The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Most Ingenious Paradox  Chapter: Chapter Three: Return of the Native
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“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

 

 

“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

[A Harry Potter Fanfiction by Penpusher]

 

 

Chapter Three - “The Return of the Native”

 

Harry Potter had never had it easy.  The letter from Hogwarts, which changed his life so completely, seemed to promise a measure of security and protection sadly lacking from his life until then.  But spending one’s formative years fighting uselessly against unfair odds is not a recipe for a peaceful existence.  Within the walls of Hogwarts, Harry occasionally caught himself remembering his former anonymity with something like regret.  For Harry had become something that was, to him, totally unexpected: a target.

 

Harry got the message loud and clear as soon as he crossed the threshold of Hogwarts Castle.  People stared at him, wide-eyed with wonder that someone like him could step straight out of a legend into their world.  Many were too much in awe of him to do anything other than stare.  Some feared him; others hated him. 

 

There were those who loathed him for his celebrity, his unearned and undeserved kudos.  There were others who despised him for his sheer ordinariness, and still more who scorned him for not being everything they had expected of The Boy Who Lived.  There was also a small number of people for whom Harry was a useful scapegoat for their own failures and disappointments.  His hot temper and his stubborn refusal to compromise on any important issue cost him dearly in bruises, both physical and mental.  And there was also Voldemort.

 

By his sixth year, Harry had learned the meaning of discretion.  His dealings with certain members of Slytherin House grew more circumspect.  His increasing encounters with Voldemort became steadily more adept and streetsmart.  Harry’s ability to cope in a crisis, his talent for choosing and retaining friends and champions, and also his innate toughness of spirit, honed by years of adversity, all served him well during the apparent culmination of his very existence: the Great Battle between light and dark magic, fought on the premises of Hogwarts itself. 

 

It was enough - barely.  Harry had triumphed, but not without terrible losses.  Many, many witches and wizards at the peak of their abilities had perished including Albus Dumbledore, matchless wizard of unparalleled power and Harry’s beloved mentor.  Harry had mourned him with grief and bitterness, knowing his passing to be a tragedy the full degree of which would only be felt by future generations.  When Harry elected to pursue his career at the Wizarding University in Los Angeles, nobody was surprised.  The public understood his need for a new life and pitied his sorrow.  His friends sympathized with his attempts to escape both his celebrity and his memories. 

 

Harry smiled wryly to himself as he strode swiftly towards the office occupied by the Dean of his college.  People would believe what they wanted to believe.  Often it was best to say nothing.

 

Fifteen minutes later, after heated discussions involving Harry threatening to hand in his notice with an indifference he did not exactly feel, he was free.  A month’s sabbatical!  All the better as it extended conveniently into the long summer vacation: time enough to assess whether Fred and Hermione’s fears were groundless.  However, he was almost certain that they were not.

 

Half an hour later, Harry was disturbed in his packing by a magical alarm: one of his wards had been tripped.  Presently, Neville Longbottom poked his head around Harry’s bedroom door.

 

“So the rumours are true then?” he said.  Harry sighed.

 

“I swear, the wizard grapevine around this place is the most efficient in the world.”  Neville shrugged and came into the room.

 

“To coin a cliché,” Neville began, “this is all very sudden. “I mean, I always knew you were never intending to make your life with us here, but what’s triggered this sudden urge to go home?” 

 

“If you put it that way,” Harry began, hands busy folding a shirt, “I would have to say it’s Hermione, but I think it’s really been brewing for some time.  I suppose I’m just anxious about them.”  He started to cram socks into his shoes. 

 

“Things are happening, Neville,” Harry continued. “Things that should have been dead and buried a long time ago.  I caught the first stirrings of it when I went on that expedition to China in search of the Aurora Amulet, the first summer I was here - you remember?  There was too much magic flying about, too many people unaccounted for, wizards and Muggles both.  Too many pieces in the jigsaw.”  He shook his head.

 

“But you achieved your object in China, didn’t you?”  Neville was puzzled. “You brought back the Amulet.” 

