Ginny's House

Macaroni and Cheese

Ginny lay on top of the covers in the four-poster, staring up at the red and gold canopy. It was late, already past midnight, and Harry was still at the Ministry. There was no news of the Pensieve or, what was more distressing, of Percy. Ginny knew from the thoughts that Harry let through to her that Ron had Floo'd from the Ministry to the Burrow to tell Mum and Dad, but he hadn't returned yet. Ginny could well imagine what was happening at home: Molly hysterical, Arthur calm and comforting, Ron trying to extricate himself from the tumult and get back to the Ministry. There was nothing Ginny could do about any of it but wait. She also wondered where her sister-in-law Audrey was, or whether anyone at the Ministry had contacted her.

She did not want to fall asleep. She wanted to be awake when Harry got home; he was going to be tired and stressed. Since he had become a full-fledged Auror, nothing like this had happened. He had not had to deal with a life being in danger, and certainly not the life of his brother-in-law.

That thought made her insides lurch, and she jumped off the bed. She stood for a moment looking at the candle flickering on the nightstand. An old scene of chaos flashed in her mind: Percy carrying the lifeless body of Fred into the smoke-filled Great Hall, around them people weeping, moaning, clinging to each other. It was a moment that Ginny would never forget, but it rarely came back to her with such vividness. And if she was re-living it like this, she could only imagine how her mother was taking it.

She stood in front of the fireplace, her hand on the flowerpot where they kept their Floo powder. She was torn between waiting for Harry—he would want her to be there when he got home—and running to her mother who would want her daughter to be with her.

A tendril of Harry's mind touched hers. He and Saliyah were in Kingsley's office, along with two others. The Unspeakables. Then Harry shut it off.

Ginny took her hand from the pot. She would not let Harry come back to an empty house. He had just let her sense his distress, which was disturbing enough, but then he had cut it off. Whatever was going on in the Minister's office was serious. Either something very bad had happened or Harry needed to eliminate distractions. Either way, she wanted to—she had to—be here for him. If she went to her mother, her mind wouldn't be at the Burrow, it would be wherever Harry was.

She went into the little kitchen and checked the macaroni and cheese casserole; she had left it in the oven with a charm to keep it warm. She cast another spell just to make sure, and set the dish back on the rack. It smelled delicious, and Ginny smiled when she thought about how much Harry loved it.

She had picked up the recipe from a Beater brought over from the States by the Chudley Cannons a couple of years ago. He hadn't improved their dismal season, maybe because he was almost as wide as his broomstick was long. He acquired a nickname, the Yank Tank, which Ginny didn't understand at first but Gwenog explained was a reference to a very large, very heavy army vehicle that Muggles used for shooting at each other.

He was friendly enough, though, and he knew all about Harry Potter. He and Ginny talked a few times after matches, and it turned out that both he and Harry shared a love of baked macaroni and cheese. It was the only thing, in fact, that Harry remembered from his childhood with anything but loathing. One day his aunt had handed him a box of the stuff and told him to feed himself. Sometimes he had eaten nothing but M and C for a whole week, and still he managed to remain a skinny runt. The Hogwarts kitchen elves occasionally made it, and Winky also included it on the Hog's Head menu. But it wasn't until Ginny learned that the Yank Tank knew a world-famous recipe from a restaurant in his home-town that she made bold to try it herself.

Now it was a special treat, comfort food for cold, rainy, winter evenings or after very long days at the Ministry. Harry liked it so much that Ginny didn't even care that he usually ate himself to sleep, often dropping on the red rug in front of the fireplace. She would fetch pillows and a blanket and snuggle next to him, letting the fire burn down until, late at night, they would awaken at the same time and watch the embers glow orange in the dark, and make love until dawn came through the picture window behind the love seat.

Ginny didn't think the dish in the oven would have the same romantic effect on Harry tonight, if he even got to eat it. Too much had gone wrong, and Percy was missing. She thought of her mum again, and also of Audrey and her daughter, little Molly. By now Audrey must know that something had gone horribly wrong, but Ginny could only hope that someone else in the family, maybe Fleur or Angelina, would go to her.

Ginny was pacing in the sitting room, but she abruptly stopped. How stupid! Why hadn't she thought of that before? She stood still for a moment, concentrating her mind, but Harry was still silent. She took a pinch of Floo powder, knelt down in front of the fireplace, and said loudly, "The Jokery!" She cast the powder and thrust her head into the green flames.

