Ginny's House

Sacks

"Miss Weasley? Would you care to rejoin us?"

Ginny's head jerked up and she stared at Philbert Deverill. He had been droning on about the accommodations in the house that the team would be living in, but now it was completely irrelevant to her. Four levels up something terrible had happened, and Harry's hot rage had exploded inside her. She couldn't remember ever feeling such violent anger from him. She had lost track of what Deverill was saying; she had lost track of everyone and everything in the room.

In the moments before it happened, she had not felt anything from Harry. That didn't necessarily mean that everything was fine; Ginny knew that he was in a meeting where a dozen things could blow up in his face. So either he had been surprised, or he had held his feelings back until he could no longer contain them. Either way, she had to go to him.

She stood. "I'm sorry, Coach. I'll be back as soon as I can." She went quickly to the door, leaving everyone open-mouthed except Deverill. He scowled at her as she passed him but said nothing.

Out in the corridor, Ginny stopped, leaned back against the wall next to the door and put her hand over her eyes. Harry was still in a boiling fury, but she could tell nothing else of what was going on because the level of emotion coming from him drowned out all rational thought. The feeling was painful, almost unbearable, but she did not want to block it, even if she could. She took a deep breath that was almost a sob and pushed off from the wall.

At that moment the door opened and Gwenog stepped out. "Ginny, what's wrong?" She put her hand on Ginny's shoulder.

"I—I'm sorry, I have to go up to the second level," Ginny mumbled and started towards the lift.

Gwenog came after her. "It's Harry, isn't it?" she asked as she trotted along next to Ginny. "It's that thing you two have together."

Ginny glanced at her. Gwenog and Ginger were the only Harpies who knew that Ginny and Harry had their connection. They had to be careful about it because any hint of Harry's connivance during a match would mean a huge scandal. Ginny had to let someone on the team know so that if it was discovered, she could point to the team's captain—Gwenog—and say that she had not kept it a secret.

"Yes, it's Harry. Something . . . bad happened upstairs. I have to go to him." She stopped in front of the lifts and pulled Gwenog close; two wizards were waiting for a lift and she did not want them to overhear. "Please go back and tell Deverill that if he wants, I'll see him later and explain myself." She had no idea what she would say, but maybe this would placate him.

"Sure, I'll tell him. But don't miss the press conference. Gin, I know this bloke. He's a decent manager, but he's a better glory hound. I think the only reason he didn't stop you from leaving the meeting was that he considers you his prize puppy. But don't push him. If he thinks you'll hurt his image more than you'll help the team, he'll boot you off."

A lift came and one of the wizards held the grille. Ginny nodded to him, but turned to Gwenog. "Thanks. I won't miss it. I'll try to catch you before it starts." She stepped into the lift. As it rose, she could see Gwenog's worried face watching her.

The two wizards got off at the fifth level and Ginny groaned inwardly when Romilda Vane got on. She stood at Ginny's side and looked curiously at her. "Isn't there a team meeting in the Department now?" she asked.

Ginny shrugged but kept her eyes straight ahead. "I have to be . . . on the second level. I'll be at the press conference."

"Hmm."

Ginny turned to glare at her. "I said I'll be at the press conference. Coach knows I'm not at the meeting." That was stupid, she thought. How could he not know I'm not there? She turned her eyes to the grille.

Out of the corner of her eye Ginny could see Romilda nodding. She pressed her lips together, more out of exasperation at herself than distaste for the other woman.

They both got off on the second level and, thankfully, Romilda turned to the right and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's offices. Ginny went the other way towards the Auror Department. She put Romilda out of her mind and hurried along. Harry was still sending waves of seething anger, but she could tell that now there were calming influences around him. She opened her own feelings and instantly a flood of relief and need came from him. In my office, he told her.

As she approached the Head Auror's office she was surprised to see, standing outside the closed door, the same three Aurors who she and Harry had encountered earlier in the morning on their way to the Burrow. She knew Popeye well, but the others only by sight. They watched her draw near.

Popeye shook his head. "He's in his office, Ginny." He turned to face the door. "It sucks!" he yelled.

Ginny stopped and stared at him, alarm building inside her. But before she could say anything, loud, angry shouts came from inside the office.