 

“Yes, I did,” Harry admitted, “but it wasn’t enough.  I was too wrapped up in my quest to be sidetracked by small things that seemed so insignificant at the time.”  He smiled ironically.

 

“I was overflowing with focus and drive,” he said wryly. “I had a reputation to justify, a name to make for myself.  I had to find some kind of niche in a world that only ever really wanted me for the Great Battle.”  He shrugged. 

 

“Maybe I wasn’t meant to survive it.  Who knows?” Harry’s light tone belied the pain beneath. “Maybe if I’d died instead of Albus …” Neville’s sudden grip on Harry’s arm was not gentle.

 

“I think we’ve already been to that place several times over,” Neville said in calm, measured tones.  “Do we really have to visit it again?”  He held on to his friend’s arm until the other man sighed and inclined his head slowly.

 

Harry continued to pack on autopilot, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.

 

“Now Hermione has joined forces with Lee Jordan, and she’s noticed a pattern emerging,” Harry continued after a small pause to fold several pairs of light trousers. “I want to study their evidence and draw my own conclusions.  I’m also very concerned about the Weasley twins.  Whatever it is they’ve stumbled on, it’s completely out of their league.  I’ve never known Hermione so tense about anything before, except NEWTs, of course, and it’s not like Fred to twitch so openly.  Something is rotten in the State of Denmark, Neville, and I need to go home to sort it out.” 

 

He resumed packing with renewed energy. 

 

“I figured as much,” Neville replied, “so I wondered if I might help out, and what d’you know?  This li’l ol’ Portkey just happened to be hanging unattended around the office.  Now, something like that wouldn’t happen to be of use to you, would it?” 

 

Smiling, Neville dangled a crushed cola can from one finger.  Harry jerked his head up.

 

“A Portkey?” he exclaimed. “Can you tune it for London?”

 

“Yes sir; sure can.” Neville replied, mockingly. “Even tune it for St. John’s Wood if you want.”

 

“Thanks, Neville.”  Harry was visibly grateful. “I really appreciate this. Apparating into the office is one thing, but all the way to London?  Well, I always feel exhausted for days.” 

 

Harry held his hand out for the Portkey, but found it dangling just out of his reach.

 

“It has a price.”  Harry frowned, but Neville grinned broadly.

 

“Nothing you can’t afford,” he said.  “Just a farewell cup of strong, black, Colombian coffee.  Oh, and a short advice session before you go.” 

 

Harry looked puzzled.

 

“Advice?”  Neville nodded frantically.

 

“Advice, Harry.  Let’s face it: Gringotts is a big, big enterprise and I was incredibly lucky to get this post in LA.  My concern now is how I’m going to hold on to it without you around to keep me on the rails!” 

 

Chuckling, Harry stopped struggling with his bulging suitcase and pointed at it with his wand.  Abruptly, the locks clicked and straps appeared, fastening tightly around the outside.  Harry grimaced.

 

“I hate doing that,” he said, “I always end up with creased shirts.  Coffee time?”  Neville grinned.

 

“I put on the coffee maker before I interrupted you,” he replied.

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

Hermione was trying to make up for lost time.  She felt guilty that her extra-curricular studies with Lee seemed to be taking precedence over everything else, and even more uncomfortable that she had spent a precious hour trying to make Harry’s room more welcoming.  Its general appearance had been Spartan, to say the least.  During the last couple of weeks, her caseload had rocketed.  Most were minor offences, but she was also working on three large trials likely to last well into the New Year.  She shook her head; where was all the work coming from?  Her chambers had never had it so good.  They had barely been coping before this sudden influx of new stuff, but now it looked as though they would have to recruit at least two juniors and a well-seasoned Grade One to cope with the backlog alone. 

 

Slow down a minute, Hermione.  She creased her brow in a heavy frown and stopped writing suddenly.  Let’s just back up a moment, shall we?

 

Overwork was a very effective way of stopping people thinking clearly; Hogwarts had taught her that.  Hermione's was not the only Chambers suffering from this abrupt deluge of cases.  And where did most of the clever, intelligent witches and wizards with a bent for research and book learning end up?  In the legal profession.  Hermione wondered how many other lawyers were working as flat out as she, and whether this was the reason no one else seemed either to know or care about the trends in the wizarding world’s crime patterns. 

