Harry noticed with pleasure that as the others left the common room, Ginny had moved closer to him and slipped her hand into his. He recalled his feelings toward Dean Thomas, upon discovering Dean and Ginny kissing behind a tapestry earlier that year. The monster within him now emitted a low satisfied rumble. He thought that if he were a cat, he would be purring. Harry put his cheek against Ginny's hair, she smelled wonderfully of flowers and of promise. Harry knew that whatever happened, he would have this moment of contentment, this moment of love as an anchor for his mind.

Harry looked up, and saw that both Ron and Hermione's eyes were closed. They wore looks of contented peace on their faces. Hermione's head was resting on Ron's chest. Ron's arm was around Hermione in a protective embrace. Harry was loath to end this quiet, peaceful moment. Heaven only knew when, or if, they would have another time like this. To Harry's surprise, it was Ginny who broke the silence, "I know that none of us want to change the way we are feeling right now, but we need to discuss a few things."

The mood changed immediately at Ginny's words. Harry realized that there was much more to Ginny than was apparent. She was now serious and ready to get down to business. He looked forward to getting to know Ginny much better.

Ron and Hermione stirred, disentangled themselves, and slid to the front edge of the sofa. Hermione spoke first, "Harry, where did you go after Dumbledore's funeral? There was quite the uproar when we arrived at the train station. Percy came to Hogsmeade to find you. When you couldn't be found, he delayed the train. Then he wouldn't let it leave at all. He came to Ron, Ginny and me and questioned us about where you went. We told him honestly, that we didn't know, although I think Ronald wanted to add a physical element to his answer."

"Bloody right, I did," interjected Ron, "If it hadn't been for Hermione, I'd probably be on my way to Azkaban for murdering Percy. I tell you mate, I was glad to see you come into the common room; we were all going spare wondering where you had got off to. "

"It got worse after Percy couldn't find you," Ginny started, "the next thing we knew, Minister Scrimgeour was at Hogsmeade with Filch and his probity probe. The Minister made everyone get off the train and Filch probed us all, even the train personnel. It seems the Minister had been told that you had taken Polyjuice Potion and were on the train trying to smuggle something of Dumbledore's away from Hogwarts. After a complete search of the train, Scrimgeour met with the School Board of Governors. They came to a decision to keep Hogwarts open for the remainder of the term. They ordered all the students back to Hogwarts. There are going to be some very unhappy parents when their kids don't show up as promised. Scrimgeour must have realized that too, because a load of witches and wizards showed up, they talked with Scrimgeour animatedly for a few minutes and then they took off in all directions. I think they went to spread the word that the school would remain open. I think Scrimgeour wanted us back at Hogwarts so he could keep a closer eye on us and find you and whatever he thought you had in your possession."

"When we got back to the castle, Scrimgeour had us brought back to our house dormitories," Ron said, "and we're not allowed to leave without a teacher escorting us."

"The good news is that we can finish out our school year, the bad news is that we are practically under house arrest," Hermione said, frustration in her voice.

"I think that some of those restrictions may be lifted as McGonagall regains control of Hogwarts operations," said Harry, "Let me explain what happened after the funeral." Harry hesitated a moment and considered that he was about to share things with Ginny that Dumbledore said could only be shared with Ron and Hermione. Harry made his decision and went on.

Ron and Hermione noticed the brief hesitation, shared a knowing look and then focused on Harry's recitation of events.

Harry explained the events surrounding the reading of Dumbledore's last willy and testament; the signing, sealing and delivery; and the creation of a complete Porcrux.

Hermione gasped and said, "Do you realize that you helped Dumbledore accomplish something that only a handful of wizards have ever accomplished? It's incredible!" She launched into a series of questions about Dumbledore's Porcrux and its abilities. The questions came so fast that Harry wasn't given time to consider the questions, let alone answer them.

"Hang on, slow down Hermione," said Harry, "I think it might be better if you write down your questions. I will answer all I can, and Dumbledore said he would answer anything he could. If they are written down I won't forget to ask something important."

Hermione seemed to be mollified at the prospect of getting answers to written questions.

Harry went on to explain the appearance of the Ministry officials, the Minister's demand to have Dumbledore's willy and testament read at the Ministry and their unceremonious departure.

Hermione added excitedly, "I think I know why the Minister wanted you stopped at the train! He thought you were trying to escape with Dumbledore's orb. He wanted it confiscated and taken to the Ministry of Magic so they could control who read it and where the portrait was sealed."

"That makes a lot of sense," said Ginny, "It also means that the Ministry still sees Dumbledore as a threat."

Harry was impressed at how quickly Hermione and Ginny had put things together and had come to valid conclusions. He was glad they were all on the same side.

Harry was explaining the division of Dumbledore's estate when Ron interrupted, "You mean to tell me that you have two houses and half of Dumbledore's money?"

"Well, technically, Professor Lupin has the control of everything bequeathed to me until I turn seventeen. But after that, yes, I assume those things will belong to me. I have begun to formulate a plan of how to use them most effectively to defeat Voldemort."

Ron cringed at the mention of Voldemort's name but seemed to be mulling over Harry's words as Harry began further explanation.

Harry told of Percy's arrival, and the Ministry's demand to take control of Dumbledore's property.

"That git," said Ron, "it's a good thing I wasn't there because I know I'd have flattened him."

"Think about it though," said Ginny, "If the Minister figured that he could confiscate Dumbledore's orb, then why have a back-up plan to take Dumbledore's possessions?"

"The Ministry could have planned to prevent reading the orb until after the seventy hour deadline so they could take Dumbledore's stuff. The Minister thought that Harry had the orb. All they would have had to do was slow Harry down on the train. If that were the case, they would have prepared the parchment Percy read anyway," said Ron, adding his insight.