"I won't stand for it!" came the voice of Saliyah Ushujaa. "He acted properly! You can't fault him for anything! You caved in to those wankers just because that little bastard who really did screw up was a war hero?" Her voice rose to a shouted question. "Well what the hell is Harry? He gave up his life! How can you do this to him?!"

Ginny couldn't hear the answer, which was spoken quietly and calmly, although she could tell that Kingsley Shacklebolt was speaking. But she didn't wait. She now felt fear, and she knew that she had let Harry feel it too. She shut it off and stepped around the three Aurors.

"We're all behind him! Tell him to be strong!" Popeye called as she started running. She tore around a corner, came to a stop in front of Harry's office and paused. She tried to collect herself; she didn't know exactly what was happening, but she knew enough. Harry needed help, not hysteria. She pushed the door open.

The office was crowded and at first Ginny couldn't see Harry. Everyone turned to see who had opened the door. Seamus was there, looking angrier than Ginny had ever seen him, including in her sixth year at school when the Carrows were beating up Neville. Susan Bones and Katie Bell were in tears. The Patil twins were indignant; Ernie was solemn; Justin was calm but frowning; Dennis's jaw was set and his fists were balled at his sides. A half dozen other angry and unhappy young Aurors stood around the small room.

The ones in front of the desk, Seamus, Ernie, and Justin, stepped aside, and Ginny saw Harry looking back at her. He was seated behind the desk and Hermione stood next to him with her hand on his shoulder. Her face was tear-streaked and she was biting her lip. When she saw Ginny she started twisting her fingers together in a nervous gesture that Ginny knew was a sign of her extreme agitation.

Harry's eyes were on her, and relief and even something like joy instantly replaced the anger in them. But Ginny could not ignore the looks on the rest of the faces or Hermione's tears. She walked to the desk as people began leaving the room behind her. Harry's eyes followed them, and when only Ginny and Hermione were left and the door closed, he slumped back in his chair and gazed down.

Ginny came around the desk. She leaned over him and pressed her lips to his forehead. "What is it, love?" she whispered. He didn't raise his head, but stared at the desktop. Ginny glanced at Hermione as Harry made a gesture of futility. "You tell her," he said bitterly.

"Oh." Hermione's hand-wringing resumed, but her voice became clear. "They suspended Harry. The Wizengamot met early this morning and told Kingsley he had to do it. He tried to stop them, but Amander Croaker has a lot of friends."

Ginny couldn't believe her ears. She leaned against the desk, unsure that she could keep her balance; she felt almost dizzy. Harry sprang to steady her, and quickly brought a chair; she sat and lifted her head to him. "Why?"

Harry dropped into his chair again. "They're pinning it all on me. I'm the scapegoat. Croaker is a senile fool. He's trying to cover up the fact that he caused the whole mess by conjuring that fog. And I guess he succeeded." He folded his arms across his chest and scowled at the desk.

"No!" Ginny slipped off her chair and forced herself onto Harry's lap. He put his arms around her and pressed his head to her chest. Ginny stroked his hair. "Dearest, you have friends. They want to help, they want to fight for you!" She looked up at Hermione. "I ran into Popeye right before I got here. He's furious."

"And so is everyone else," Hermione declared, putting her hand back on Harry's shoulder. "Ginny, I think we could get Dumbledore's Army to storm the Ministry if Harry wanted to."

"What exactly do they mean by suspended?" Ginny asked. "It's just from the Pensieve case, right?" She leaned back and looked at Harry.

"Nope, I'm suspended from the Auror force until they clear this up, whatever the bloody hell that means."

Ginny stared at him; she was in total shock. She shook her head, unable to speak.

"I know." Harry's voice dripped with sarcasm. "I'm a wonderful Auror, good enough to be Sal's assistant for five years, but one screw-up and I might as well be a Bowtruckle bowel movement."

"So—so can you keep your office?" Ginny asked hesitantly.

"I'm supposed to be out of here by noon." He took Ginny by the waist and moved her off his lap, then stood. "You know," he said to Hermione, "if that's the way they want it, then screw them. I'm out of here, but I'm stopping off and telling Kingsley to shove this job up his ass."