 

Hermione sighed and reflexively took a mouthful of coffee from a nearby mug, nearly spitting it out when she realised it was stone cold.  She was about to raise her wand to reheat it when she became aware that someone else was in the room. 

 

A tall figure stood in the bay, silhouetted against the light.  One moment the window had been empty, the next he was there: a tall, lithe, rangy-looking man, slightly disorientated by his recent Porting, pausing to get his bearings.  Hermione leaped up from her desk.

 

“Harry!” she exclaimed, rushing over to him, flinging her arms round his neck and astounding him with the wild enthusiasm of her hello kiss.

 

“Merlin’s Wand, Hermione!” he grinned. “I’ll have to go away more often if that’s the kind of reception I get when I return!”  But Hermione was too happy to see him to think of a suitable riposte.

 

“Oh Harry, it’s so wonderful to have you home again!” 7enthused, all thoughts of work completely erased from her mind. “Fred is home - come through and say hello to him.” 

 

Harry raised a speculative eyebrow, but made no comment. 

 

“Let’s get some decent coffee going.”  Hermione said, picking up her mug to frown at its contents.  She led Harry out of her study, down the hall and into the large kitchen.

 

“Harry!  You made it!”  Harry took one step into the kitchen and was enveloped in a huge bear hug by a grinning red-haired man. “This is the best thing to happen in a long time!”  Harry looked him up and down.

 

“Hello Fred,” he said, his hesitation barely perceptible.  There was a chuckle from the direction of the fireplace.

 

“I thought twins were supposed to get less alike as they grew older,” observed a well-loved voice, “but my brothers still seem to be able to fool a large number of people.” 

 

Harry swung round in delight to see his dear friend and school chum Ron emerging from the sofa, grinning from ear to ear.  Harry smiled warmly and held out a hand in greeting, but Ron was having none of it.

 

“If Fred can hug you, so can I!” he told him, before crushing the other man’s ribs in his fervour, while Harry pummelled Ron’s back as though he were a punchbag.  Hermione went to refresh the coffee pot, smiling at the boys’ antics, while Fred protested total innocence in the face of Ron’s allegations.

 

“Ron, you know George and I have given up trying to fool anyone as to our identities,” he Fred said in hurt tones. “Ever since I got my scar trying out for the Cannons, and left it to heal Muggle style, no one’s been fooled as to who’s who.”

 

Who’s buying that, I wonder? Harry thought, politely accepting a cup of strong black coffee from Hermione while he watched Ron and Fred battle it out.  As he stood inhaling the steam from the fragrant liquid, Hermione took the chance to observe his appearance properly. 

 

Really, she Hermione had to admit, for a kid who had been small, gangly and weedy in school, Harry had turned out not too bad as an adult.  The blonde hair that had surprised her so much turned out to be nearer light brown, his deep Californian tan making it seem much lighter.  His clothes sense seemed to have improved too, she noticed, although the spectacles had not changed.

 

Time rolled effortlessly away as Hermione made pot after pot of coffee, latterly charming the caffeine out of it, and the friends talked and talked, catching up on news and re-living old stories.  Eventually, Lee arrived bringing with him, to everyone’s surprise, Oliver Wood who was home for a brief and infrequent weekend. 

 

Having made a name for himself as keeper for the Singapore Swifts, an international Quidditch team, a series of injuries eventually caused Oliver to hang up his robes and gloves in favour of management.  Oddly, this change seemed to have doubled his working hours - and tripled his stress levels - but Oliver simply thrived on the excitement.

 

As soon as she saw them, Hermione looked at her watch and let out a horrified squeak.

 

“Oh no!  I’m not even changed yet, and it starts at 7.30pm!”  Hermione started to panic her way out of the kitchen. “It’s these light evenings.  They make you think you’ve got more time than you have!”  Harry turned to Ron.

 

“Is Hermione going somewhere tonight?” he queried, slightly disappointed that his old friend should have an appointment on the evening he arrived.  Ron drained his coffee mug.

