprenticeship, but this was the first time he had encountered real danger, or what felt like real danger. There just was not much Dark Magic being practiced any longer, at least not in Britain. Most of the old Death Eaters were still in prison, many of them for life. The British wizarding world, under the leadership of Minister Shacklebolt, was prosperous and secure. Now, however, he was being tested.

He looked at Ron. "Outside," he said quietly, and they went onto the landing outside the door. When it closed behind them, he took Ron's arm.

"Send another message to Sal as quick as you can," he said quietly. "Then get Katie and Seamus up here. Put them right here. We'll have two inside and two outside. That should do it, don't you think?"

"You don't think this is overkill? I doubt Firenze will be back soon, and it seems like the damn thing hasn't affected anyone else."

"I'm not concerned about something coming out of the Pensieve. I don't want anyone else touching it. We have to get it out of here and quickly. It's dangerous." He thought for a moment. "Send a message to Hermione too, but get the other two first."

Ron ran down the steps and a moment later Harry heard the door at the bottom open and slam shut.

Back inside the office only Ginny, the two Aurors, and Madam Maxime remained. The door to the back room was open and Harry could see Neville and Professor Flitwick with Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey. Maxime was bent over next to the door, peering in.

"Now what?" Ginny asked.

"We wait."

Harry sat in a chair in front of the desk. The Persian cat appeared and jumped into his lap; it began to purr loudly and Harry scratched behind its ear. After a moment he got up with the cat in his arms and walked over to Madam Maxime.

She turned to him, worried. "Harry, this is quite serious. The Pensieve must not stay in Hogwarts, but when it is moved it must be handled with extreme care."

"Do you know anything about it?"

"There was once one at Beauxbatons, but it disappeared several hundred years ago. They are extremely rare. Do you know where Professor Dumbledore got this one? Was it always here at Hogwarts?"

"I hope to know the answers to those questions shortly." A smile briefly played on his face as Hermione came to him from Ginny.

Neville emerged from the back room, followed by Professor Flitwick. "There's no need for me to stay here, Harry," Neville said. "Professor Flitwick wants me to go to the common rooms and tell everyone they can come out."

Harry looked at the Charms teacher. "Do you still want to keep this quiet?"

The tiny professor sighed. "I think that would be best for the moment, at least until we know more about what happened to Minerva." He looked back into the room where Harry could see one end of a settee and the Headmistress's legs lying on it. "Poppy gave her a draft that seems to have calmed her agitation. Dear me." He signed again. "We'll have to say something to the students about her, won't we?"

"Tell them that she's ill," said Ginny. "That's the truth, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes, it is. I agree, Mrs. Potter, in moments like these it's certainly best to stick to the truth."

"The Athair twins are waiting downstairs," Harry said. "They always seem to know what's really going on, so if you tell them anything, be careful." He shot a thought to Ginny that made her smile: I'll bet you a Sickle that by dinnertime they'll know everything.

"Emma and Claire?" Flitwick chuckled. "I'll wager a Galleon that those two know everything by dinnertime."

Ginny put her hand to her mouth, suppressing a giggle. Harry kept a straight face, but before anyone could say more they heard voices and heavy footsteps outside the door. Hagrid barged in, followed by Madam Pomfrey and a Healer who Harry recognized as Hestia Derwent, an old friend of the Weasley family and the witch who Molly worked for at St. Mungo's. Behind her came Katie, Seamus, and Ron, who nodded to Neville as he left.

The nurse and the Healer hurried into the back room. Hagrid looked around; when he noticed Parvati standing guard over the Pensieve, his brow furrowed above his thick eyebrows. The brow went up when he turned his head and saw Tony next to the door.

"Harry, what's goin' on in here? Ron told me there wasn't no danger. And didja get yerself a cat?"

Harry looked down at the contented Persian in his arms and let it jump down. It went over to Hagrid and rubbed against his boot. The gamekeeper peered down at it. "He's a friendly 'un, ain't he? He'll make yeh a fine pet." He picked the cat up, nuzzled it, and cradled it in his massive arms. The cat closed its eyes and resumed purring.

"Oh, Hagrid," said Madame Maxime, "that is Professor McGonagall's animal."

"Ah. Sorry. Here." He handed the cat back to Harry. "So . . ." He looked around again, and into the back room where he could see Madam Sprout standing at the foot of the settee. "Is Perfessor McGonagall okay?"

"She is ill," Madam Maxime said.

