The Sugar Quill
Author: Alchemilla (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Test of Time  Chapter: The Letter
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 

Disclaimer: All written below is based on JK Rowling's books, which have provided endless entertainment for my family.

Author's note: Midnight Musings serves as a prologue to this story, and you should probably read it first, at least before you get to Chapter 2. Thanks.

Chapter 1: The letter

“Excuse me, but I’ve been watching yeh, miss, from my table, and may I say that yer a fine lookin’ bird. If you got no objections, perhaps I could join yeh fer a drink or two?”

Hermione looked up from her book. She resisted the urge to laugh, and prudently placed one hand lightly on her wand, under the table-just in case. “Thank you. Perhaps just one.” She smiled and extended her free hand in invitation at the adjacent chair.

“Shall I order for yeh, then?” He sat and put his chin in the palm of his hand, his elbow on the table. His other hand, she guessed, was on his own wand.

“Yes. How about what I had last night?”

“With dinner? Or before yeh went to bed?” Now he leaned in close, his nose almost touching hers.

She couldn’t help but grin at him now. She removed her hand from her wand, feeling already certain of his identity. “With dinner.”

“A glass of red wine, then, miss?

“Was it?”

“My mistake. White, it was. Fume Blanc, innit?” She nodded, and he rose and melted into the crowd at the bar. Hermione could spot his flaming hair over the bobbing heads, and she felt the familiar glow of affection that occurred every time she observed him in a crowd. He quickly returned, and set down their drinks.

“Perfect.” She leaned forward and kissed him lightly. So, what kind of accent was that supposed to be?”

“You know, a West Country - Cockney mix. Half-Hagrid, half-Filch.”

Hermione laughed. Identifying each other was a serious business these days, as Death Eaters regularly used Polyjuice Potion to deceive their intended victims. Somehow Ron always managed to inject humor into the necessary quiz with which they unfailingly greeted one another each day.

“You know,” she smiled, “we don’t need this question ritual. If someone who resembles you approaches me with a really fake accent, I’ll know it’s you immediately.”

Ron chuckled. “Harry and I need to work up some new means for identifying each other. I am running out of Weasley trivia by now.”

“I am surprised he still remembers all that minutiae. He hardly ever comes to the Burrow anymore.”

“He does too. He sits in the workshop with me, and sometimes Dad. You’re always at the lab then.”

“Hmmm. You’ve told me that he never stays for dinner and he rarely even goes in the house.”

“Well, we’re usually pretty busy out there. I’ve always got some new gadget to show him, then we’ve gotta test it out. Mum comes out with tea, and she fusses over him for a while. And then Harry has to go to work - Aurors work nights a lot, you know.” Ron frowned at Hermione. “Why? What’s the big deal?”

Hermione sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just that he never comes to your family gatherings anymore, not even Christmas. The Weasley clan is his only real family…” she drifted off, fingering the stem of her wine glass.

Ron covered her hand with his, and gave her a rueful smile. “You’re worried about Harry’s personal life again. ‘He doesn’t have enough social contact. Never brings a date, blah, blah.’ Am I right?”

“His work consumes him, Ron! He is totally neglecting the part of his life that really matters.”

“What matters is his survival. When the war is truly over, he can attend to the other. Besides, what do you know about his social life? Just because he doesn’t tell you anything, doesn’t mean he isn’t getting any action. He lives on a Muggle university campus, for God’s sake - next door to two very attractive blondes, he told me.”

Getting any action? I was referring to deeper emotions, darling. Those necessary to satisfy the soul.”

Ron grinned wickedly and looked right into her. “I’d say the action in your flat last night was fairly soul-satisfying.” He worked his fingers between hers, curling her palm into his own, until the length of their forearms met. He kissed her hand gently, grinning all the while like the Cheshire Cat.

Hermione could feel a flush rise on her cheeks, and she sighed contentedly, staring back into his lovely eyes. She should counter with a prim reply (which was exactly what he was expecting) but she felt too happy right now to bother. They had only recently decided to further their intimacy to, well, the ultimate level, and Hermione was still reeling from the pleasure of it all.

She let out a soft girlish laugh, which she smothered with her other hand. “Now don’t change the subject! So you think Harry’s dating a Muggle student?”

Ron shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Perhaps he dates witches under the guise of an alias?”

“’Dunno. I doubt it - he’d be recognized no matter what name he uses.”