 

“We all are, mate,” he responded. “We’re going to a concert.”

 

~ooOoo~

 

The Café Royale was less grand than its name implied, being slightly shabby and in need of a good coat of paint, but once inside Harry could see why it was a popular venue.  It was a substantial building with plenty of seating, a good modern stage and, most importantly, a large and well-appointed bar, favourably situated with an excellent view of the entertainment.  It was crowded and very noisy. 

 

Ron immediately disappeared into the crush and fought his way back some minutes later with a tray of drinks.  Meanwhile, Hermione deftly secured a table near the front and went in search of extra chairs.  Harry sat down, gazing around him.  He saw no one he knew, although he didn’t exactly expect to, but he had to admit to being slightly disconcerted at being the only wizarding folk present.  Still, he mused, magical folk weren’t always easy to spot.  Nowadays, few younger wizards wore traditional robes all the time.  Most, like his own group, wore Muggle clothes day to day, reserving their robes for purely magical or formal occasions.  He made idle conversation with Ron, debating the quality of their beer, which was warm but otherwise surprisingly good.

 

“Real ale,” Ron said briefly, holding it up to the light, “from somewhere in Somerset, I believe.”

 

“I thought that was cider country,” remarked Harry.  Ron shrugged.

 

“Diversity is the name of the game.  Oh, look - it’s about to start.”  He turned towards the stage as the lights dimmed and the compère came on. 

 

The compère was a seasoned comedian with a humorous line of patter that amused the audience, even if they didn’t really listen to it.  Quickly tiring of this, Harry elected to fight his way to the bar for another round of drinks.  It took quite some time: it seemed he wasn’t the only one who was bored with the warm-up and wanted to get sufficient supplies to cover the first half.  By the time he got back to the table and began to hand out glasses, the act was being introduced. 

 

Harry had never heard of the vocalist Virginia Dale, but when the band started up and a slender girl with startlingly red hair walked onstage, he found himself rooted to the spot in the process of handing Ron his pint. 

 

“Ginny?”  Harry breathed, stunned beyond surprise.  The beer hovered in mid-air, uncertain as to where it was going to land.  Ginny picked up the microphone and began to sing an old jazz favourite.  Laughing at his friend’s reaction, Ron waved a hand in front of Harry’s face and rescued his glass before it fell.  Harry sat down heavily, spilling some of his own beer over the floor: Ron laughed some more.

 

“Bet you never expected this, eh?” Ron grinned, swelling with pride at his great friend’s reaction to his little sister’s performance.  Harry shook his head wonderingly, unable to take his eyes off her.

 

“I had no idea she was so good!” Harry whispered, completely thrown. 

 

Ginny’s act was a composite of various different styles.  She was a very good singer indeed, but her real strength was in her versatility.  The basis of the evening’s music was on the traditional side of jazz - not surprising, considering the venue was more or less a jazz club - but these numbers were interspersed with ballads, folk songs, country and western, one or two rock and even a couple of opera arias which had the punters on their feet, cheering and stamping.  Harry had not spoken a word throughout Ginny’s act, and when she left the stage for a breather, he applauded with the rest of the audience and sank the rest of his warm beer in one.

 

“I’m going outside for a breather,” Harry bellowed at Ron over the hubbub.  Ron nodded and continued his shouted conversation with Hermione.  Harry pushed his way through the heaving mass of people, finally coming to the main doors spilling out on to the pavement.  Here it was a little quieter, although several others had the same idea. 

 

Harry leaned against the cool stonework and wished, not for the first time, that he smoked.  A cigarette might have helped untangle the knot of unfamiliar emotions roiling around in his stomach.  No wonder Ginny had been snapped up so quickly by an agent, they must have been beating a path to her door!  If her voice could do this to a wizard, think what effect it must have on the Muggle population.  Preparing to go back in for the second half, Harry shook his head in wonderment.  It had been a long time since he had been so deeply stirred by anything.