"Harry!" Ginny and Hermione cried at the same time.

"Love, please!" Ginny took his arm and held him from walking around the desk. "This is awful and completely unfair, but don't do anything that you'll regret. Kingsley must know that this is wrong. Just give him a little time to straighten it out. I'm sure it will only be for a few days, and then—"

"He let Croaker and Sprout walk all over him. He caved in to politics. He's worse than Fudge!" Harry sighed. "Okay, no one is worse than Fudge. But he let me down, Gin, he threw me to the dogs. After all I've done for him, for all of them and their whole bloody Ministry, this is what I get. How quickly they forget."

"Love, you know that's not true."

"Oh, really? I did save a lot of people's butts, in case you've forgotten, and more than once. Everyone used to scream at me for going off and doing things on my own, but all I did was save the bloody world! I don't deserve this, Ginny. They're a bunch of ingrates, bloody morons!" His green eyes flashed with anger. He glared at Hermione who was simply looking at him, and slammed his chair into the desk.

"Harry, sit down, please," Ginny said quietly. Harry looked at her blazing eyes but didn't sit. Ginny spoke before he could say anything. "No one owes you a damn thing except me. I owe you my love because you give me yours utterly and completely. But no one else owes you anything, even though you walked into the Forest knowing you would die."

Harry tensed. "It's not that. I know it's old. I know people forget. But lots of people haven't. Did you see how Seamus and Susan and Dennis and all of them looked? Did you notice that? Merlin. At least some people don't forget."

"No. Listen to me. That's not why they're loyal to you. It isn't that you laid down your life five years ago, or taught them all how to fight two years before that. Yes, that's part of it, but they're loyal to you—they love you—because of what you do every day. Why do you think a beat-up, cynical old bear like Popeye would say, out loud for Merlin's sake where Kingsley could hear him, that what they're doing sucks?"

Harry's face registered surprise. "He said that?"

Ginny chuckled. "Right in front of Saliyah's office, loud enough for everyone inside to hear."

"Why did he do that? He shouldn't have, he could get into trouble, just like . . ."

"Just like you," Ginny said. She looked at Hermione. "What about Sal? She sounded like she was about to spit in Shacklebolt's face."

"Ginny's right," Hermione said to Harry. She frowned and thought for a moment. "Look at it from a purely political point of view."

Harry started to speak but Ginny reached and put her hand on his arm. "Listen."

"It's all politics," Hermione went on. "Right now the pressure from the Unspeakables is stronger than the pressure that was available to Saliyah." She frowned again. "And it must have been considerable because I don't think Kingsley wanted to do this. Even if he didn't like you so much, Harry, and think so highly of you, he has an awful lot of his own reputation tied to your career. Everyone knows that it was his idea to groom you for the Head Auror's job in the first place."

"So . . ." Harry spoke more calmly, and Ginny didn't interrupt him. "So, there's something else going on. Someone in the Department of Mysteries or the Wizengamot has the leverage to pressure Kingsley. Who could it be?"

"If we can figure out why, then we can figure out who," Hermione stated, and she grinned at both of them. "And who could investigate something like this better than a team of Aurors?"

"Led by a crusty old warrior like Popeye." Ginny added her own grin.

"That's all fine and good," Harry said, "but meanwhile what do I do?"

"Take a vacation with me," said Ginny.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Harry frowned at her. "You'll have practice every day from now until August."

Ginny shook her head. "Not if I'm not on the team."

"No!" Harry slammed his fist on the arm of his chair and once more jumped up. "You are not quitting the team, no way! This is my problem! Hermione's right, I can get a couple of dozen people to help me without even asking. Ginny Potter, you are not staying home!"

His angry face was right in hers, but Ginny shook her head. "Do you think that I could play Quidditch knowing all this was happening? I almost got kicked out of the meeting downstairs because I knew something was wrong. I'd get Bludgered black and blue if I tried to fly now. There's no way I could play."

Harry's scowl deepened. "That's ridiculous. I'll keep my feelings to myself. You won't know a thing."

"Oh, right, you'll keep your feelings to yourself, just like you did this morning. Harry, even if you could, I would still be thinking about you. And besides . . ." She moved close to him and put her arms around him. "I want to be with you. We've never faced a catastrophe like this, not since we've been married." She spoke in a low voice and put her forehead against his chin.