"Hagrid," Harry said, "you need to know what's happening." He told the gamekeeper about the Pensieve, and how it appeared that something had affected the Headmistress. "This has to be kept from the students for the moment."

Hagrid nodded. "Of course. But I'll bet ten Galleons that them Athair twins downstairs already know everythin'. Is the Perfessor gonna be okay?"

Nobody answered.

"Professor," Harry said to Flitwick, "would it be possible for everyone to leave, at least for the time being? We need to deal with it—" he indicated the Pensieve "— and it'll be easier if we're alone."

"Of course. My dear," he said to Madam Maxime, "it's almost the lunch hour, so would you and Hagrid mind . . .?"

The two professors left, after casting anxious glances into the back room. Harry gave Katie and Seamus a signal to follow them and stand guard outside the front door. He handed the cat to Ron and went to the open back door and glanced in. Hestia Derwent was bent over Minerva who was lying on the settee with her eyes closed. The Healer moved her wand slowly over her patient's head, which was cradled in the lap of Professor Sprout. Madam Pomfrey noticed Harry and came to the door.

"We'll be Portkeying to St. Mungo's as soon as Hestia thinks it's safe," she said in a low voice. "This is terrible. Poor Minerva, she doesn't know where she is or who any of us are." She wrung her hands and there were tears in her eyes. "It's that thing, that Pensieve, isn't it? Can you get it out of here? It mustn't be allowed to stay in the castle."

Harry patted her clenched hands. "It will be gone as soon as possible. We have to figure out how to move it." He paused and said, "You don't remember Professor Dumbledore ever talking about it, do you?"

"He wouldn't have spoken to me about it. He hasn't come back, has he?"

"No. He has another portrait in the Ministry, so maybe he's there."

"This is terrible," she repeated distractedly. "Poor Minerva."

Ginny had come over, and now she put her arm around the Herbology teacher. Harry went inside the room and Healer Derwent turned to him and stood.

Harry stared at the pallid face of Minerva McGonagall. Her jaw, in fact her entire face, was slack. Professor Sprout wiped a dribble of saliva from her chin. Her breathing was shallow and came in short gasps.

"Can I have a word?" Harry said to the Healer. They stepped away from the settee. "We must get the Pensieve out of Hogwarts as quickly as possible," Harry said quietly, "but since no one seems to know anything about it, I can't say how long it will take or how much effort or how disruptive it will be. How soon do you think you can move her?"

"Harry, I just don't know. The only time I've seen this," she indicated the Headmistress, "is in quite elderly people. It looks like senility, but it came on so quickly. If it's something in the Pensieve, then it's very dangerous. I strongly advise that no one use it."

"I agree with that completely."

Ginny came and knelt by the sofa. She took one of McGonagall's hands and stroked it. After a moment the Headmistress heaved a deep sigh and began to breathe evenly and quietly. Ginny kept caressing her hand. McGonagall's mouth closed and a bit of color returned to her face.

Ginny stood and looked at everyone staring at her; only Harry did not register amazement.

"I saw my mum do that once," Ginny said. "Aunt Muriel tripped over a gnome in the garden and hit her head. She was unconscious for a while and she started to drool, and Mum rubbed her hand like that. Of course when she woke up she was still just as barmy."

Hestia leaned over McGonagall and put her hand on her forehead. She smiled at Ginny. "She's better. I think we can move her now. You'll tell Filius that we're taking her?" Harry nodded.

Madam Pomfrey picked up a battered old bedpan sitting on a table; the initials SMHFMMAI were stamped on it. She placed it on the settee next to the Headmistress, and when Ginny frowned, Healer Derwent said, "It's a Pinch Portkey."

"A what?"

"We can use it in a pinch. It schedules itself with the Ministry."

Harry put his finger to his lips. "We use them too, but we don't like to advertise it. And you have to get them authorized ahead of time."

The Healer touched the bedpan with her wand and murmured, "Portus." She pressed Professor McGonagall's hand to it, and, as she and Madam Pomfrey grasped it, it glowed blue for a moment and the three of them vanished.

Harry, Ginny, and Professor Sprout returned to the office. Harry told Professor Flitwick that the Headmistress was on her way to St. Mungo's.

"I'd better get down to the Great Hall," the Charms teacher said. "The rumors are sure to be flying." He and Sprout left, and Harry breathed a sigh. Only Aurors and Ginny were left in the office and he felt a little less tense.

"Do you have any idea when Sal's getting here?" he asked Ron, who was peering into a cabinet containing various kinds of bowls, brushes, small round cans of cat food, and a large sack labeled "Poopy Pan Sand."

