The Sugar Quill
Author: imc130d  Story: Queen Side Castle  Chapter: Default
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Queen Side Castle

Queen Side Castle

by imc130d


A/N:  This is J. K. Rowling's sandbox; I'm just playing in it.




"If you expect me to approve your request for lab time, you will have to add a written statement to that request that states that you agree not to play for the Gryffindor Quidditch team this year.  Or... any other team, for that matter.  If you fail to adhere to that statement, I will immediately withdraw my approval."




Harry Potter jumped off the Knight Bus, landing lightly in the familiar dust on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole.  The Burrow was just visible over a small hill, a couple of hundred yards away.  He turned briefly to wave back at Tonks, then started walking towards the hill.  His stride was more confident than it had been in the morning when he'd left, but he still wasn't smiling.


As the Knight Bus BANGed off behind him, on to its next stop, Harry looked up at the windows of the house.  A lanky redhead appeared at one of them.  He waved briefly before disappearing.  A few seconds later he emerged from the front door, waving cheerfully and rapidly covering the remaining distance between them in great loping strides.


As he approached, Ron spread his hands out eagerly.  "So?"


Harry tried out his best innocent look.  "So...?" he parried, walking past Ron towards the Burrow.


Ron fell into stride next to Harry.  "Funny, Potter.  Did you get into Potions?"


"Sort of."


"Sort of?  Are you in the class or not?"


"I'm not in the class, but I'm still taking it.  Independent study.  The whole conversation was a bit odd, but Snape didn't seem as bad as I thought he would."


Ron grinned.  "I'll be damned.  Maybe he really is on our side."


"Yeah.  Still a bit of a git though."  Harry took a breath, and prepared himself for what he had to say next.  "I had to agree not to play for the Quidditch team." 


Ron's eyes widened.  "You're joking.  ...Bloody hell!  You're not joking."


"Nope.  Looks like Ginny's going to be Seeker again."


"Says who?"


Harry looked ahead to see Ginny Weasley watering plants in the garden.  She was slightly rosy from the sun, and Harry could see wisps of hair creeping out from under the sides of her floppy hat.  He grinned widely.


"Hi Ginny!"  Something didn't seem right, though; Ginny wasn't favoring him with her usual smile.  Harry had spent a fair amount of time with Ginny and Ron over the previous two weeks, whether  playing Quidditch or helping out Fred and George at their new shop or planning things for the DA for the upcoming year, and he'd noticed that Ginny rarely failed to have a smile on her face. He found that its absence worried him rather more than he would have expected, and so instead of simply letting it go, as he might have with Hermione, he decided to see if he could draw Ginny out a bit.  "Erm.  What did you say again?"


"Who says I'm going to be Seeker again?"


"Well, I can't be, and you're the only other person with match experience.  And you're good at it, frankly; whoever gets Captain would be daft not to select you as Seeker."  Harry looked carefully at Ginny; watching her around Ron recently had taught him to recognize that expression.  "I'm being thick, aren't I?"


"Yes, quite."


I wonder if asking what I'm being thick about will make her even madder.  Harry looked around desperately; Ron had vanished.  He took a tentative step backwards.  To his surprise, this made Ginny giggle.


"It's all right.  You're not Ron, I'm not going to hex you.  Well, not badly."


"Right.  Er.  Is it better or worse if I admit that I don't even know what I'm being thick about?"


Ginny rolled her eyes as she set down the watering can.  "Look, just because you aren't going to play Seeker this year doesn't mean I have to.  I'd rather play Chaser."






"Oh."  Harry's face fell as his idea of trading tips with Ginny went down in flames.  He'd rather liked the idea of flying around the pitch with Ginny, laughing about Ron and Hermione, racing to catch the Snitch, watching Ginny's hair stream behind her... He shook his head to clear it.  "All right then, you'd rather play Chaser.  It just never occurred to me that you really meant that."


Ginny smirked at him.  "Can't imagine wanting to do anything other than catch the Snitch?"