She looked out on a small, tidy parlor with a couch on the left, two wing chairs opposite it, a few small tables here and there, and a single window behind the chairs. A half-dozen small landscape paintings adorned the walls, and several photographs sat on one of the tables. No one was in the room, as she had expected at this hour, so she crawled out of the fireplace and stood, brushing herself off on the hearth and lighting her wand.

She was in the house that George and Angelina had bought three years ago, after they had decided to move up to Hogsmeade so that they could be closer to Zonko's. But Ginny had a connection to the house that went farther back. In her last year at Hogwarts the house had been taken over by Death Eaters led by Dolores Umbridge, all of them recently escaped from Azkaban. They had Imperiused a local witch who lived in the house and worked in the village. Out of vengeance and a deluded belief that Harry still carried a piece of Voldemort's soul inside him, they had tried to destroy both him and Ginny. They failed, but in the process of capturing Umbridge and her gang, Harry had almost demolished the house.

Afterwards, the local witch moved away. Tony Trostle rebuilt the house, and George and Angelina bought it. Ginny and Harry spent a lot of time there, and she often took long walks with George through the countryside, even into a Muggle village about five miles away where the two redheads in strange-looking cloaks were the objects of discreet curiosity.

Ginny suspected that there was another reason for George wanting to live near Hogwarts besides Zonko's, and it gradually came out during those extended walks. Fred's spirit—or maybe even some other manifestation of Fred—had called George to be close to where Fred had died. As skeptical as Ginny was, she never questioned George's belief. He did seem more at peace up here in the Highlands, and that was all Ginny cared about.

The house was now very quiet. Ginny went to the front hallway where the staircase led to the upper floor, and listened for noises. She heard nothing; George and Angelina were asleep. She hesitated, but decided that things were dire enough that the family needed to know. She raised her wand, thought of the last time she and Harry had made love, and whispered, "Expecto Patronum." Her doe appeared in a shimmer of silvery fog, looked back at her for a moment, and trotted up the stairs and disappeared into the dark landing.

Ginny returned to the parlor and sat in a chair. A minute later she heard a door open and footsteps running down the stairs. George burst into the room tying the sash of his robe, and stumbled to a stop when he saw Ginny. He said in a voice not quite awake, "Percy is missing?" He stared at her, blinking rapidly, trying to wake up.

Ginny stood as another set of footsteps descended from upstairs and Angelina appeared at the door, also in a robe and pushing hair from her face; the swelling of her belly was very noticeable under the robe. "Ginny! What happened? Percy is missing?"

George frowned. "I thought he was with Harry. Didn't they get back to London?"

Ginny told them what she knew. "I can't stay," she finished. "I want to be home when Harry comes, but someone needs to go to Mum and Audrey. She's probably alone with little Molly."

George nodded. "I'll go to Mum, and you can go to St. John's Wood," he said to Angelina, referring to the posh London neighborhood where Percy and Audrey lived. "If she's at the flat you can bring her to the Burrow. If not, I'm sure the Burrow is where she'll be. Ginny, go home. Harry's going to be wiped." Without another word he turned, pulling Angelina after him. Before they were upstairs Ginny was back in her sitting room.

It was still empty, but she could now feel something coming from Harry. It was not a thought, but a sense of frustration and exhaustion. She stood uncertainly in front of the fireplace, experiencing frustration of her own, trying to keep it from him; she did not want to give him something else to worry about. She started to walk to the kitchen to check the casserole in the oven, when the fireplace flamed green and Harry stepped out.

He smiled tiredly at her and slumped into the love seat. "No sign of Percy," he sighed. "I'm exhausted."

Ginny quickly came and sat with her arms around him. He gave her a kiss and toppled over so that he was lying across the seat with his head in her lap. She stroked his hair and held his hand.

"What a day," he murmured, closing his eyes. "Half the Ministry knows by now, and half of them are up in arms. Kingsley is trying to keep the peace, but there's already people running around screaming for my head." He sighed again.

Ginny bent down and kissed his forehead. "Oh, love, I'm so sorry. What about Saliyah?" They both knew that as long as Saliyah was behind him, Harry was safe.

"She's fine. I honestly don't think there was anything different I could have done, except maybe pay more attention to Percy, but . . ."

"He was Imperiused, wasn't he?" Ginny said as she continued to stroke Harry's head.

"Of course. The question is, who did it?"

"Amander Croaker?"