“Surely he would not date in polyjuice disguise-just so they wouldn’t know who he is?” Hermione shook her head. No, that seemed unlike Harry.

“I - DON’T - KNOW. Ask him yourself when he gets here. But I’ll bet you a million galleons he won’t tell you a thing.” Ron glanced at his watch. “He’s late.”

“He said he had to stop at Hogwarts and pick up something from McGonagall. An old letter or something…”

***

Harry bade McGonagall goodbye, with the promise of keeping her informed of any war developments that might threaten Hogwarts, and a much weaker promise to come and “guest lecture” at a DADA class sometime.

As soon as he had closed her office door, he looked at the envelope in his hand more closely, and at the feminine, loopy handwriting: ‘To be opened by Harry Potter in the event of my death-Katherine (Katie) Bell’. And in the corner, a date: ‘8th May 1999’-the year following his seventh at Hogwarts. He turned the envelope over: nothing on the back; it was sealed. McGonagall said Katie had given it to her for “safekeeping.”

What would have prompted this letter, written years ago in anticipation of her own death? Why to him? Harry barely knew Katie, really. Of course, there was that one bizarre night in her flat in Hogsmeade, just before New Year’s Eve of his seventh year. He felt a brief pang of embarrassment at the recollection. Surely, this letter had nothing to do with that.

Harry’s curiosity deepened, but he resisted opening the letter here. He placed it in his robe pocket, and headed down the moving staircase, away from Dumbledore’s office. No-it was McGonagall’s office now, he thought grimly.

Harry had mistakenly hoped that his visit to Hogwarts today would lift his spirits. He had passed hordes of students when he came in, and he soaked up their youthful voices, full of hope, and life, and talk of the next Quidditch match or the next exam as if it were the most earth-shattering event in the world.

But Harry’s heavy mood persisted. The halls were quiet now-although he could hear the voices of teachers and students behind classroom doors-and the silence seemed to ring with absences: Dumbledore-gone, Hagrid-gone. Oh, the list of wasteful deaths could go on and on: Cedric, Hannah Abbot, Penelope Clearwater, and Justin Finch-Fletchley, along with so many faceless others. And now, Katie Bell. He touched the letter absently in his robe pocket. He would read it late tonight, in his flat.

Since Voldemort’s defeat, the rate of deaths and disappearances had declined considerably. Harry should at least feel good about that. Psychologically, the magic community was still unsettled: mistrust, doubt, and suspicion still blighted relations between neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. The Death Eaters persisted with their attacks of appalling violence, less frequently than the Voldemort days, but equally horrific. However, the political upheaval, plummeting Wizard Stock Market, and unemployment had all stabilized somewhat, and much of the time, the wizarding world seemed almost normal again.

Harry jumped a trick step, and almost smiled. He saluted the statue of the one-eyed witch as he passed by, and briefly considered returning to Hogsmeade through the secret passage-just for old time’s sake. Harry sighed. His own years at Hogwarts had been the best of his life. Except the last he interjected immediately, arguing with himself.

His near-smile vanished. His seventh year was the worst of his life: Hermione had disappeared, and for five despairing months, they thought she was dead. And Harry had fallen profoundly in love, only to throw it all away a few months later, with the assistance of his best friend. Harry fiercely pushed that thought away-now was not the time to dredge up old anger and regret, some of which he still directed vaguely at Ron. Harry was meeting Ron and Hermione at the pub in a matter of minutes, and it wouldn’t exactly be fair to arrive feeling angry at Ron for something that happened over four years ago.

Ron had been right, of course. Their plan had worked. Harry had told her lies and broken her heart, and she had stayed away. And she was alive today, wasn’t she?

He ran his hand through his hair. Oh, Ginny, Ginny. He trudged on, staring at his feet, and realized suddenly that he had already reached the Entrance Hall. He lifted his hand to the enormous latch of the great oak door-and hesitated.

Over the last four years, Harry had learned to suppress thoughts of Ginny fairly well. When he was working - when he needed to focus all his efforts on the task at hand-he could almost forget about her. And his resolve was duly tested during visits to The Burrow (thus his reason for staying put in the workshop: the house was full of moving photographs of her, and of course what if she Flooed in suddenly??).

However, most difficult were the drowsy minutes just before he fell asleep each night. Her face, her voice, the memory of her touch: all these things which lurked below the surface of his daily life, quiet but ever-present, threatened to bubble up and inundate his wanting heart.