"Not really, no,"  Harry said, feeling rather defensive.  "I like it, I'm good at it, and it's the one thing people know me for that isn't associated with Voldemort.  So if I'm thick about it, then I'm thick about it."  His voice got louder without his noticing.  "And I'm sorry if I'm being a prat, but the one thing that made having to give up Quidditch for another year bearable at all was the thought that, well, at least I can practice with Ginny, because she's a good Seeker too and I really like having her around!"


By the time he finished, Harry's voice was as sharp as a gunshot; his last words echoed around the meadow surrounding the Burrow.  Abruptly he wondered where Ron and Mrs. Weasley were, and whether or not there was any possible way they hadn't overheard him just then.  Probably not, he thought, and considered just putting out his thumb to call the Knight Bus back.  Professor Lupin could probably use his help at 12 Grimmauld Place...


Harry shook his head to clear the thought before it got too painful.  He opened his eyes to see Ginny looking at him thoughtfully.  Very thoughtfully.  He started to flush.  "What?"


"For someone who claims to really like having me around, you show it in odd ways sometimes."  Her voice sounded a little tight, but Harry was still wound up, and didn't think about it much.


"Right.  I forgot to add, when she's not having a go at me for being thick."


"See?  You say something nice and then you follow it up with something rude.  That's hardly encouraging."  The tightness in her voice was more obvious now.


"What am I supposed to say?  That I really like having you around including when you're having a go at me for being thick?"


"Do you?"


Harry was completely unprepared for this question.  "Sorry?"


"Do you like having me around even when I'm telling you off for being thick?"


For several seconds, Harry stared at Ginny, unblinking, straight into her eyes.  She returned the look, although her cheeks flushed slightly.  Eventually, he decided that she actually wanted an answer to the question.  "Erm.  Well, you're not nearly as annoying as Hermione is when she does it, but I don't like anyone having a go at me, really.  I know I'm thick about some things.  I just don't like being reminded of it," he finished quietly.


"How can you learn from your mistakes if you don't know what they are?"


Ginny's tone was light, but the similarity to his own entreaty to Professor Dumbledore hit Harry rather heavily.  Shocked, he sat down, right where he was at the edge of the garden. 


Ginny peered at him curiously.  "Are you all right, Harry?"


Harry opened his mouth to say, "I'm fine," and then thought better of it.  If he was honest with himself, he knew it had never fooled Hermione -- probably hadn't fooled Ron either, come to think of it -- and he remembered what Ginny had said about his ability to lie.  Embarrassed, he pushed the thought away.  "Sort of.  I'm dealing with...some stuff... okay, but I didn't want to give up Quidditch for another year, and I can't afford to not take Potions, and I really did like the idea of practicing with you.  I've had a few rugs yanked out from under me since...the Ministry, I suppose.  And I'm never quite sure where the next yank will come from.  And I'm sorry I yelled at you,"  he added, but Ginny didn't seem interested in that.


"Why can't you afford not to take Potions?"


"I need it to become an Auror."  This was technically true, but Harry felt rather guilty anyway.  Not telling Ginny the whole truth seemed much more of a betrayal than fibbing to Hermione about how much homework he'd done.


I can't do this alone.


The thought startled him.  Not because it was the first time the idea had occurred to him; it wasn't.  What startled him was that for the first time, it was strong enough that he knew he wouldn't be able to simply shake it off by reminding himself of the conditions Dumbledore had set for his telling anyone about the prophecy.  He wanted to tell Ginny, and he wanted to tell her NOW.


But he couldn't, of course.  Although he could find out if she was interested in knowing...


He concentrated briefly.  If Voldemort was paying attention at all to what Harry was thinking or doing, he was doing so on a subtler level than anything Harry could sense.  He asked, "Would you be interested in taking Occlumency?"


Ginny had opened her mouth to say something; she paused, closed it again, and replied,  "Not from Snape.  I heard about your 'lessons' last year."


"No.  I've had two lessons with Dumbledore this summer; he's much better.  He should be over on Friday, I think, if you're interested."


"Will he want another pupil?  I should think you're quite enough trouble for him."  She smiled as she said this, though, and Harry smiled back.  Her smile was infectious, really.