Harry let out a breath. "I wish. That would solve everything. But I don't think it was him. He's been an Unspeakable forever, he was a war hero, and Kingsley wouldn't hear of it, or rather he wouldn't let Hagrid go on about it. And I think he's right. I saw Croaker after Percy took the Pensieve, and he was genuinely upset."

"I went and got George and Angelina," Ginny said. "George went to Mum and Angelina went to take Audrey to the Burrow. Did anyone from the Ministry tell her?"

"It was the first thing Kingsley did. Merlin," he said after a pause, "I'm so tired." He put his arm over his eyes and closed them.

"Wait here." Ginny moved his head from her lap and got up. She went into the kitchen and dished up a large serving of baked macaroni and cheese into a bowl and brought it back out. Harry was still lying with his eyes closed and his arm across his face. He looked up when she sat and passed the steaming bowl under his nose.

"Oh!" He sat up, a huge grin on his face. "My perfect wife! I completely forgot about this."

He took the bowl from her, but also took her hand and stood. "Let's at least eat a proper meal. One thing today should be cheery."

Ginny got a small serving for herself and they sat at the kitchen table while she tasted hers and Harry wolfed his. He kept looking up and grinning at her.

"At least the day is ending well," he finally said when he was done; he was still smiling.

"That's the whole idea of being married to me." Ginny pushed her bowl aside and leaned her chin on her hands, smiling back.

Harry sat back and belched. Ginny kept smiling innocently.

"I'm having a feeling that it's going to end very well indeed," said Harry. He picked her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom, kissing her deeply as he walked. He put her on the bed and began unbuttoning and unzipping her, even as their kiss deepened. But when he stood and took off his own clothes and lay on top of her, she rolled him over and covered him with her body.

"This one is for you," she whispered, and went to work with her fingers and her tongue.

Ginny made sure he completely forgot the troubles of his day.


The next morning they both had to be at the Ministry, Harry to continue the search for the Pensieve and Percy, Ginny to attend the meeting of the English National Quidditch team and the following press conference. She was glad that she had an excuse to be there; she would be close by if Harry needed her.

When Harry went into the sitting room while Ginny was showering, he found a note from George on the mantel.

Still no word about Percy. Audrey and Angelina arrived here a few minutes ago and we'll all stay until we hear something. Bill will remain in town and keep in touch with Dad at the Ministry. We sent an owl to Charlie, but it will take a day or so to get there. Keep in touch.

Harry took it back into the bedroom, laid it on Ginny's dresser, and went into the little kitchen to fix breakfast. Ginny was back in bed with the note when he returned bearing a tray with a pot of coffee and mugs.

He leaned down and kissed her. "I'm glad you'll be at the Ministry. It's gonna hit the fan. It'll be all over the Prophet too."

"I'm glad too. I guess Dad will go in as long as someone is home with Mum."

Harry showered and joined her back in bed, and they slurped hot coffee for fifteen minutes, talking about the events of yesterday. "The problem is that just about anyone would like to have a Pensieve," Harry mused, "so just about anyone could be a suspect. I'm wondering about that Chamberlain bloke." He paused for a moment and frowned. "Damn. I keep forgetting to ask George if he knows anything about him."

"You can try asking Fleur too. She must have known him back in France."

"Yeah." Harry's frown remained. He put his mug on the nightstand and leaned back on his pillows. "The main thing right now is to find Percy. Finding him could also give us leads to the Pensieve, but whoever is behind this is bound to Obliviate him. Well," he squinted through the door into the parlor, where a clock sat on the mantel. "It's time to get going."

They dressed, ate, and Floo'd to the Ministry of Magic. Harry was expecting the drove of reporters waiting in the Atrium, and had braced himself, but he wasn't expecting the dozen Aurors who ran to the fireplace he emerged from. They formed a phalanx around him.

"Wait!" he called to Ron at the point. "Ginny's right behind me."

A second later Ginny appeared, and almost stepped back into the fireplace when she saw the mob. Harry grabbed her arm and pulled her close. "I thought you were used to this," he grinned as they let themselves be moved along by their escort through the Atrium.

"I am," she muttered, looking straight ahead so as not to make eye contact with a reporter or photographer. They were shouting questions at Harry, not her. "But this isn't a Quidditch match."

Harry put his arm around her and felt her draw close. The shouted questions grew louder and more insistent as they passed through the golden gates and headed towards the lifts. Other Ministry workers watched with a variety of expressions ranging from bemusement to disgust. Finally they arrived at the lifts and the Aurors formed a semicircle around Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Flashbulbs popped and reporters pressed against the protective ring.