"She was at a Muggle event with Shacklebolt," Ron said, turning. "I sent a couple of people to look for them. Hermione should be here—"

There was a knock on the door and Katie poked her head in. "It's Hermione."

Harry beckoned and Hermione entered. She looked worried. "I came as quickly as I could. Did something happen with the Pensieve?"

"A lot." Harry walked to the Pensieve and Hermione followed. Ron and Ginny joined them. "McGonagall is in St. Mungo's. A Healer came and took her there. It looks like something in the Pensieve affected her mind. I was going to ask you to try it, but I can't let you now."

Hermione put her hand to her mouth. "Does anyone know how it happened?"

Harry shook his head. "We'll have to take it to the Ministry, but I haven't the foggiest idea how."

They started examining the magical device. Harry and Hermione squatted and examined it from underneath. The under surface was smooth and metallic-looking.

"Look at this." Hermione pointed to a flat, circular piece of wood, like a slice taken from a large tree trunk, which was sandwiched between the Pensieve and the table. It was about an inch thick. "Has this always been here?"

"I never noticed it before." Harry ran his finger over the smooth, polished circumference. "I never looked underneath, though. Dumbledore must know."

"We'll have to ask him."

"I just thought of something else," Harry said, standing. "This thing was in Professor Snape's office when he was giving me Occlumency lessons. That means you can move it out of here and not damage it."

"But it was working correctly then. If it's somehow attacking people now, moving it might make it worse." Hermione bent over and peered into the swirl of memories. "It's fascinating, isn't it? There are probably thousands of memories here, going back Merlin knows how far. What a trove of knowledge."

"What a load of trouble," Ron muttered.

"From your point of view, yes, a load of trouble," said Hermione. "My point is, let's not do anything to jeopardize what's in it."

"We'll try our best," Harry said, "but if it's dangerous, safety comes first."

"Of course, I was just saying that we should try to keep—"

Hermione stopped in mid-sentence when Ginny pulled on her sleeve and pointed to the wall behind Professor McGonagall's desk. They all looked up. The portrait of Headmaster Dumbledore was no longer empty. He was sitting in his throne-like chair, with a worried expression quite different from his usual serene gaze.

Harry walked around the desk and stood before the portrait. "Professor, is something wrong?"

Dumbledore gave a start and sat up straight. He looked out into the room at the group standing next to the Pensieve. After a moment he turned to Harry. "Be careful, Harry. Something is happening . . . I'm not certain what, but you must be careful."

"Is it the Pensieve?"

"Yes. You must be careful."

"Professor, we have to get it out of here, take it to the Ministry. Do you know how to move it? How should we transport it? Didn't Professor Snape take it to his office when he taught me Occlumency?"

"He taught you Occlumency?" The old Headmaster chuckled, his mood suddenly changing.

Harry frowned, annoyed at the bad joke. "But the Pensieve was in his office."

"It may be moved anywhere inside the castle, but as far as I know, it has never been taken elsewhere."

"But we can't leave it here. It's already driven Professor Firenze away and attacked Professor McGonagall."

Dumbledore took off his spectacles and rubbed his nose, a gesture so familiar to Harry. "I'm sorry, Harry. I can't help you. I inherited the Pensieve from Headmaster Dippet. I used it as he instructed me, and then I passed those instructions on to Minerva. My knowledge of it is limited, I'm sorry to say."

Harry gave an exasperated sigh. He had been hoping for something more than this from the old man, who was speaking in what was for Harry an all-too-familiar, cryptic fashion. Harry needed help, not riddles. He scowled up at the portrait.

Someone moved around the desk, and Harry sensed Ginny standing next to him. "Hello, Professor," she said. "I was wondering if you knew anything about Professor McGonagall. Can you find out if she's recovering?"

The blue eyes twinkled. "You should be a diplomat, Mrs. Potter, and run around the world defusing unpleasant international confrontations. No, I do not know how Minerva is doing, but you point me to where my duty lies." He rose from his chair. "I don't have direct access to St. Mungo's Hospital, but I have friends who do. I will ask them to look in on her and I'll report back as soon as I know something."

"I might not be here," Harry replied.

"But surely someone will, perhaps Professor Flitwick, I would hope." He nodded and walked out of the frame.

"He was getting on your nerves, wasn't he?" Ginny said with a wry grin.

Harry laughed. "Thanks, love. There's no point in being annoyed at a portrait, is there? But he didn't waste any time leaving."