Now, standing here in this castle full of old memories, memories of her, his practiced self-discipline was utterly failing him. He leaned his forehead heavily against the solid oak door, closing his eyes. The images, the remembered sensations began to roll over him in waves- Her sweet lips on his, her arms around his neck. Their whispered confessions of love. Her sixteen-year-old face: earnest, devoted, affectionate.

He offered no resistance now, and the unleashed emotions assaulted his heart in equal parts pain and joy. He could not stop himself, as he whispered, into the vast and empty hall, his deepest desire: “Ginny.”

***

Author’s note: If JKR’s world were real, the AGA cooker would surely have been invented by a wizard: it has no temperature controls, it stays on all the time, it makes fall-apart meat stews from the toughest cuts. It is the center of a British country kitchen-you dry your laundry over it, start seedlings by it, everyone huddles there on winter mornings. Even children notice an Aga. Surely The Burrow has an old one (or its less prestigious counterpart, the Rayburn) reconditioned by Mr. Weasley.

Thirty minutes later, Harry stepped out of the cool April wind into The Three Broomsticks, his composure regained: thoughts of Ginny subdued and locked back in their cupboard again. Pulling his cap low, Harry made his way toward the obviously red head in the crowded tables at the Three Broomsticks, his eyes automatically scanning the room for possible Death Eaters and the discernible characteristics that gave them away: the dead expression of the controlled, the malicious gleam in the eye of the collaborating.

Ron rose quickly from his chair, one hand discreetly on his wand, and addressed Harry. “What is the color of the Aga at The Burrow?” he demanded.

Harry hesitated, but only for a moment. “It’s not an Aga. It’s a Rayburn. Now you tell me the color.”

“Red,” grinned Ron, shaking Harry’s hand. “How are you, mate?”

“Fine, thanks. Hello, Hermione.” Rising from her chair, Hermione put her arms around Harry’s waist in greeting and hugged him tight. Harry was used to this reception from her by now-usually accompanied by her small sigh of relief -and he hugged her back, emitting a soft chuckle.

They all sat down, Harry choosing a seat with his back to the wall. Harry flagged down a passing waitress, tugging absently on his baseball cap as he ordered his ‘pint of Numpty’s Brown Bitter, please,’ lowering the brim until it nearly touched the rim of his eyeglasses.

Harry and Ron immediately launched into their first priority of discussion: the recent Chudley Cannons/ Whitby Whips match. Harry could feel Hermione’s eyes boring into him, clearly wanting to ask him something. “Yeeees?” he asked patiently, interrupting Ron and turning his head in her direction.

“You know, Harry, you are always welcome to bring a date to our weekly pub meal,” she announced, in a tone not unlike Mrs. Weasley.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Thank you Hermione.” He turned back to Ron, “If Chudley trades their best beater to Wimborne, they’ve had it…”

“We can always meet at a Muggle pub, if she is a Muggle.”

“Sorry?” Harry turned again to Hermione. “Who’s a Muggle?”

“Your date. If you were to bring one, that is.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Hermionee…” Ron spoke through gritted teeth. “Leave him alone.”

“Hello you three.“ It was Madame Rosmerta, delivering Harry’s pint with her usual greeting and wink in Ron’s direction. They placed their dinner orders, confident that Rosmerta would keep a watchful eye on the preparation and delivery of their food personally. No Death Eater would poison her favorite patrons, Harry had once heard her exclaim.

Fortunately, after this interruption Hermione refrained from any further suggestions concerning Harry’s love life. “How was Hogwarts, then, Harry?” she asked brightly, after Rosmerta had bustled back to the kitchen.

Harry frowned slightly into his pint. “Okay, I guess. Not the same with Dumbledore gone.” He filled them in on Hogwart’s latest news: Pomfrey’s retirement, Gryffindor’s Quidditch status, House Elf Union meetings.

“What was it that McGonagall gave you?” Hermione asked.

“Umm, an old letter that…a student had given her, addressed to me. It’s from…” he hesitated. “…from Katie Bell.” He saw Ron’s eyebrows twitch in surprise, out of the corner of his eye.

“Katie Bell?” exclaimed Hermione. “Oh, Harry, you know she was one of the thirteen who lost their lives in that horrible mass curse last week.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, and they all sat in somber silence for a moment.