"It's a mess," Ron said in a low voice with his mouth next to Harry's ear. Harry saw that he was exhausted, and realized that his Chief Assistant must have been up all night here at the Ministry. "Croaker and Sprout want to convene the Wizengamot but Kingsley is trying to put them off to give us a chance to find the goddamned Pensieve. Not to mention Percy."

A lift arrived, and Ron turned and threw the grilles open. Harry pulled Ginny inside and Ron called loudly to the crowd pushing towards them, "Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen! We look forward to reading your well-informed and incisive stories in the papers later today."

He jumped inside and slammed the grille shut. Harry punched the button for the second level and the lift shot up.

"Thanks," Harry said. "I expected them, but not the bodyguard."

"I figured that Ginny would be with you," Ron said, looking at his sister.

She gave him a peck on the cheek. "You look terrible. Did you sleep last night?"

Ron shrugged, but smiled tiredly. "Someone had to mind the store. I'll go home in a couple of hours."

"Take ten minutes to fill me in, then get the hell out of here," Harry said. "Gin, didn't you want to get off at six?"

They had passed the level for the Department of Magical Games and Sports, but Ginny shook her head. "I don't have to be there until ten. Can I wait with you?" Harry gave her a grateful nod.

The lift stopped at level two and they walked quickly to Harry's office. A huge stack of messages had accumulated in his inbox, but he shoved it aside and sat. Ginny took a chair at the side of the desk, while Ron went to the shelf where the coffee pot stood and poured himself a mug. Ginny stared at it when he set it down on the desk. She bent over it, took a sniff, and made a face.

"You two are so gross," she said. "How can you drink this garbage?" She got up and took the coffee pot from the shelf. Holding it at arm's length, she waved her wand over it and the contents disappeared. She waved it again and the scummy residue at the bottom also vanished. "All it takes is a little magic. I'll be right back."

She went out the door and Ron sighed. "Sorry, mate. I didn't mean to drag her up here to clean house for us. Merlin, I'm so tired." He closed his eyes for a moment.

"Can you catch me up real quick?" Harry asked. "Just tell me where we stand right now, so when I talk to Sal I'll know something. Then I want you to go home."

Ron opened his eyes; they were bleary and red. "I hope I make sense. Sal called another shift in, mostly older types, and some of them went back to the spot you sent your Patronus from, to see if they could trace where Percy went. They should be back soon." He yawned. "We're staking out places where Dung likes to hang, but since that includes every pub in Britain, there's a fair chance he might somehow slip through the net." He paused, his eyes closed, and he swayed in his chair. Harry was about to send a charm to steady him, but Ron opened his eyes. "And Professor McGonagall is back at Hogwarts. They figured out it was some kind of induced Obliviate that caused her confusion, but it wasn't permanent, so they worked out a counter-hex. Anyway, she doesn't have to be at St. Mungo's so she's back at, uh, school."

Ron's head fell onto his chest, but snapped up again, and he blinked several times. "Did I tell you that they're looking for Dung? Oh, yeah . . ." He fell forward and, before Harry could do anything, his face hit the desk. He began to snore.

The door opened and Ginny came back in carrying a steaming pot of coffee. Hermione was right behind her. Ginny giggled when she saw Ron, and Hermione gently shook his shoulder.

"Wake up, sweetie," she said bending over him. "Let's go home."

"Huh?" Ron sat up and smiled at her. "Hey, babe. Let's go home."

"There's an echo in here." Hermione grinned at Harry. "I'll put him to bed and come back. I slept all night."

With help from a gentle Levitating charm, she led Ron out. Ginny closed the door after them and poured a mug of coffee for Harry; he took a sip and smiled. "This is much better. I think that other stuff was poisoning us."

The door flew open again and a parchment airplane soared in. It touched down in the center of Harry's desk; he read it and glanced at the clock on the wall. "Sal is having a meeting in ten minutes, but she wants me to come now. I guess you'll have to leave."

"I guess," Ginny sighed. "I wanted to stay with you. You don't think there'll be trouble, do you?"

Harry gazed at her for a long moment. He never tired of looking at his wife, the most beautiful creature in the world. She still had her freckles; her hair was, if anything, even more fiery red; her eyes still blazed at him, as they were doing now after he had been staring at her for only a few seconds; her figure was very lithe thanks to her athletic career, and also very curvy; her lips . . .

He closed his eyes and sighed in turn. "I don't know." He opened them. "Sal and I talked about the politics last night and she agreed that Croaker was way out of line. But he's been around a long time, and he stood up to the Death Eaters even after they killed two Unspeakables. I had to send the Patronus but now Croaker doesn't agree, even though he did yesterday. He also said I should have done something about Percy."