They turned back to the room where Hermione and Ron were watching them. "Well," Harry said, "can anyone think of anything else to do? We can't move it until we know more about it, and I wouldn't do that anyway without talking to Saliyah and probably Kingsley."

"So what are you going to do?" Hermione asked. "And why didn't you ask him about that thing underneath it?"

"I was planning to, but he left kind of quickly. As for what I'm planning to do now . . . " He grinned at Ginny. "Go flying. We came here this morning to get a little flying in. The weather's still fine, so let's do it."

Ron nodded knowingly but Hermione frowned. "You're taking a spin on your brooms while the castle is in an uproar? Harry, that's—"

Ron put his hand on her shoulder. "It's fine, babe. I think Harry has more than recreation in mind." He looked at his boss

"I think we might make a detour over the Forbidden Forest," Harry said. "But yes, we're taking a spin on our brooms. It's the weekend, after all."

"Actually, you're right," Hermione mused. "I think I'll go relax in the library. There's bound to be something there about the Pensieve."

"Atta girl!" Ron put his arm around her. "But how about some lunch first?"

"Of course, I should have thought of that." Hermione took his chin between her thumb and forefinger, and kissed him.

"Hey, I'm on duty."

"Your boss just said it's the weekend, so I'm allowed to kiss you." Hermione smiled and planted another kiss.

Harry told Parvati and Tony to go down to the Great Hall for lunch. The four friends waited in the office, speculating about the Pensieve, discussing next weekend's family gathering at the Burrow, and the upcoming anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. Half an hour later the two Aurors returned and took the places of Katie and Seamus, who went to lunch. When they returned and took up their posts, Harry spoke to all four Aurors.

"I'll be back in a couple of hours. If Saliyah comes and wants me, I'll be over the Forbidden Forest or the Quidditch pitch."

Lunch was over and the tables in the Great Hall had been cleared, so the four went down to the kitchen and ate with the house-elves, who were a little awe-struck but pleased that Harry Potter and his friends had come to join them. They cooked up a fresh, delicious meal of steamed oysters in a spicy white clam sauce over linguine—one of Ron's many favorites—with warm garlic bread and tossed salad.

When they were finished, the Weasleys went to the library and the Potters headed outside and down to the Quidditch pitch. As they walked hand-in-hand in brilliant sunshine, Harry noticed two people flying in slow circles above the Forbidden Forest. He pointed and squinted. "Is that the twins?"

Ginny shaded her eyes. "I think you're right. What on earth are they doing?"

Harry chuckled. "Probably what we're going to do, look for Firenze. But if they're doing that, then somehow they know that he left the castle and went there."

They continued on down to the pitch, took off their cloaks in the warm sunshine, and flew upward in large spirals. Off to the south, on the other side of the castle, they could see Emma and Claire zigzagging over the Forest, about fifty feet above the tree tops.

"They shouldn't be flying that low," Harry said. He and Ginny were hovering a few feet apart, both of them shading their eyes against the sun. "They're within arrow-shot."

Ginny turned to him. "What! Centaurs wouldn't shoot at students!"

"Normally I would agree. But Firenze wasn't acting normally or rationally. Let's go get them."

They bent low over their Ions and in a few seconds swooped down on the startled twins. Ginny stayed about twenty feet above them while Harry approached.

"Pull up!" he shouted as he came from underneath and placed himself between them and the treetops. "You shouldn't be flying this low over the Forest. Centaurs don't like humans flying above them."

They looked at him with identical defiant expressions, but when he put on what he called his policeman's face and pointed to where Ginny was moving in a circle above them, they climbed to join her, although not too swiftly. Harry stayed close, herding them upward.

"Were you looking for Firenze?" he asked when they were all together and moving away from the Forest.

"How did you know?" Emma said. "We saw him galloping across the lawn from our dorm window, so we decided to see where he went."

"I'll give you some unofficial advice," Harry said seriously. "Don't stick your noses into centaurs' business. They won't hurt students, probably, but they won't like it, they'll let you know they don't like it, and they'll make trouble for Professor McGonagall."

"Where is she?" Claire said, making Harry regret bringing up the Headmistress's name.

"She's not feeling well. What did Professor Flitwick tell you?"

"She's not feeling well."

"Well, she isn't."

Emma smiled slyly. "And that's all you're telling us? We have ways, Mr. Potter. Hogwarts holds no secrets from us."