Harry looked helplessly at Hermione. She grinned and shrugged. "I have one more suggestion," she said, and Ginny also turned to her. "Let's talk to Ron right away. He's the best person I know for figuring out what's going on with all the back room shenanigans."

"I'm sure he's dead asleep," Harry said. "Let's wait until he wakes up."

"No, he'll want to know right away," said Hermione. "And we can also ask a few Aurors over for lunch." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "We have enough time to organize something, and I think the sooner we get to the bottom of this, the better."

Harry sat and leaned his forehead on his hand with his elbow on the desk. He ran his fingers through his hair, and when he lifted his head and took his hand away Ginny reached over and smoothed his unruly mop. Harry smiled at her briefly and took her hand. "What will you do about the team? Damn it, Gin, I wish you wouldn't do this."

"It's done. I've already decided. If Deverill won't give me a week, he'll have to find another Chaser."

Harry got a pained expression; he put his head back on his hand. "I don't like it. I want you to know that. It's a once in a lifetime chance. An awful lot of people will be disappointed. Your Mum and Dad, Teddy, Victoire . . ."

"Yeah, I . . . I'll have to explain it to them. But right now you and I need to be together."

Harry didn't speak. Finally he nodded and looked at Ginny, a little unhappily. "You're right. If you're with me, I'll feel a lot better about my chances. But . . ." He pointed his finger at her. "You have to promise me that after a week you'll go back to the team, no matter what. And I will not take no for an answer."

Ginny looked at him from under her eyebrows; a tiny smile on her face. "I promise."

"I'm not kidding, Ginny. You are going back to the team in a week."

"I said I would," Ginny said, now serious. "I want to play. I just want them to treat you right even more. And I want to find Percy."

Harry sighed. "Okay." He looked around the office. "I guess I'd better leave. I don't want to give the bastards the satisfaction of throwing me out." He took the photo of Ginny sitting on the desk. "That's it, then. I'll ask Ron to pick up the rest of my stuff tomorrow."

He went to the door with Ginny and Hermione following, opened it and halted; Ginny peered around his side. The corridor was jammed with Aurors. In front, facing the door stood Popeye with Seamus and Susan next to him. Everyone who had been in Harry's office when Ginny arrived was there, and they had been joined by at least a dozen more.

Ginny heard a commotion down the corridor and peeked out. About ten yards down, a scrum of reporters and photographers was being held back by more Aurors, some of whom were poking their wands into the chests of the more aggressive members of the press. As Ginny watched, a red flash suddenly lit up the hallway and one of the photographers went sailing through the air back over the heads of the others. They all looked up and watched him pass overhead. There was a thud and a groan as he hit the floor behind them. The scrum retreated several yards. Ginny saw Dennis Creevey watching them with a satisfied look.

Popeye had also been watching and he now turned back with a grin. He grabbed Harry's arm. "Come on, mate, we'll get you out on the private lift." He lowered his voice, but Ginny heard clearly what he said. "Sal can't do anything officially, but she knows what's going on. Leave everything in your office and we'll seal it up."

Without waiting for a reply, he took Ginny's arm in his other hand and pulled them both down the corridor in the opposite direction from where the reporters waited. As soon as they spotted Harry they started calling out, but remained a good distance away from Dennis and the other Aurors who stood scowling at them. Hermione, Seamus, and Susan strode after Popeye.

He spoke as they walked rapidly away. "There's something shady going on. I've been in this place a long time, and I can smell a rotten pile of hippogriff dung any day of the week. This one stinks all the way to the top. Someone's got Shacklebolt by the short and curlies, and I'll bet you a month's pay to a Sickle that it's Amander Croaker. That blighter's been around here since before God, and no one knows as much about the buried skeletons as he does. He acts feeble, but he's as smart as a Kneazle and nasty as a Skrewt if you cross him. And you crossed him, Harry."

They stood in front of a single lift at the end of a short corridor. Popeye punched the button and they could hear the lift rising.