"Should you have?"

"I don't know," he said heavily. "Probably. Everything that happened is ultimately my responsibility. Sal is still behind me, but she wasn't too happy with the job I did, and I don't blame her."

Ginny frowned. "That's not fair. Croaker did something stupid. You had every right to expect an Unspeakable to act with some brains. And whoever Imperiused Percy was obviously an expert."

Harry's eyes suddenly narrowed and he rose from his chair.

"What?"

He grabbed her hand, which was suspended in mid-air. "Come on! We're going to the Burrow."

"What about your meeting?" Ginny said as Harry pulled her out the door. "What about my team meeting? Harry!"

"You have more than an hour. We'll be back in plenty of time." He was practically running, almost dragging Ginny through the corridor, muttering apologies to people who jumped aside to avoid being run over. He skidded to a stop outside an office with a brass nameplate on the door, Head Auror. Ginny bumped into him as he stuck his head in.

"Laura!" he said to the witch in green Auror robes sitting at the desk. She looked up. "Tell Sal I'll be back in less than an hour. I'm following up on a lead."

She opened her mouth to speak, but Harry slammed the door and began pulling Ginny down the corridor again.

"Harry!" she laughed. "What are you doing? Tell me what's happening."

They arrived at the lifts and Harry kissed her as he pushed the call button. "There's just something about you that inspires me, plus you said something that jarred my brain loose. You'll see when we get there."

"You're being very secretive," she pouted, but returned his kiss.

Three Aurors got off the lift and pushed past them. "No snogging on company time, Potter," Popeye growled. The three walked away down the corridor, snickering.

Harry grinned and stepped into the empty lift with Ginny. "As I was saying . . ." He leaned over to kiss her, but she pushed him away.

"First tell me what's going on. One minute you're mooning at me across your desk, the next minute you're dragging me through the Ministry, knocking people over along the way."

"I'm always mooning at you. You're beautiful." He tried to pull her close, but she backed into a corner and, giggling, pointed her finger at him.

"You're flashing those green eyes at me. You have no idea how dangerous you are when you do that."

"As your husband I'm allowed to be dangerous." He moved closer, but halted as the lift stopped at level seven and a witch got on. Ginny stiffened and dropped her smile when she saw Romilda Vane.

"Hello, Ginny." The dark-haired witch smiled at her briefly without showing any teeth. "Ready for the photo op?"

"Hello, Romilda." Ginny didn't return the smile. "I'll be there."

"Of course you will. You're the star. Everyone is so excited about your being on the team. I expect a big crowd this afternoon."

"I can't wait."

The grille opened on the Atrium and Ginny tried to step past her with Harry, but Romilda cut her off and moved between the two of them. Harry stopped dead in his tracks, and as Romilda took another step before realizing what was happening, he reached out and pulled Ginny next to him. In lockstep, they walked around the open-mouthed Romilda and strode quickly to the row of out-going fireplaces along the wall.

"What a pest," said Harry as he took a pinch of Floo powder from the pot hanging next to the fireplace.

"She needs to find a man," Ginny observed, "so she can leave everyone else's alone."

A moment later they both stood in the empty kitchen of the Burrow, but voices came from the parlor. Molly was standing there in front of the fireplace, a handkerchief wound around her fingers; her eyes were puffy and she looked haggard. George sat in a chair, while Audrey was on the couch flanked by Fleur and Angelina. Ginny felt a moment of satisfaction from Harry when he saw Fleur; apparently he was hoping she would be here.

Molly started weeping. She walked over to Ginny and took her in a hug. "Oh, Ginny," she sobbed, "I'm so glad you're here. No one knows where poor Percy is. This is so unlike him, I just know he's been Cursed. Harry." She let Ginny go and took Harry's face in her hands. "They mustn't blame you for this. There are still evil people out there doing evil things. Thank goodness you're on the job."

She kissed his cheek and dropped into a chair while Ginny bent over her and held her hands. Harry went to Audrey and put his hand on her shoulder. She smiled up at him although she looked as bad as Molly. "I'm so sorry," Harry said. "We're looking for him as hard as we can."

She nodded and tears filled her eyes. "I know. Thank you."

Ginny came to stand next to Harry. "Where's little Molly?"

"Upstairs sleeping. She's doing better than anyone." She gave a hysterical laugh. "Better than me, anyway."