"I don't think he'll be surprised.  Well, he might be if Ron doesn't show up too."


"Didn't Ron want to take Occlumency?"


"Dunno.  I haven't asked him yet."


Ginny's eyebrows disappeared under the brim of her hat.  "No?"


"I was going to wait until start of term.  I thought it would be better if I could talk to all of you at once.  Including Luna and Neville,"  Harry added hastily, seeing the next question as clear as day in Ginny's eyes.


Satisfied, Ginny nodded.  "What changed your mind?" 


"I'm not sure I can hold out that long.  And I know how much I hated being kept in the dark."  Harry looked up at Ginny's face, and watched it become carefully controlled.  "I told Dumbledore none of you would care about this, but he said I had to tell you anyway, otherwise he wouldn't teach you Occlumency.  I don't think he wanted to anyway, but he's coming around.  Erm."  He fiddled with his hands.  "There is...information...that I'm not sure I can keep you all from figuring out.  Even with Occlumency.  You lot...know me too well."


Ginny sat down across from him; as she arranged herself, he caught a glimpse of a trim, pale thigh, and closed his eyes momentarily.  As pleasant as the sight was, he really didn't want to be caught staring.  When he opened his eyes, Ginny's eyes were level with his own, and looking at him curiously.  He could feel his cheeks reddening.  "Anyway.  If any or all of the five of you can reach a certain skill level in Occlumency, I'm allowed to tell you what I know.  Anyone who can't get there has to have their memory modified for everyone else's safety."


Ginny's eyes widened.  Then they widened some more.  "Harry, can you get him here sooner than Friday?"


Harry thought for a moment.  "Probably.  He showed me a way to contact him if I needed something quicker than Hedwig.  Why?"


"You were right.  I already know too much."  She held one hand out, upturned, fingers turned in slightly, as if she were holding something small, and round, and delicate.  Harry could almost see the dull inner light in the ball she wasn't actually holding, could almost read the words on the label below:  S. P. T. to A. P. W. B. D.   Dark Lord and (?) Harry Potter...


Harry just stared at Ginny.  "How did...?"  Seeing Ginny begin to get up, he scrambled to his feet, and held out a hand for her.  "How did you figure that out so quickly?" he asked, helping her up.


"You said it was something you couldn't keep us from figuring out.  So it had to be something about you that we all knew something about already."  She was standing now, but still held onto Harry's hand; he could feel a pleasant heat spreading from his palm and fingers.  "That narrows it down quite a bit."


Harry shook his head in admiration.  "I hadn't thought of that.  I don't think Dumbledore did either, actually.  You're as quick as Hermione."


"Hermione isn't always as quick as you think," Ginny replied, smirking.  "How long has it been since the Yule Ball?"


"About eighteen months, I guess.  Why?" 


Ginny rolled her eyes.  "I know you're smarter than that, Harry."


Harry frowned in thought.  Hermione and the Yule Ball... the dress... Viktor Krum... the fight with Ron... "She really does like Ron, doesn't she?"


"You never noticed?"


"I was never sure.  Seeing that he liked her was much easier.  I don't understand girls very well."  Abruptly, he realized that he was still holding Ginny's hand, and dropped it.


"Yes, I can see that,"  Ginny sighed.  "C'mon.  Let's go talk to Dumbledore."  She turned to walk back to the Burrow.


After a moment, Harry followed her, lost in thought.  He had the inescapable feeling that he'd missed something near the end of that conversation.  Guess I'm being thick again, he thought.  He wondered if Ginny would tell him if he simply asked her about it, and then decided not to.  I've already had to admit that I was being thick once today.  That's plenty.


As they reached the Burrow, Harry realized he'd been following Ginny the entire way, watching her walk, rather than trying to catch up with her.  Worse, she had probably noticed this.  Probably?  Who am I kidding?  She's as smart as she is pretty.  She definitely knows.  I'm going to have to pay a lot more attention to what I'm doing around her.


Come to think of it, I'm going to have to pay more attention to her, just to keep from being so thick.

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