 

The second half was much the same in content as the first, and Harry felt himself settling, calming down, getting used to the fact that this was the little girl he’d known at school.  Near the end, she signalled for quiet and the noise died down to an acceptable buzz.  She then took the microphone and started to sing, totally without accompaniment, an ancient Irish folksong which rose and fell modally, conjuring up hills and heather, peat fires and the smell of rain.  Harry could feel her consciousness spiralling out to embrace the audience: forget your problems and your troubles, all is green and peaceful she seemed to be saying.  Harry’s mind swirled and, before he realised what he was doing, he had reached out and joined with her, reinforcing her thoughts, strengthening her outward message.

 

In the reverent silence that followed the end of the song, he came to with a sudden jolt.  Fortunately, the band had been primed to cut in quickly with the intro to the last barnstorming number, so his reaction went unnoticed.  What did you think you were doing? he berated himself. This is Muggle territory, there’s no way you can get away with blatant interference like that!  It would be just his luck to be caught out by a roving Inspector and get served with a Misuse of Magic Warning back at the house this evening.  His face flushed a dull red at the thought.  Back in England for a couple of hours and already falling foul of the legal system.  Who would have thought it, Harry Potter making such an elementary mistake?

 

They went backstage to the Green Room afterwards to meet a radiant Ginny who was fully aware of how well her gig had gone.  Harry noticed a tall dark man pouring drinks and guessed that this must be David Markland.  Harry thought Markland looked rather too pleased with himself.  As soon as she could, Ginny excused herself from a crowd of fans and well-wishers and flew over to Harry, standing on tiptoe to fling her arms round his neck with abandon.

 

“Oh, we’ve missed you so much!  How long are you staying?  Thank you so much for coming this evening, it meant such a lot to me, and it all went so well just because you were there!” 

 

Harry smiled down at the beautiful girl in his arms.

 

“Hello, Ginny,” Harry said, happily. “I’ve missed you too.  I think I might be staying for a while, so be prepared to see a lot more of me this time.” 

 

Ginny grinned up at Harry happily, then a small frown creased her features and she lifted an experimental hand to the overlong fringe flopping untidily over his forehead.

 

“It’s really quite different now, isn’t it?” Ginny commented with a half-smile.  Harry sighed and self-consciously pushed the somewhat lightened locks away from his eyes. 

 

“You girls and your obsession with hair!” Harry replied, in mild exasperation. “I live in sunshine 364 days out of each year in LA, and I’m often abroad in tropical places where they don’t have sunscreen shampoo.  Sunbleaching’s a natural phenomenon, you know.”  But he was too pleased to see Ginny to be cross.

 

“Your gig was fantastic, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it,” Harry said enthusiastically. “You really have moved on such a lot in four years.”

 

“For three of them she’s been under my professional care, so it isn’t surprising that she’s learned some sophistication,” said a new voice.  Reluctantly, Harry let his arms slide away from the girl, and turned to meet the intruder.  Ginny remembered her manners.

 

“Oh, Harry, this is David Markland, my agent and manager.  David, this is Harry Potter.  We were at school together.”  The man nodded unsmilingly.

 

“So I hear,” David replied, coolly. “Ginny has quite a number of old school friends in St. John’s Wood.  They seem to multiply by the day.”  Harry shook the carelessly outstretched hand, taking an adolescent pleasure in seeing Markland’s eyes widen at the strength of his grip.

 

“Ginny is very talented,” the tall man went on in the same casual tone, “but far too easily pleased.  Take tonight, for example.  Ginny is over the moon at her performance, whereas I could only feel totally convinced by “My Lagan Love” - the Irish melody.  Only that had the necessary spark of real star quality.”  Ginny seemed to wilt, but tried gamely to swallow her disappointment.  Harry felt faint stirrings of anger.

 

“You might do well to listen to her audience,” Harry replied, his tone deceptively mild. Ginny gave him a grateful smile.

 

“This place?  Pfff!”  Markland waved his hand negligently, consigning the Café Royale and all its contents to a nether world of total unimportance. “They’re easily pleased here.  Once she gets on to the really big stages, then she’ll have to do better.”