Ginny knelt in front of her and took her hands, while Harry leaned over and spoke softly to Fleur. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

As she stood, Harry gestured to George, and the three went into the kitchen. "What is it?" Fleur asked; the furrow that creased her forehead was somehow attractive.

"What do you know about Chadwick Chamberlain?" Harry said.

Fleur looked surprised. "Do you know 'im? 'E is married to Aunt Patience. 'E used to teach at Beauxbatons, but 'e is no longer zere." Her frown deepened. "What does zis 'ave to do wit' Percy?"

Harry ignored her question. "Did you have him as a professor?"

"Of course. 'E taught Charms and 'e was very good. I t'ink he was friends wit' your Professor Flitwick from 'Ogwarts. Harry, why are you interested in 'im?"

"Yes." George said. "Why are you interested in him? He was at the shop yesterday around noon, by the way."

Harry nodded. "I know. I saw him in the post office. I also saw him in Flitwick's office a few days before we moved the Pensieve."

They all turned their heads as the door to the parlor opened and Ginny came out. Harry waited until she stood next to him, and continued. "Chadwick Chamberlain taught Charms at Beauxbatons. Flitwick said he was an excellent teacher and wizard, and the two of them wrote articles together. A few years ago he quit his job and got into the joke business. He was at Hogwarts when something happened to Professor McGonagall while she was using the Pensieve, and he was in Hogsmeade just a few yards from where we had stopped the lorry with the Pensieve in it. I'm pretty certain that's where Percy was Cursed."

He turned to Fleur. "So, is there anything else you can tell me about your uncle? Did he ever express interest in a Pensieve or in anything else related to Hogwarts? And why would someone like him go into the joke business?" He addressed the last question to George.

"Just a moment!" Fleur's eyes flashed in anger and she spoke sharply. "'Arry, I know zat you are a wonderful Auror, but it is impossible zat Uncle Chadwick is a criminal. 'E would never, never use an Unforgivable Curse. I 'ave known 'im since I am a small child. Ze whole family love 'im. And I will tell you somet'ing else. You cannot keep a secret from a veela, non, non! And if you are married to one, zen it is doubly so. You are telling me zat if 'e is a crook zen so is Tante Patience, et c'est impossible. 'E is not your man, 'Arry. You must find un autre, someone else."

Harry blinked several times. The last time he had seen Fleur speak so vehemently was after Bill had been attacked by Fenrir Greyback at Hogwarts. She was formidable and her beauty helped her persuasiveness, but Harry was not convinced.

"Fleur, I'm not accusing anyone. But I can't ignore coincidences. In my profession they don't exist. There may be very good reasons for Mr. Chamberlain's whereabouts and behavior, but one explanation is that he is responsible for all this. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you and George these questions."

"Ah!" Fleur turned away, her eyes still angry, but she said nothing.

Harry turned to George who was watching Fleur appreciatively. "So do you have any idea why he took up jokes?" Harry asked.

George hesitated; he glanced again at Fleur whose back was turned. "I have to agree with Fleur, mate. I've known the bloke for three years, and he's completely on the up and up as far as I'm concerned. He runs an owl-order operation out of Lyon and he has a very good reputation. You'll have a lot of trouble convincing anyone that he would even think about using an Unforgivable Curse. I mean, why on earth would he want to risk ten years in Azkaban?"

"I haven't got around to figuring out his motive." Harry had become more than a little annoyed. No one had told him what else Chadwick Chamberlain could be doing in Hogsmeade. "So you don't know why he quit teaching?"

"Gold," George stated with a shrug. "How much do professors make? He's talented and ambitious and obviously wanted more."

"Ambitious?" Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, so that's an assumption. If he wanted more gold, that makes him ambitious."

"You're arguing in a circle," Harry said. "If he wanted gold he must be ambitious in which case he would want more gold."

"Okay," George grinned. "I shouldn't try dancing around a future Head Auror. But he's never done anything I would consider shady, and believe me there are plenty of shady characters in my profession. And don't you say anything." He pointed at Ginny who smirked back.

Harry sent a silent appeal to Ginny, and she swallowed her retort. He pressed on. "Why was he in Hogsmeade yesterday? And if you don't mind my asking, what did he want with you? He went to see you after we saw him at the Post Office."

"I don't mind at all," George said affably. "You answered your own question. He was in Hogsmeade to mail a letter. I think he told me it was to his wife. He came to see me because he wanted to buy some samples."

"Samples of what?"

"Jokes, what else?"