Harry looked at him. "What are you saying? Is Croaker hiding something? The Pensieve? What does he have on Kingsley that could cause him to—"

"Try to fire you?" Popeye said. "I haven't a clue. Maybe nothing. Maybe Shacklebolt got caught shagging Minerva McGonagall." He laughed at their shocked faces. "I guess not. Whatever it is, it's got to be something pretty bad, assuming that I'm right and it is Croaker. It could be a dozen people on the Wizengamot. Croaker is tight with a lot of them."

The lift arrived and Popeye held the grille. "What will you do now?" he asked Harry.

"We're going to my place," Hermione said. "We want to let Ron know, and we thought we could get some people together today at lunch."

"Wait a minute," said Harry, speaking quietly. "If too many people Floo directly to your place, someone will notice. It'll look much more normal if we go home first."

Popeye nodded. "I think you're right to assume there are people here who aren't your friends."

Harry turned to Seamus and Susan. "Tell everyone we'll meet at Ron and Hermione's at noon, but they should go there by Apparating or round-about Flooing. And tell everyone thanks." They both nodded, and Harry, Ginny, and Hermione stepped into the lift.

They stopped at level six. When Ginny hesitated before stepping out of the lift, Harry asked, "Are you sure? You don't have to do this."

A blazing look came back at him, together with a whole lot of emotion and certainty. Yes, I do have to do this, for us.

Hermione held the grille open, watching them. Ginny stepped out. "Wait here," she said, and walked down the corridor and out of sight around a corner.

"Better let the lift go," Harry said. They stepped out, and a moment later it clattered back up. They stood silently. Harry kept his mind open, feeling Ginny's apprehension. Hermione continued to watch him.

"I'm so sorry this is happening," she finally said. Harry nodded and noted her eyes brimming but also noticed that she was not twisting her fingers.

Ginny returned ten minutes later. Harry hadn't sensed any change in her mood and was surprised when she came in sight so soon. She was tight-lipped until the lift returned and they were descending. "He's a bloody bastard," she muttered. "He told me if I wasn't at practice tomorrow I was off the team."

Harry swore. "Ginny, no! You have to go! I'll be fine, please!"

She simply looked at him, and he knew that he was not going to change her mind. He pulled her to him and she rested her head on his chest until the lift stopped on the eighth level.

They took back-corridors to the Atrium, where no reporters were in sight, and went quickly to the outgoing fireplaces. Hermione Floo'd to her flat while Harry and Ginny returned to The Hog's Head. The sitting room seemed a lot less cheerful than usual, but McPherson was on his perch and a message was on the mantel. Harry opened it while Ginny went into the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. Harry was sitting in the love seat when she returned.

"Well," she smiled, "we can sleep in tomorrow."

Harry handed her the note. "It's from Flitwick. He wants to see us as soon as possible. It sounds like he knows I got sacked. Bad news travels fast."

At that instant the fireplace flamed green and Molly Weasley burst into the room directly in front of them. Her eyes were on the rug at her feet. When she looked up and saw them she seemed greatly relieved.

"Oh, here you are! My darlings, are you all right? What in Merlin's name has got into Kingsley? Has he lost his mind?" She abruptly stopped and stared at Ginny, looking puzzled. "Hang on, why are you here, dear? You're just keeping Harry company, aren't you?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm staying with Harry until they clear it up."

Molly frowned, looking from one to the other. Harry jumped up and Summoned a chair with a wave of his hand. "Thank you," she said absentmindedly. "Ginny, did you say you're staying with Harry . . . until . . .?

"Until the Ministry come to their senses and give him his job back."

Before her mother could speak, Ginny sprang up and went into the kitchen; she came back with another cup and saucer and poured tea for Molly. "Oh, and I'm off the National team too," she mumbled while she poured with her head down.

"Say what?!" her mother shrieked. She leaped up with the cup in her hand, splashing tea all over her and the rug. "Oh, I'm sorry!" She took out her wand and the rug was clean.

"Here, Mum, let me clean your robes." Ginny started to wave her wand, but Molly wasn't listening. She sat back down with her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide in horror.

"Off the team? They sacked you because Harry lost the Pensieve? Oh." She gestured apologetically. "I didn't mean it was your fault, dear. But how could they blame Ginny for . . ." Her eyes narrowed as her face hardened. "It's a vendetta. They're trying to get at Harry through you." Her voice rose and grew shrill. "Kingsley Shacklebolt won't get away with this! I knew his mother and—"

"Mum!" Ginny shouted over her. "That's not what happened!"