 

“But David, we’ve been through this before; I really feel so much happier in a smaller environment,” Ginny cut in anxiously. “I’m not at all sure I want to go as big as you’d like.  At least, not yet.”  The last words were added hastily as Markland’s eyes darkened in anger.

 

“Ginny, you need to go butter up Samuel Stacey about that recording deal he’s dickering on.  He’s only here for a little while, we can’t waste time.  Nice to have met you, er, Potter, wasn’t it?”

 

So saying, Markland put a proprietary hand under Ginny’s elbow and bore her firmly away from Harry towards a smallish, balding man surrounded by a group of rather lovely young women.  Harry gritted his teeth as, rather reluctantly, Ginny joined them and presently Harry saw her smiling winningly at the little man while he surreptitiously stroked her shoulder, Markland looking on approvingly all the time.  Harry felt the stem of his champagne glass snap under the pressure of his fingers, and hurriedly disposed of the remains in the empty fireplace.  He and the others left shortly afterwards.

 

Unsurprisingly, Markland and Ginny did not join them for supper and, after a brief consultation, they decided to go back to Harry’s House, picking up a take-away on the way.  There was a brief tussle over whether it would be Chinese, Indian, Italian or Tex-Mex, but eventually Chinese prevailed, as the restaurant was nearer.  Ron and Lee detoured to the local off-licence and by the time they arrived, the meal had been served on to the long refectory table in the kitchen and was ready to eat.

 

It took very little time indeed for the food to disappear, even though Hermione exclaimed that they would never manage to eat it all.  Coffee was offered and accepted by all and Harry wandered out of the kitchen, following Ron’s lead down the corridor towards the sitting room in the West Wing.

 

Harry could see why they used the West Room on golden evenings like this one.  Even though it was very late, the last vestiges of sunset could still be seen through the French doors, colouring the horizon pink, the moonlight was bright and silvery, and the stars seemed very close to them in the inky blue sky.  He sank down in a corner of a squashy sofa and gazed up at the heavens, enraptured.

 

“It’s stunning, isn’t it?” said a low voice.  He turned to see Fred about to take the adjacent seat.  Harry nodded briefly then leaned fractionally closer as the other man sat down.

 

“I believe you have a good deal of explaining to do, my old friend.” Harry’s voice was pitched low enough to carry only as far as his friend’s ears.  Fred sighed and smiled wryly.

 

“I can’t imagine how you could have come to that conclusion, Harry,” Fred riposted, with somewhat unexpected sarcasm.  Harry shrugged.

 

“You and your brother seem to have become so comfortable with intrigue that you fail to recognise genuine cause for alarm,” Harry said, still quietly. “Something seems to have gone disastrously wrong from your end.  Untangling it will require considerable ingenuity.  What if all these things are connected?  Hermione and Lee’s research, my own long-standing suspicions, the Ministry’s worries about crime, your own situation with your brother, and also what might or might not be at the bottom of my garden?”  He looked at Fred questioningly.  The other man frowned.

 

“Much as I respect your judgment, Harry,” Fred began carefully, “I find it very difficult to imagine that a local peculiarity such as this temple could have any kind of connection with …”

 

“Oh for goodness sake stop playing games!” Harry’s voice rose in frustration.  He saw Hermione flick a worried glance towards the sofa, then go back to her conversation with Ron.  With a visible effort, he lowered his voice once again.

 

“I strongly recommend that you come clean,” Harry said flatly. “If you value your brother’s continued health and happiness, you must tell the truth.  We’re not just your friends, we’re your family, and I strongly suspect that we’re all involved in this thing, to a greater or lesser extent.  We need each other, and we need to know the bottom line.”

 

Fred nodded slowly.

 

“I guess,” he began. “Well, maybe.  I mean …it might be worth considering.” 

 

“It’s the only way.”  Harry’s voice was implacable.  Fred opened his mouth once or twice then he leaned forward with a serious expression on his face.

 

“If I have to spill my guts, there’s one other person who really needs to be here,” Fred began. “She’s just as much family as Ron is, and it’s not like she’s in Rumania like Charlie, or South Africa like Bill.  I don’t want her to get the information second-hand; she’d feel somehow that the rest of you were more important than she is.”  Harry pursed his lips and frowned.