Now Harry was really annoyed. "Come on, George. What kind of jokes?"

"Let's see . . . Invisible Hats and Nose Plugs, Pygmy Puffs, an Extendable Ear, some Whizz Bangs, um . . ." He furrowed his brow. "Oh, yeah, and some card games. Very suspicious, if you ask me." He smirked at Ginny.

"What did he do with them?" Harry pressed. "Did you ship them someplace, or did he take them?"

"Chico boxed it all up and we took it over to the Post Office. I suppose he mailed it, but I don't know for sure. We went back to the shop after that, and I haven't seen the suspect since."

Harry grinned wryly. "If he ends up guilty, I'll bust you as his unwitting accomplice."

"It will be an honor." George gave him a bow.

Fleur turned from the window were she had been standing. "'Arry, do you 'ave any idea where Percy is?"

"No."

They were all silent. Ginny took Harry's hand. "We'd better be heading back. It's almost time for the team meeting."

Harry nodded. "Okay. Let's go say goodbye to Mum and the others."

As they went back into the parlor, Fleur put her hand on Harry's shoulder. "I'm sorry," she murmured when he looked back at her. "I should not tell you 'ow to do your job."

Harry smiled. It was impossible to be upset with Fleur Weasley. He wondered what Bill did when they had an argument; Fleur probably won all of them.

Molly jumped up from the sofa when they entered. "Harry, dear, can you stay for lunch? I know Ginny has to go, but I was planning to make a pot of that macaroni and cheese you like so much. Ginny showed me the recipe, and Arthur loves it too. It's a very comforting meal, don't you think?"

"Sorry, Mum. I'm already missing part of a meeting. I'll take a rain check, though."

"I made some for Harry last night," said Ginny. "We have plenty of leftovers."

Molly smiled at both of them. "Oh. Well, in that case I won't bother bringing any over for you. I was going to stop by, while you were out, of course."

Ginny and Harry both suppressed giggles, which was made harder by the mental image they shared of Molly Weasley stumbling over them as they shagged on the red rug in front of the fireplace.

"Of course," Ginny mumbled. "We'll be out all afternoon in case you do want to drop anything off."

"Well, I don't know if I will, but just in case . . ."

Harry noticed George grinning wickedly at them, and shot him a dirty look. He followed Ginny to the couch where Audrey was sitting, and they said a few words to her. She nodded distractedly and wiped her face, which was streaked with tears. "I know you'll find him," she said in a choked voice.

Harry squeezed her hand and Ginny hugged her and planted a kiss on her cheek. They went back into the kitchen with George following. He stopped them as Ginny was about to cast her Floo powder.

"I shouldn't be so flip about all this," he said apologetically. "Audrey is in a state, and little Molly was up all night. She knows something is wrong. She's not as calm as her mum said. If you think this Chamberlain bloke had anything to do with it and you think I can help . . ."

"I don't know anything for sure," Harry replied. "But if you think of anything else, send me an owl right away."

George nodded farewell. Ginny and Harry Floo'd back to the Atrium and hurried to the lifts. Ginny got off at the sixth level after a quick kiss. The lift clattered away with Harry, and she turned down the corridor. The Department's auditorium was four doors along and she went in. It was empty now, but she knew that in three hours it would be filled with reporters and photographers. Romilda would be there too. Ginny's nose wrinkled; some people from Hogwarts were unfortunately hard to forget.

She went behind the stage and heard voices down a hallway where the meeting room was. The door was open, and Ginny stood in it for a moment looking over the assembled team sitting around a table. She was the last one there except for Philbert Deverill, the manager. Someone noticed her and a cry of greeting went up.

"My nemesis!" laughed James Leyting, the Keeper from Wigtown. "Now I can watch you torment someone else."

Ginny grinned at him. "There goes my favorite target," she retorted.

Whoops of laughter filled the air, and Charles Pastorini, one of the Beaters, clapped the Keeper on his back. Ginny went to Gwenog Jones and gave her Holyhead teammate a hug. "Have they found your brother yet?" the Beater asked. Ginny shook her head.

Danny Donahue pulled out a chair for her, and she sat between him and the other Chaser, Fitzwilliam Brandon. Insults and laughter filled the room and swirled around her. She exchanged banter with the others until the door opened and Deverill stepped in.