Since Voldemort’s demise, it seemed somehow harder to accept the deaths of people they knew. There shouldn’t be any more deaths, thought Harry bitterly. Bloody Lucius bloody Malfoy and his attempts to carry on Voldemort’s mission. Not as successfully, not as brilliantly - almost comically pitiful at times - but equally in malevolence.

Katie’s death had been random and frivolous: instead of simply taking out their target victim, a former collaborator hiding in a flat above Flourish and Blotts, the Death Eaters had to go and curse half a block of Diagon Alley. Thirteen people were killed, including all those dining at a restaurant next door that evening.

“Poor Katie,” murmured Hermione. “Whatever happened to her Quidditch career?” she asked, wiping away a tear and lifting her chin again. “She was recruited by the Durham Dreadlocks, and then I never heard anything about her anymore.”

“Dreadlocks!” spluttered Harry. “Durham Dreadnaughts, Hermione.”

“I don’t know,” Ron answered quietly. “She just seemed to drop out after a few years…” He was looking down determinedly at the table.

“Odd,” said Harry, “when we met up with her that night…”

He was interrupted by a furtive but sharp kick from Ron under the table.

Harry stared at Ron. Ah. Sudden comprehension dawned: Ron had never told Hermione about that night at Katie’s flat. That’s a surprise, he thought. Harry figured Ron kept no secrets from Hermione. Well, if she didn’t already know about what happened that night, Harry wasn’t going to tell her now.

Hermione was looking quizzically back and forth between them, waiting. “When…when was this?” she asked, after several moments.

“…at the…the Durham/ Chudley match,” Harry finished awkwardly, feeling himself go a little pink in the face. He knew he was a lousy liar - that’s why Sirius never assigned him undercover work that would involve actual conversation with a Death Eater. Harry was a man of action, not of words.

Now Hermione had turned to look intently at Ron, who was now also suffering from an unwelcome blush. Harry could see she wanted to ask further questions, probably eventually leading to the contents of the letter. But she obviously sensed Ron’s discomfort and held her tongue.

Harry marveled at her restraint, her automatic and trusting accommodation of Ron’s feelings. (She would have never held her tongue in their Hogwart’s days!) Hermione would not demand a further explanation, though they clearly were hiding something about a past evening spent with a pretty and vivacious young woman.

Harry watched as she moved her hand slowly to cover Ron’s, looking directly into his uneasy expression. “Alright,” she nodded reassuringly, answering no particular question, but indicating her acceptance of Ron and Harry’s right to secrecy.

Harry felt a surge of fierce admiration mixed with equally fierce envy. Oh, Harry could only hope to have such a dear and trusted partner one day. For a moment, a rogue thought - a fleeting prayer of Ginny as that partner - threatened to surface, but he quickly suppressed it.

Ron, looking relieved, met Hermione’s gaze and lifted her hand to press it against his freckled cheek. “You are…” he murmured, leaning in to her, “the best.”

Harry looked away; took a long draught of his pint. “Okay. Right,” he said lightly. “Another round?” And when nobody answered: “I’ll get it, shall I?”

***


"Go on then, Sarah," Ginny encouraged softly.

The girl nodded, and her voice dropped to a quivering whisper. "Dad was on the floor, and the men in hoods were saying bad words at him, in horrible, horrible voices. They said Dad would be sorry for marrying a witch. And then...then..." She stopped, her eyes staring and frozen with the memory of horrors that no child should ever have had to endure.

"It's alright, Sarah," Ginny whispered, leaning in close. "It's okay to remember. Let it out."

Ginny had heard Sarah’s story before, but only in disconnected pieces, relayed under the influence of a Remembrance Potion. Ginny held her wand low, discreetly pointed at the child's head, soaking up the memory. The Pensieve sat ready, an arm’s length away, on a low table nearby. Placing the full memory in the Pensieve would soften its more vivid details in Sarah’s mind, leaving behind a more approachable (and conquerable) recollection.

"They yelled out a spell and they hurt my Daddy." Sarah screwed up her face and hugged her knees, rocking back and forth a little. "Then Daddy... he cried. He screamed and he cried.” She buried her face in her hands at the memory of her father’s shame.


Here lay the heart of Sarah's (and her father's) depression of the last year. Her father, a salt-of-the-earth proud Muggle farmer, had been 'broken' by the Death Eaters' Cruciatus Curse right in front of her eyes. Sarah’s shamed repression of this memory had lead to repeated nightmares and social withdrawal from her father.