"Very good! I never thought of that," said Hermione as she gave Ron an approving look.

Ron flushed at the compliment and said to Hermione, "Looks like being around you is a good influence on me."

At that, it was Hermione's turn to blush.

Harry interjected, "It also means that we can't underestimate the Ministry. We may be on the same side against Voldemort and his supporters, but we don't see the same method of solving the problem. The Ministry may have members that are secret supporters of Voldemort. Remember Rookwood; he spied from inside the Ministry for Voldemort. As much help as the Ministry could be, I think we need to keep our own plans and our own counsel."

Silence ruled as Harry's words took effect. Each began to realize that they were really in this together and that they might not get any outside help.

After a moment's silence Harry continued, describing the one-on-one meeting with Dumbledore. He told of the list of things that Dumbledore thought important. When Harry talked of beginning his education, Ron interrupted, "Blimey, we've been going to his school, doesn't he think we've been paying attention?"

Hermione turned a snort into a cough, regained her composure, and said, "Let's look at the positive side of this, as Harry learns new things, he can teach them to the members of the D.A. We'll learn what he learns. We'll all grow stronger together."

"Excellent," said Harry, "I was honestly wondering what to teach at the D.A. meetings, I didn't want them to become monotonous repetitions of things we have already been through."

"Even repetition is beneficial, we become better by practice," said Ginny, smiling at Harry.

Harry was taken a bit off track by the meaning behind Ginny's smile, but finished his retelling of the evening's events by relating his meeting with Professor McGonagall. He didn't mention the setting of the security mirr to the Headmaster's office but he did tell of the new personality of the guardian gargoyle. He also told of McGonagall's concern about safety within Hogwarts.

"If McGonagall is concerned, we should be too," said Hermione, "Let's take a close look at what we can do to keep ourselves safe."

"Great," thought Harry, "Here comes another list of rules."

"Anyway it's getting really late, I am completely exhausted, and I am supposed to take Dobby and meet with Dumbledore at 7:00 tomorrow morning," said Harry preemptively. "Tomorrow I've got to get a letter to Madame Maxime asking her to get an artist named Francois DePais to visit Hogwarts before the end of term. We have a lot to think about and a lot to prepare for. We had better get to bed, oh and Ron, don't let me forget to take Dobby with me in the morning."

"While I'm getting ready for bed, I'll work on a few questions for Dumbledore," said Hermione, "I'll get them to you in the morning."

Harry stood up and pulled Ginny from her seat into his arms. After a short embrace, he walked her to the bottom of the girl's dormitory stairs. Ginny took one step up the stairs and turned to face Harry. One step off the floor, Ginny was exactly Harry's height. She put her arms around Harry's neck and gave him a kiss.

"That's something I'd like to repeat until we are very good at it," Ginny said with promise in her voice.

Harry framed her face in his hands and said, "I meant what I said. I really do love you. Forever isn't nearly long enough to be with you."

Harry gently kissed Ginny. He let her fingers slip out of his hand and watched as she turned and made her way up the stairway and out of sight.

Harry turned toward the boy's dormitory stairs just in time to get a second shock. Ron and Hermione were exchanging a goodnight kiss. They both seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Once again, Harry wished for his invisibility cloak so he could just slip away unnoticed.

His presence was noticed, however, and Ron and Hermione reluctantly broke their embrace.

"Don't mind me, I'm just heading up to bed. Good night." said Harry, diverting his eyes as he slipped past them and headed quickly up the stairs.

Harry had just gotten into bed when Ron appeared at the doorway. His eyes had a far away look about them. Before Harry could say anything, Ron said, "I feel better than when I thought you had slipped me the Felix potion. I can't believe I wasted all that time fighting with Hermione when being close to her is so much more, well, so much more..."

"I know what you mean," said Harry, "Are you OK with me being with Ginny?" Harry waited expectantly for the answer.

"Yeah, sure," said Ron, "Are you OK with me being with Hermione?"

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes I'm happy that you two are, well, getting along. What changed between you and Hermione, I mean what happened?"

"Well it just sort of happened," explained Ron, "We were together at the funeral, and we were both... distraught. We kind of leaned on each other for support; you know emotional needs and all that. Well Hermione had been crying and I was trying to comfort her; we were walking around the edge of the lake when she turned to me and asked how long I thought that we would live. The same question had occurred to me during the funeral. I had been thinking about who and what was most important in my life, and, well you know how I feel about Hermione. She's brilliant, she's gotten us, uh, me, through a lot of the classes I'd have failed. She's funny, she's dead annoying at times, she's beautiful, and I realized that I didn't want to chance being without her in my life. She sort of looked up at me, she still had tears on her cheeks, the sun was glistening off her hair; I don't know what came over me but I kissed her, and Harry, she kissed me back! It was the best feeling I have ever had in my life. The rest of the trip to the train platform in Hogsmeade is kind of a fog. I just know that until the flap with Percy and the Minister, I felt like I was in heaven. I don't want to be without Hermione."

"I think we both have girls far better than we deserve," said Harry.

"Speak for yourself mate," said Ron throwing a pillow at Harry.

At that they both laughed, their friendship stronger than ever.

"Good night Ron," said Harry.

"Yeah it was, wasn't it?" said Ron getting in to bed.

"Tonight, all is right with the world," thought Harry as he drifted off into an exhausted sleep, the scent of flowers and thoughts of Ginny lingering in his mind.

« Chapter 7 - Friends in Deed   Chapter 9 - Lessons in Life Begin »


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