 

“You’re speaking of Ginny, of course.”  Harry replied.  Fred nodded.

 

“She and Markland elected to go Merlin-knows-where with that pack of posers back at the Café Royale.” Harry sighed. “They might not even be home yet, even though it’s gone 11.30pm, and if they are they’ll be asleep.”  Fred’s face assumed a stubborn expression.

 

“Then I’m saying nothing until we can get her here.  It just isn’t right otherwise, Harry, you’ve got to realise that.  We’re her brothers and we’ve always been close.  It’s enough that we’ve been deceiving her all these years.  She’s already cut loose from the wizard world; do you want to drive her even further away?” 

 

“I take your point,” Harry replied in a worried tone, “but what about the danger she might be exposed to?” 

 

“Let’s face it, Harry,” Fred shrugged resignedly, “it’s got to the point where she’ll be in danger whatever we do, just by being a Weasley.”

 

They said no more until Hermione, glancing rather anxiously at the two, finished refilling coffee cups and sat down next to Ron on the other sofa.

 

Taking advantage of a lull in the conversation, Harry moved to the edge of the sofa and leaned forward, elbows on his knees.

 

“Well, now would seem to be the time, wouldn’t it?” Harry said, smiling affably. “I’d very much like to hear what horrors there are in my back garden that sent you all screaming for the hills.  But that’s really not all that needs to be said this evening.”  He paused to collect his thoughts.

 

“Since I’m the newcomer here,” Harry began, “the one who’s been out of touch for a long time, I think it’s best if you assume I know nothing, although I warn you, that might be slightly less than the truth.  Now, if Hermione would oblige me, I would like to know what happened this morning.” 

 

Hermione took a breath then expelled it without speaking on a soft “phew”.

 

“Was it really only this morning?” she said in wonderment. “It feels as though so much time as gone by.” 

 

Hermione’s account was concise and accurate, just as any of them would have expected from her.  She gave no opinions, drew no conclusions and omitted nothing.  Harry bit his lip, deep in thought.

 

 “So what was it about the altar, Fred?” asked Ron, getting to the nub of the situation.  Fred opened his mouth, but Harry held up a hand.

 

“I think before we go into any detail, this would be a good time to ‘fess up, Fred.” Harry said, gently.  The redhead drooped in his chair slightly, shooting Harry a poisonous glance, then rallied with a determined expression on his face.

 

“As I tried to explain to Harry earlier,” Fred began firmly. “I really don’t want to spill the beans without Ginny here.  This affects her as much as it does anyone else here.”

 

“It’s very late, Fred.” Hermione remarked in surprise, glancing at her watch. “I expect she’s asleep.” 

 

“Then let’s wake her up.” Fred was adamant.  Harry got to his feet, sighing.

 

“Okay, I think you’ve made your point.  Someone lend me a broom - I’ll fly over to her flat, if you give me the address, and see if I can’t sneak her out without sourpuss Markland noticing.” 

 

“Not taken to him then?” Ron said in a light tone but with raised eyebrows.  He rose from his chair to accompany his friend.  Harry growled over his shoulder as they walked into the hallway.

 

“He’s a total pratt,” Harry responded succinctly. “And he’s got Ginny so messed up that she doesn’t trust her own judgment any more.” 

 

“Yep, that’s about the size of it,” Ron replied, nodding in agreement, “but try telling Ginny that - or rather, don’t, if you want to keep your equipment where it currently lives!”  Harry winced involuntarily.

 

With a malicious grin, Ron handed Harry a Firebolt out of the hall closet.  Harry glanced at it, smiling reminiscently as he opened the front door.

 

“That’s Ginny’s broom,” yelled Ron after him, casting a quick Everyday charm to protect him from Muggle eyes.  Harry sped away into the night.