Ginny opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly Sarah lifted her chin. "I remember what happened now! A man came through the window on a broomstick. Yes! There was a great crash right next to me!"

Sarah sat up and gestured wildly with her hands. " I felt glass bits land on the top of my hair. The man on the broomstick was shouting spells. At first I thought he was another bad man, but his voice was different - it wasn't mean. It sounded strong. Green and red lights were shooting everywhere - there was a terrible noise of shouting - and more men came through the door. I jumped out of the window seat and ran toward Dad. I was afraid they would step on him!” The words were pouring out of Sarah’s mouth now, her eyes blazing with the sudden memory.

"But the man on the broomstick grabbed me ‘round the tummy. I shouted "NO NO" because I wanted to help my Dad. I tried to wiggle away, but the man held me tight and flew me back out the broken window and he put me down behind the shed. The man said I was very brave to help my dad, but that I had to stay there until it was safe. He said... "

Sarah’s mouth fell open in surprise and she pointed. "That's him!"

Ginny turned abruptly, thrown by the interruption. Sarah was pointing at a large black and white photograph on the cover of the Daily Prophet, which sat in a magazine basket near the file cabinet. "H...Harry Potter?" Ginny asked, stumbling over the name. "The man was Harry Potter?"

"Yes," said Sarah, staring at the newspaper, wide-eyed. "He had a lightning bolt on his head. Harry Potter." She turned back to Ginny, her expression turning anguished again. "Miss Weasley..."

"Yes, Sarah," said Ginny gently, her attention fully back to her patient.

"Why...why...was that man"-she pointed at the newspaper-“Harry Potter. Why was he so brave? How come he could fight the bad men? I mean…my dad…” she hesitated, suddenly ashamed of her question.

Ginny lowered her wand. “Harry Potter’s job is to fight and capture these bad men. He has trained and studied special spells to stop these men from hurting innocent people like your mum and dad. Your dad’s job is to take care of the sheep. He has learned what to feed them, when to shear them, how to treat them when they are sick. I promise you, Harry Potter knows nothing about sheep. He wouldn’t know what to do if you put him in a barn of ewes at lambing time.” She rolled her eyes to emphasize her point, and Sarah smiled.

“But…” Sarah’s smile faded, and she shifted uncomfortably. “Someone brave like Harry Potter… he would never cry, would he?”

“Oh no, that’s not true, Sarah.” Ginny shook her head. “If he were terribly worried about someone he loved, if he were afraid that person might be hurt or taken away-then he might cry just like any other normal human being.”

Ginny fought to keep herself detached from this conversation. She didn’t want to think about Harry, and whether he might cry over someone he loved. She shook him from her mind and continued: “And don’t you know, that’s just what your dad was thinking when those Death Eaters were crowded around him. He was worrying about you. You and your mum were the only thing on his mind when the men were hurting him. I know, because, he sat right here last week and told me.”

Tears spilled down Sarah’s face. “Oh,” she whispered. “I didn’t know that.”

Ginny nodded reassuringly. Progress, she thought with satisfaction. Sarah’s making progress.

For the first time, the counseling session ended with an utterly normal discussion about Sarah’s school and her girlfriends. After delivering Sarah back to her mother in the waiting room, Ginny sat down to fill out the proper Department of Social Health progress reports for her Mentor Counselor-he should be rather pleased, she thought. Her eyes wondered back to the copy of the Daily Prophet. Sighing noisily, she picked it up and looked closely at the moving photograph.

It was an old photo of Harry, cropped from a Gryiffindor Quidditch team portrait-probably seventh year, by the looks of him. Yes, along the cropped edge Ginny could make out Ron’s red hair and his captain’s uniform-clearly their seventh year. Ever since the Ministry had put restrictions on the press, new photos of Aurors were not legally publishable-so any press photo of Harry was dated.

He was smiling, looking untroubled at the moment, maybe even starting to laugh at something Ron had just said. It must have been taken before that year became such a living hell: before Hermione had disappeared, before they found her body (or what they thought was her body), before Harry had broken up with Ginny, before all those excruciating, bewildering months that followed, sitting day after day in the Common Room and watching Harry across the room, brooding and unreachable.

“Anybody home?”