Molly stared. "What do you mean? Why did they sack you? You didn't . . .?"

"I asked for a week so I can be with Harry. Coach said no, so I'm off the team."

Her mother's mouth worked but no words came out. Ginny got up and took her hands. "It's okay, Mum. It's what I want. This is much more important. I can help Harry get his job back and help find Percy."

Molly rose and stumbled to the love seat and sat where Ginny had been. Harry got up to make room so Ginny could sit.

Molly began to sob. "What's happening? Percy, Ginny, Harry. And it's only four days until . . . until my poor Fred . . ." She broke down completely, sobbing and wailing; Ginny took her in her arms. Harry stood awkwardly, not knowing what to do or say. In twelve years he had seen Molly Weasley lose it like this only once, at Fred's funeral. He felt guilty, that he had been the cause, that if he had been more vigilant Percy would not be missing with the Pensieve and none of this would have happened.

"Mrs. Weasley . . . Mum." He put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. It's my fault, but I swear I'll find Percy, and Ginny will get back on the team."

Molly turned her head. "Oh, Harry," she hiccupped, "it wasn't your fault. Don't say things like that and don't worry about me." She motioned at her face, which was bathed in tears. "I'll be fine."

She handed her teacup to Ginny and abruptly stood. She wiped her face with both hands, and looked at Harry with her jaw set. "I know you'll find Percy. In fact, you're better off being sacked because now you don't have to worry about all those ridiculous Ministry rules."

Harry wasn't certain about being better off, but he nodded. "I'm sure you're right, Mum. Anyway, lots of people will be helping us. In fact, we need to be going soon. We're meeting some of them at Ron and Hermione's flat for lunch."

They promised Molly they would Floo down to the Burrow that evening, and after more weeping and more soothing words from Ginny, they finally got Molly back into the fireplace.

They had to hustle to the flat in Chelsea, knowing that the people who came from the Ministry would not be able to stay long. They came through the fireplace in the parlor and found a large crowd awaiting them. At first everyone tried to talk at once, but after a minute of cacophony Ron shouted the crowd down.

"Now look," he said loudly, standing in front of the fireplace, "we have less than an hour until someone at the Ministry notices that half the Auror force is missing and starts looking at the Floo Network. So Harry, since not all of us were at the office this morning, can you tell us what in bloody hell happened?"

Harry and Ginny stepped away from the hearth. The fireplace was very large, as was the room. Two tall windows to their right overlooked a busy Muggle shopping street a floor below. The flat was over an Italian restaurant, the location's main attraction for Ron.

The parlor itself was very tastefully furnished—by Hermione—with modern furniture and the beginnings of a modest collection of modern artwork hanging on the walls. None of the artwork was magical, but the mantelpiece held a dozen photographs of their families, as well as of their wedding and Ginny's wedding. Above the fireplace hung the only magical painting, one that Ron had insisted on: his brother Fred astride a broom high above the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch.

The room and the flat were quite familiar to Harry and Ginny. They spent a lot of time there with their best friends and closest family. Now it seemed to have become the center of a Harry Potter rally, the hotbed of a mini-revolt against the perfidies of the Ministry. Every Auror who had come through the training program that had begun after the war was there, as well as a half-dozen others like Popeye who had been Aurors for many years, even decades.

They all had their eyes on Harry. He felt Ginny beside him, and when he reached out with a tendril of feeling, she leaned against him for a moment and opened her own self to him. He smiled quickly at her and turned to the room.

"Does everyone know what happened yesterday?" He looked around and saw nods. "I lost the Hogwarts Pensieve and one of the people in my detail, Percy Weasley. When we—"

"Hold on, mate," Ron said; he was on Harry's left, next to the fireplace. "You didn't lose anyone or anything. That senile old fart from the ninth level screwed up, and no one's convinced me yet that he isn't the culprit."

