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
“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.
“A glass of red wine, then, miss?
“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,
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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.
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,
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:
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
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Thank you Hermione.”
He turned back to Ron, “If Chudley trades their best beater to Wimborne, they’ve
“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
“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
“What was it that McGonagall gave you?”
“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
“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
“…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
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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
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