Ginny jumped. Colin’s face had appeared through the doorway. “Colin, you gave me such a fright,” she scolded him, but smiling all the same.

Colin came in, put his camera on the desk and flung himself onto the reclining couch. “So, WHAT should I do, Miss Weasley??” he cried out melodramatically. “Should I quit Witch Weekly and pursue a completely bohemian artist’s life of total poverty???”

“You already live a life of poverty.” Ginny swatted him with the newspaper. “And so do I. Neither of us chose particularly lucrative professions.”

Colin grabbed the paper. He sat up suddenly, making a noise of disgust at Harry's picture. “Weren’t you studying this when I came in?? Isn’t this copy over three weeks old??” Colin shot her a reproachful look. “Virginia Weasley, shame on you. Still pining, are you?” he teased, leaning in. “I think you need some major counseling, love.”

Ginny shrugged, but didn’t smile.

Colin looked at her for a moment, and sighed. “Sorry. I won’t nag you, then.”

He read aloud the headline and snorted: "‘Potter and Co. Foil Stone Circle Heist in Cumbrian Mountains’. Don’t forget what your brother said. The press gives credit to HIM”-Colin jabbed his finger at Harry’s picture-“anytime the Underground Auror League does anything, whether he was involved or not. You’d think that Harry and Sirius Black were the only members of that rogue organization.” Colin shook his head. “The Ministry has looked the other way long enough with that group.”

He studied the photograph. “So smug. God, I hate that arrogant bastard.”

Ginny couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. “At one time you thought there was a lot to admire!” she retorted sharply, snatching the paper from his hand. “And Harry has never been smug or arrogant in his life.” Colin, once Harry’s long-devoted fan, had turned on him after the breakup. Colin had seemed almost as shocked and devastated by Harry’s betrayal as Ginny had.

“How do you know - you haven’t really spoken to him in four years!” Colin turned his palms up to the heavens in exasperation. “And WHY are you defending him? Have you forgotten that HE BROKE YOUR HEART? And rather cruelly, too.”

Ginny just looked at him steadily. This was an well-trodden argument between them.

Colin sighed again and held out his hand. “Come on, Ginny. I’ve got two complimentary tickets to Glynis Biddlecombe’s musical paintings exhibit tonight, courtesy of Witch Weekly. Join me, won’t you?”

Now it was Ginny’s turn to tease: “Wait a minute. I thought you were going to ask out your colleague…”

“Yeah. Yeah. Well, I chickened out. So it will have to be you.”

Ginny laughed and clasped his hand in both of hers affectionately. “Well, how can I possibly turn down such a flattering invitation?”

***

Harry Apparated in the shrubbery just outside Bath University Campus. As he walked, he quietly whistled an old Weird Sisters tune that had been playing at the pub, his spirits lightened considerably by an evening of easy companionship with his friends. He made his way through the jumble of university buildings and dormitories until he reached his own, a three-story Georgian structure, elegant in proportions, if shabby in upkeep. He neither loved it nor hated it - but it was where he laid his head at night. When he was in England, that is, and not too tired to Disapparate home.

It had been Dumbledore’s idea for Harry to pose as a Muggle university student when he had first joined the Aurors right out of Hogwarts. He could live anonymously, among hundreds of other people his age, and no one would notice the irregular hours he kept, or the camouflage or all-black Auror clothing he wore regularly - similar attire was worn by ultra-cool Muggle students anyway.

Of course, there was always the odd risk of recognition from a wizard or witch-particularly Muggle-borns who had decided to pursue a higher Muggle education-and so he was vigilantly careful, always wearing darkened glasses and one of his caps. If he was lucky, he could stay at the same campus for as much as two years without the word getting around. Once discovered, the rumor would appear in the wizarding press within a matter of weeks, journalists dressed in badly-chosen Muggle clothing would start camping out near the dorms (alongside more discreetly-dressed Death Eater spies), and Harry would have to move on.

Then he would have to go through the hassle of deceiving another university admissions department, under another alias. He rather liked his current alias: ‘Trevor Crookshanks’--Hermione’s suggestion. Harry dipped his chin as he passed a group of carousing students in the entrance vestibule of his building.

He was more than slightly tipsy, he realized, as he headed up the steps unsteadily to his third floor flat. He and Ron had finished up the evening with a glass of whiskey, much to Hermione’s disapproval.