 

~ooOoo~

 

Ginny and Markland had indeed retired for the night, but in different rooms.  Markland had given her a monumental dressing-down, firstly for being less than electric at the gig, and secondly for failing to go along with Samuel Stacey’s extremely suggestive ideas of what might help fix the deal, and thereby losing them the contract.  After shouting himself hoarse, Markland had retired to bed leaving Ginny watching late-night television and burying her troubles in a box of tissues.  She had used the last one and was beginning to feel just about cried out, when she heard a soft tapping at the window.  Easing the drapes to one side, Ginny clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a squeak as she beheld Harry standing on the balcony, holding her Firebolt in his hand.  He beckoned.  She unlocked the patio doors and stared.

 

“Come on,” Harry said. “We’ve having a council of war, and Fred won’t come clean until you’re there.”  Ginny turned huge, confused eyes on him.

 

“What council of war - what are you talking about?”

 

“The Temple this morning, silly, what do you think?”

 

“But - what does Fred know about it?”

 

“A lot, trust me.  Come on, let’s go.”

 

“But - but I’m scarcely dressed for it.” 

 

This was true.  A voluminous but sheer caftan, put on for ease and comfort when they arrived home, was all that covered her thin body.  Harry waved aside her concerns.

 

“Ron’s put an Everyday charm on the broomstick - I’ll just extend it to you.  Oh, and if you’re cold, hold on tight to me: I’ll keep you warm!”  Ginny actually blushed slightly, but did not give way.

 

“But what about David?  What’s he going to think if he wakes up and finds I’m not here?”

 

“What do you care?” Harry’s indifferent remark and cold tone cut through her like a knife. “He’s a grown man, Ginny: he can look after himself - very well, I suspect.  Now, come on!” 

 

Suddenly, Harry swept her into his arms, jumped aboard the Firebolt, and had kicked off from the ground before Ginny could utter any kind of protest.

 

Harry adored flying.  From the very first time he held a broomstick, he seemed to know instinctively what to do with it.  Harry’s own Firebolt had been lost two years before somewhere in the Himalayas.  He had yet to replace it, finding Porting and Apparating more suitable for his busy life, but he had never forgotten the sudden feeling of liberty, exhilaration and control over his own destiny.  Now, soaring above London in the certain knowledge that Muggles could neither see nor hear him, Harry exulted in the freedom of the skies, looping the loop, turning upside down, testing the capabilities of the broom with sudden, spectacular dives and pulling out of them just at the last moment.  He had almost forgotten the girl held tightly in his arms before him until he was circling high above St. John’s Wood, zeroing in on Harry’s House.  As they landed gently in the front garden, Harry looked anxiously into her face.

 

“I’m really sorry, Ginny,” Harry began. “I just didn’t think.  It’s been so long since I let off steam I’m afraid I rather overdid it.” 

 

To Harry's utter astonishment, Ginny smiled a wide, life’s-worth-living grin and impulsively kissed him on the cheek.  He felt himself redden slightly.

 

“Harry, you’re not Superman - and I’m not Lois Lane either!” Ginny told him. “Unlike her, I’m used to flying dangerously - or have you forgotten I was the Gryffindor seeker the year after you left?”  She stretched her arms high above her head.

 

“Oh, but that was marvellous!  I’d forgotten how much flying takes away all your everyday cares and hang-ups.  You look down over all that land, all those people, all those separate little lives and you realise just how small and insignificant your own problems really are!” 

 

She started for the door, put her face up close to the lion-shaped doorknocker and yelled “Galileo!!” at the top of her voice.  Instead of roaring in her face, it uttered a surprised little mew and opened the door in double quick time.  Helpless with laughter, Harry and Ginny staggered into the hall.

 

The revelations that awaited them in the West Room, however, were no laughing matter.

 

 

Author’s Notes

 

The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: this is a non-profit enterprise.  Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except the plot and David Markland, both of which belong to Penpusher.  Tribute to: Susan Cooper’s incomparable “The Dark is Rising” sequence for use of the “High Magic”; Dennis Wheatley for a plot device; and many, many other fanfiction writers whose works of all kinds and in very differing genres have been an immense inspiration to me.  The quotations used as chapter titles are too numerous to credit here.  Full details available on request, but Shakespeare and The Bible should yield most of them.

 

And all the thanks in the world to Becky (aka williara) for being a superb beta.

 

 

 

//
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