Everyone started talking again until Harry yelled, "Shut it!" and the room went silent. "Whatever! Percy is missing and so is the Pensieve. Amander Croaker says it's my fault and he and Julia Sprout, who was the other Unspeakable on the operation, convinced Kingsley to suspend me. Sal was almost as pissed off as I was, but he wouldn't budge. It was pretty strange. I've never seen them go at each other like that."

"Something's got Shacklebolt spooked," said Seamus, who was sitting on the floor in front of a couch. The Patil twins, Susan, Tonstin, and Ernie were crammed on the sofa behind him.

"But what?" Ernie asked. "Someone doesn't want you to find Percy or the Pensieve, Harry, and that's who's put the finger on the Minister."

"Of course someone doesn't want Harry to find the Pensieve," scoffed Hermione, who was standing next to Ron. "Whoever it is wants to keep it. They don't want anyone to find it."

"Not necessarily," Ernie said a little haughtily. "They could be holding it and Percy for ransom."

Ron stepped forward. "Okay, hold it. If you all aren't back at work on time, it won't be hard to trace you all here. We have to decide what we want to do today, this afternoon. We can always meet again this evening and thrash the whole thing out. Now, who thinks we should send a delegation to Sal or to Shacklebolt?"

"No." Harry put his hand on Ron's shoulder. "No one should do anything this afternoon. You'll just stir things up, maybe get into trouble. Whoever got to Kingsley has enough influence to screw any one of us. Let's be smart about this."

"I agree," said Popeye, and all eyes turned to him, sitting in an armchair at the back of the room.

Harry was glad that he had spoken. Everyone in the Department hugely respected Popeye, both the young Aurors who had come in with Harry as well as the older ones who had gone through the war. Harry knew that the old veteran also had many friends—influential friends—in other departments of the Ministry. If anyone could help him get to the bottom of the mystery and find out why Kingsley Shacklebolt had acted the way he did, it was this man.

"So what should we do?" Ron said.

"Keep our heads down and our mouths shut, but our ears and eyes open. Whoever is assigned to the Pensieve case shouldn't volunteer opinions or even tell them everything they find out. That's one way of flushing out whoever is behind it. Eventually someone's going to be put in charge in Harry's place, and whoever it is, hopefully someone in this room, will have to be very smart about how you go about your business if we want to undo this crap."

"At least for today," said Harry, "just go about your business. Don't do anything to make anyone suspicious. And don't assume that Saliyah will cover for you. She has to be careful herself."

"Harry." Katie Bell's voice came from near the windows. "What about you? What are you going to do?"

Harry shrugged and glanced at Ginny. "I don't know. I haven't had time to think about it." He turned to Ron. "Can some of us meet back here after work?"

Ron looked at his watch. "Yes, but it's getting late. Don't worry, mate, we'll be here for you."

There was a general murmur of assent, and Dennis Creevey called out, "Don't let the bastards get to you, Harry!" Harry grinned.

People left via both the front door and the fireplace. When everyone was gone and the room was empty, Harry looked at Ron. "What do you think? Why is Kingsley being such a wimp?"

"Something must be going on in the Wizengamot," Ron said as he slumped into a chair and yawned; he still looked tired from a sleepless night. The others also took seats. "I'll have to ask around. But I'm serious about Croaker. Until someone proves me wrong, I'm going on the assumption that he's behind this."

"But it doesn't make sense," Hermione insisted. "He has everything to lose and nothing to gain."

Ron shrugged. "That's how it appears, but why is he being so hard-assed about Harry? He'd be delusional if he thought no one would notice that he was the dork who created that fog. I could understand if he was just trying to get Harry to admit to screwing up, but he's gone way beyond that. Suspended?" He shook his head.

"Well, what about Chadwick Chamberlain?" said Harry. "He's still got my vote."

"He's also got alibis," Ron responded. "Like Fleur told you, how could he be a criminal if he has a veela wife?"

"Why can't a veela be a criminal too?" Harry asked

This comment gave them all pause, perhaps out of disbelief. Ginny broke the silence. "That's incredible. I can't believe a veela would commit a crime like that. I mean, look at Fleur, she's so open and . . . and loving. How could someone like her do something bad?"

"We don't know what the motive is," Harry said. He turned to Hermione. "We need to know more about the Pensieve, a lot more. I know you've tried, but McGonagall is back at Hogwarts. Can we go talk to her?"