Harry chuckled to himself. They had played Whizzing Darts while Hermione was engrossed at the table working steadily on her latest research project. Ron was winning, and so Harry started trying to intercept the spiraling and sparking darts, catching them one-handed like a snitch. He had kept his face out the line of fire, but nonetheless Hermione scolded them furiously for their recklessness, once she noticed what they were doing. ‘You drive me to the bottle, woman!’ Ron had declared mischievously and proceeded to order two single-malt whiskies, straight up. Ron reveled in her scoldings, thought Harry. It was simply part of the routine of Ron and Hermione. A night out with those two was just what he had needed-they never failed to cheer him up.

“Hey, Trevor.” It was his neighbor, Deanna, bestowing a slow smile on him as he reached the top of the stairs. Then the other girl appeared through the doorway. What was her name? He couldn’t remember. They were obviously going out, dressed to the nines, in short Muggle skirts. He could smell their perfume from here.

“We’re going clubbing, Trev. Why don’t you come along?” They were always calling him ‘Trev’ even though they barely knew him. They came closer, as Harry unlocked his door with his Muggle key.

“Thanks, ladies. I can’t.” He couldn’t think up any detailed excuses that would sound genuine.

Deanna leaned up against the wall, and studied him. Damn, she was pretty. They both were. His loneliness clawed at him for a moment, probably made worse by the alcohol in his blood. Would it be fun, to go out clubbing with two carelessly happy blonde Muggle girls? Until he fell down drunk or ended up in the arms of one of them? Is that what normal 21-year old guys did? He didn’t know. He had never been just normal.

“Come on, Trev. You’re always turning us down.” She touched his arm with her forefinger. Harry swallowed and considered her carefully. Her eyes held the promise of a kiss (at the very least) by the end of the evening. Oh, it was tempting. He was starved for affection, and he knew it. The three-night surveillance job with that attractive female Auror last month had driven him to distraction, though he had not let on. His libido was like a prisoner that he had locked in the basement, and it tapped incessantly at the door to be let out. In its desperate state, it would go with whichever girl managed to open the door.

“I can’t,” he repeated, apologetically but firmly, and backed into his flat. He shut the door and pulled his cap off, violently throwing it into a corner. He would remain faithful to his vow, no matter how far-fetched and stupid it was. Unbidden, the image of Ginny came to his mind for the second time today (or was it the third now?).

Am I a fool to persevere? he asked her silently, closing his eyes and sinking into a chair. I am, he thought. A bloody fool, idiot, duffer, wanker. The pact he had made with himself was as unrealistic as a cheap novel from the romance shelves of Flourish and Blotts. What? Did he think she would wait for him until the war ended - particularly after the way he unceremoniously dumped her? That years of fidelity (of which she was entirely unaware) would be rewarded by the return of her love? And that no one would snap her up in the meantime?

Two facts kept his hope alive. One: Neville had told him that Ginny wasn’t dating anyone seriously. Two: she asked about Harry, and not just casually - Neville said she wanted details. Harry could get more frequent updates about her from Ron of course, but as a point of pride Harry refused to speak to him about Ginny. Indeed, he had not spoken to Ron about her specifically since they had engineered and executed the breakup, and he had no plans to do so now.

Any attempt to regain Ginny’s love would be contingent upon the conviction and imprisonment (or death) of Lucius Malfoy and the end of the War. As long as Harry had to live in constant state of stealth, he could not ask any woman to share such a dangerous life. Until that day, he would not give up hope, damn it all.

He certainly hadn’t intended to wait this long. Indeed, if anyone with an Inner Eye had told him when he was fourteen or fifteen that he would be leading a completely celibate life at twenty-one, he might have laughed with disbelief - and then cried with disappointment. And Harry was no prude; he felt sure that his nighttime fantasies equaled those of any other male his age.

But no other girl could fulfill those fantasies. It was Ginny he wanted; Ginny he waited for.

Pitiful, you are. Harry sighed deeply and stood to pull his robes over his head. Something fell onto the floor. The letter! He had forgotten it the last few hours. A note from the past, he thought, picking it up and turning it around in his fingers. He didn’t want to open it for some reason.

Open it, you coward. As he heard the Abbey bells chime midnight in the distance, he slipped his finger under the flap and pulled out the letter.

He rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses and then scanned Katie’s loopy handwriting once. Bolting upright, suddenly sober, he read it again, this time more carefully. His heart nearly lurched out of his chest.

//
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