Ginny knew him, of course, but not well. He was of medium height with red hair and a small bottle-brush moustache, and on the rotund side. He had a well-known appreciation for food, and as the season wore on, his weight tended to rise and fall with the fortunes of Puddlemere. He was quiet and methodical, some said rigid. He was an intense student of the game, and Ginny had overheard him describing in detail to reporters matches that had been played years—even decades—ago. She knew that he liked a passing game; he preferred his Chasers to cover distance by throwing the Quaffle, not by flying with it.

He sat at the head of the table and looked over the team. His eyes lingered on Ginny for an instant, but moved away after a nod to her. He smiled at them all. "How is everyone?" He looked around once more, and they all murmured a greeting. "We're not doing anything special today, just trying to get through the press conference in one piece. First practice is tomorrow morning at nine o'clock sharp. All of our practice sessions will be at Exmoor."

A murmur, but this time of surprise, went around the room. Ginny looked at him with a raised eyebrow. As far as she remembered, in the past the National team had always practiced at the manager's home pitch. She didn't mind, though; Exmoor wasn't that far from Holyhead, or, she suddenly realized, from Godric's Hollow. She smiled to herself, thinking that here was another opportunity to get Harry back to the house there and for her to work on his reluctance to build their new home in the village.

"I know it's a little unusual," Deverill went on, "but that stadium is the closest thing we have to what the Irish Ministry is constructing for the tournament. It's going to be state-of-the-art, with all the flashy gizmos that they can come up with. We all know how distracting instant replay or the floating skyboxes can be, so we'll practice occasionally with all those things going full out. It might give us a leg up."

"Makes sense," said Forrester Salinger, the Chudley Seeker. He was Ron's favorite player, and Ginny had lost count of how many favors her brother now owed her for all the autographs and Golden Snitches caught by Salinger that she had got for him. Ron didn't seem to care that the rest of the team was so bad that they invariably lost anyway. "Personally, I can't stand those bloody skyboxes. I was almost killed two years ago trying to chase a Snitch inside one of them."

Everyone chuckled, but Ginny saw the wisdom of Deverill's plan. The boxes didn't affect Chasers as much as the Seeker, but her last match just a few days ago against Kenmare had proven how annoying the boxes and their occupants could be. Whatever advantage the team could get by practicing at Exmoor was worth the effort.

"I'd also like to keep us all together during practice weeks," the manager continued. "The Department has located a boarding house near the stadium with about a dozen private rooms and plenty of other amenities where we can all live rather comfortably in the run up to the tournament. I realize that it means being away from our families for a good part of each week until the tournament is over, but we'll have weekends off, and of course anyone with a special reason will be excused from a practice now and then. But we have only a few weeks to acclimate to each other, to learn each others' skills, habits, and foibles. This will make us a closer team, in tune with each other. And I needn't point out that many of the other national teams will be doing the same."

Ginny didn't like this, and she noted other frowns around the table. This would not make it easier for her and Harry to resolve the housing issue, especially since they wanted to do it before they started trying to get pregnant. She saw some benefit for the team, as Coach had pointed out, but she wondered if it was really necessary. They were all professionals; they all had plenty of experience in the British and Irish League; and they were all at least casually familiar with each other's playing style. Her own frown deepened and some of her teammates started to look positively unhappy.

Gwenog Jones spoke, echoing Ginny's very thoughts. "Is that really necessary, Guv? Eight years ago Ireland won and I know for a fact that they didn't play house with each other while they were training. It's going to be very inconvenient."

Deverill looked at her impassively; he leaned back and gazed around the table. "We're living together before the tournament. If anyone doesn't want to do that, you can easily be replaced by someone who will."

Gwenog's eyes grew wide in disbelief. "Are you serious? No one wants to quit, why are you even suggesting it?" She glanced across the table at Ginny, then turned back to Deverill. "I'm sorry, but this is my third Cup and I've never heard anyone say anything like that. What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing is going on!" he snapped. "It's the way I want it, and that's how it's going to be. I am not open to discussion about this. If you have a problem with my practice sessions or with my drills or with anything having to do with Quidditch, I'll be happy to talk to you or anyone else here, but we're going to stay together while we're training."

Gwenog stared at him, her lips tight, but no one else spoke. Ginny wasn't sure if she wanted to say anything, even though she felt the same as Gwenog, and judging from the unhappy faces around her, the same as everyone else. But Gwenog was a grizzled veteran and had played on two other Cup teams. If Deverill could shoot down Gwenog Jones, there was nothing Ginny could say that would change his mind.

She kept her eyes on the table in front of her and tried not to let her displeasure pass to Harry, because suddenly, at that instant, Ginny knew that he was having a serious problem of his own.

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