Hermione nodded. "If she's well enough, I think we'd better. In fact, I think we should do it this afternoon."

"Good!" Ron exclaimed. "That's a plan. And I'd like to make another suggestion. Harry, you and I should go back to the house in Godric's Hollow and take a look around. We only checked out the first floor, but I had a feeling when I was there that there's something on the second floor that—"

He stopped and stared at Harry. His face had gone dark and rigid, and Ginny had flinched as though someone had struck her.

"What did I say?" Ron asked, alarmed.

Ginny glared at Harry with her jaw set. She said to Ron, "We had this discussion a few days ago, remember? Harry still doesn't want anything to do with that house." She glared again at her husband.

He glared back. "I don't want to talk about it now."

Ginny's nostrils flared. "Why not? If there's something on the second floor that's not right, why don't you want to find out what it is?"

"There is something wrong up there!" Harry said angrily, his hands gripping the arms of his chair. "And I already know what it is. It's where my mother was killed."

Ginny's eyes blazed for an instant, but then her shoulders slumped and her face grew sad. "Don't you see?" she said gently. "Now it's affecting how you do your job."

"It's not!" Harry rose from his chair and started stalking around the room, but he spun around to face Ginny. "Besides, I don't have a job, remember? Now someone else can go up there and find out what it is."

"But no one can do it better than you," said Ginny, still speaking quietly.

Harry stopped in front of a window with his back to the room. He peered out, not seeing anything, turmoil in his heart. He turned back and saw Ginny and his two best friends watching him with mixtures of dismay and shock, but also care. He heaved a sigh and went over to Ginny. "I'm sorry," he mumbled as he took her hand and kissed it. "That was stupid."

"No." She pulled him down into the chair beside her and shifted onto his lap. "Not stupid. But maybe pigheaded."

Harry chuckled. "Okay, I'll be satisfied with that. But . . ." His grin faded. "I'm not going up there."

Ginny rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry too."

Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. Hermione got up and gestured to Ron with a nod. He joined her and they left the room.

"So now what?" Ginny said as her fingers played with a button on Harry's shirt.

He sighed again. "We'll wait here until this evening and we can talk with the others. Maybe we'll know more. Maybe someone will figure out what's got into Kingsley."

"We told Mum we'd go to the Burrow."

"Damn. I forgot." Harry thought for a minute. "Why don't we go now?"

"Because Dad won't be home and she'll get hysterical again. And we just decided to go see Professor McGonagall. And Flitwick wants to see you too. Besides, I think we should talk some more about . . . about Godric's Hollow."

She felt Harry's discomfort; in fact, it was almost displeasure. Ginny got out of his lap and pulled a chair around to face him. She moved it close and sat so that he was trapped in his seat.

"I am not going to let this drop," she said firmly. "And, we are not going to have a baby until it's resolved."

"What!" Harry stared at her in disbelief. "How can you say that? Ginny, I—I—"

"Harry, dearest, listen to me." She shifted her chair even closer so that his knee rubbed against the inside of her thigh. Harry glanced down, then quickly up at her. Neither one hid from the other the tiny but unmistakable flare of lust they both felt.

"Listen," Ginny repeated. "Our children will have only two grandparents. When they get older they'll ask where your parents are. You will eventually tell them that they were murdered protecting you. But they will also hear the story from other children, or when they're older they'll read about it in some awful sensationalistic piece of rubbish like Witch Weekly. And they'll learn that the house their grandparents were killed in is still standing, but it's falling apart. They'll be teased about it, and they won't know why. But they'll also see that their father is afraid of it. Harry . . ." She took his face in her hands. "Answer their questions now, before they're born. And maybe, just maybe, you'll get answers to some other questions, like where my brother is."

Harry leaned back and stared at his wife. There was no way in hell he could argue with her when she was so close, with her leg pressed against his like that. And there was also a hint in the air of her sweet, flowery fragrance. He knew that she knew what it did to him. But not only couldn't he overcome Ginny's physical weapons, she had now shifted the argument. She was using his unborn children's unhappiness against him.

He looked directly at her. Not fair.

To whom?

He continued to stare into her eyes, knowing what the answer was.

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