"Tell me about it," Harry muttered under his breath. He glanced at Ginny when her silent laughter flittered through his mind. She was grinning, but quickly dropped the grin when the twins' heads snapped to look at her.

"We saw that!" they said in unison.

"I'll bet she's at St. Mungo's, isn't she?" said Claire.

"Because of Firenze," added Emma.

Harry decided that the truth was better with these two than an official lie. "Yes and no. No one knows why he left the castle, or why he was so upset this morning."

Without the twins' realizing it, Harry and Ginny had herded them down onto the lawn a few yards from the castle entrance. They landed and looked around.

"That was a dirty trick, Harry," Claire frowned. "We'll stay away from the Forest, but we're allowed to fly over the castle."

"Sorry, not today. That's an official order from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"Since when do you give orders around here?" Emma demanded, her hands on her hips, standing over her broom. "Professor McGonagall rules here, not you."

Another wave of mirth from Ginny's mind rolled over Harry.

"Not when you break the law," he said, "and fly over the Forbidden Forest at a height deemed less than safe by an observing officer of the Department." He put his own hands on his hips and glared back at Emma.

But neither of them could keep a straight face, and all four laughed. "Seriously," Harry said, "what you did was not a good idea. They wouldn't hurt you, or even try to hurt you, but it could easily have angered them."

"Sorry, then," said Emma. "We'll go and apologize."

"No, you won't!" Harry scowled, but stopped when Ginny laughed again. He grinned at Emma. "You two are worse than Fred and George, and that's about as high a compliment as I can give. Now, Ginny and I want to do some flying, so don't you have homework to do?"

"No, but we'll stay out of your hair," said Claire gaily as she and Emma skipped away toward the front doors.

"At least until next time," Emma called over her shoulder. They ran laughing up the steps and disappeared into the entrance.

"Were we like that?" Harry said as he and Ginny looked at each other.

"No one was ever like that." She handed him his broom. "Come on, I still want to look at the world with you."

They kicked off from the lawn and flew straight up. The Scottish Highlands rolled away into the purple distance, folds and ridges and the silver glint of long lakes. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. When Hogwarts was no more than a collection of tiny buildings below, they stopped and took each other's hand. Ginny closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun as the wind whipped through her hair.

"It's so peaceful up here," she said, opening her eyes and smiling at Harry. "Sometimes I wish we never had to go back down."

He leaned over and kissed her. "I have an idea. Let's live up here. No Pensieves, no centaurs . . ."

"When it rains, no roof," she laughed.

"Oops, I forgot about that."

He kissed her again and they slowly descended in large spirals, heading for the Quidditch pitch, and when they got there they took a few turns around the stadium. Ginny spotted a Quaffle box on the ground next to the stands, and they tossed the ball back and forth for a while. Harry was rusty, and he dropped quite a few passes, while Ginny, at the top of her professional form, caught everything that Harry threw at her.

After half an hour they put the Quaffle back, climbed to about a hundred feet, and flew over the castle to the Forbidden Forest. They circled for another half hour but saw nothing. The sun had moved half way down the sky when they returned to the Quidditch pitch and landed.

"You didn't expect to see anything, did you?" asked Ginny on their way back to the castle.

"I thought maybe we would, since the leaves aren't all out yet. But I suppose if he wanted to stay out of sight it wouldn't matter."

"Do you have any idea what Firenze was doing?"

"No idea. I was wondering though if we should talk to Professor Trelawney."

Ginny snickered. "She's as likely to say you're about to die as to answer your question. Doesn't she hate Firenze?"

"I don't know. I haven't kept up with divination politics." His brow creased. "I wonder if she's been acting strange."

"If she was, how could you tell?" Ginny grinned.

Harry chuckled as they climbed the steps and entered the castle. Students were now coming and going in the entrance hall, and many of them looked curiously or apprehensively at Harry and Ginny as they made their way through the corridors. Outside the Headmistress's office they gave the password and went upstairs. Katie and Seamus were at their posts, but Katie put her hand up before Harry and Ginny could enter.

"Saliyah and Kingsley," she said quietly, indicating the door with her eyes.

Harry nodded and they went in. Professor Flitwick was behind the desk, sitting on a stool. Dumbledore's portrait frame was empty. Ron stood next to the Pensieve with Parvati and Tony. Saliyah and Kingsley Shacklebolt were bent over the Pensieve peering into it. They looked around at the newcomers.

Kingsley straightened; he looked worried, as had so many others today. "What's going on, Harry?" he said. "Tell us everything."

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