Chapter Two: All's Fair In
Love and War
"Know one false step is ne'er retrieved
Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize."
Thomas Gray: "Ode on the Death of
a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes"
Harry set out from the cool darkness of the Weasley's kitchen into
the blindingly bright sunshine of the day. It was glorious; he squinted
up at the sun shining high in the sky, the blueness sparsely dotted
with the tiniest freckles of clouds. Grinning happily at this reminder
of Ginny, he sped up, running down the garden and twisting his way round
the now familiar bushes. A sunbathing gnome shrieked in outrage as Harry
trod on his diminutive hat when he passed by. Harry barely slowed to
shout an apology over his shoulder, and saw the tiny potato-like creature
shaking his fist furiously at his retreating heels. He laughed in amusement,
and vaulted over the wooden fence into the meadow.
The long whispering grasses swayed hypnotically this way and that in
the breeze, like an undulating verdant sea, interspersed with brightest
red poppies as far as the ridge. He hurried onwards, ignoring the stalks
grasping at his legs as he passed, until he paused for breath beneath
the old gnarled oak tree, which stood dominating the valley. Ottery
St. Catchpole lay before him, curled up sleepily at the foot of the
steep hill on the opposite bank, but Harry paid no attention to the
pretty little village, with its windows glinting gold as they reflected
the sunlight. The river snaked across the valley floor, clumps of shady
trees overhanging the water, and his eyes surveyed the landscape, seeking
a very particular spot. Ginny had discovered this place of hers years
ago, right on the river bank itself, quiet and peaceful, and remarkably
safe from her brothers' teasing. He knew she'd be there.
Anticipation building, he plunged over the edge and ran, legs thudding
heavily against the gradient of the slope as he descended. Stealthily
he crept onwards beside the river itself, heart beating quickly as he
neared his goal. He could make out her vibrantly red hair through the
overhanging foliage, and shuffled slightly nearer, watching her carefully
and smiling to himself. She was reading and completely oblivious to
his presence. He had to admit she looked very comfortable there, reclining
part way along a branch of a very ancient tree, that stretched out low
above the water, before reaching upwards for sunlight. Her right leg
dangled casually downwards, naked toe touching the surface of the river,
creating little ripples as she moved.
A wide grin spread across his face. He tiptoed quietly forwards, and
steadily rounded the trunk of the tree, almost holding his breath in
expectation. A twig cracked under his careless foot, and startled, she
looked up, her russet hair dancing around her.
"Harry!" she yelled with delight, her face glowing with pleasure.
She scrambled quickly to her feet, and ran back down the branch to the
riverbank, throwing her arms around his neck. He hugged her tightly
and swung her round, his face hidden in her hair, never, never wanting
to let her go.
"I've missed you so much," he whispered, voice muffled
from where it was still buried.
"Tell me about it," she murmured. "It's only been four
weeks this time, but it's felt longer than ever."
He looked at her, unable to stop smiling, holding her tightly all the
while. He loved every bit of her, from the freckles scattered across
her nose to the enticing liquid pools of her brown eyes, where he felt
he could wallow for all eternity. She stretched up on tiptoes, and their
lips met, at first with a tingling gentleness. A wave of warm, welcoming
darkness washed over him, as he gave himself up to the sensation, kissing
her ever more deeply, his right hand tangled in the fiery depths of
They finally broke apart, and he gazed in awe at her, marvelling that
she could ever love him as much as she did. She simply grinned, and
led him by the hand back up to where she'd been sitting before he'd
disturbed her. She curled up beside him, and he leaned back against
the sturdiness of the tree, adoring the feel of her cradled in his arms.
This was perfect.
"Harry," she said thoughtfully, after an interlude of idle
banter. "I know we said we wouldn't, but do you ever think
about the future?" She twisted round a little to face him, and
wobbled precariously on the branch. Harry tightened his grip on her
before she tumbled into the river and kissed her forehead gently.
"Sometimes," he admitted. "I wonder what things might
be like without Voldemort to threaten us, what we could be doing in
ten years time. What do you think about?"
"Next year for a start," she said gloomily, swinging her
leg, and sending little droplets of water splashing from her toe to
the riverbank. "Supposing we get through this one in one piece,
that's a whole year we're going to have to spend apart after you've
finished at school, and these past four weeks have been torture enough.
I don't want that to happen, Harry."
"Owls just aren't the same, are they?" he said, smoothing
her wayward hair back from her face with his hand. "There's no
easy answer to that one, Gin."
"I know," she grumbled. "What are you going to do with
yourself after school anyway?" She chuckled and her eyes sparkled
with a little mischief. "Imagine, I could have a famous Quidditch
player as my boyfriend, or a world class Auror, or maybe even the next
Minister of Magic!"
"Not a chance," Harry laughed along with her. "I'm afraid
you're just going to have to put up with 'The famous Harry Potter.'"
His voice took on a serious tone as he added, "You know what it's
like, Ginny. I really can't see Voldemort leaving me alone for long
enough to do anything once I'm out of Hogwarts. It'll only be him and
me then, no Dumbledore around. He might not even leave it that long;
I'm seventeen tomorrow, which technically means I can meet him as an
adult wizard on his terms."
"I know," she whispered, fear showing in the darkness of
her eyes. She ran her hand thoughtfully down his cheek, sending a shiver
of pleasure down his spine. There was a pause before she spoke again
in a deceptively bright tone. "So what will we be doing in ten
years time, then?"
"Well, let me see," Harry leaned back again, pulling her
in closely to him. "I expect you'll have a new book of Muggle poems
by then, and I won't have any socks left at all."
She sat up and giggled, slapping him affectionately.
"No, seriously Harry!"
"I just want to be with you," he said simply, smiling at
her. "Nothing else matters."
"Really?" she whispered incredulously, her soft brown eyes
"Really," he assured her, smiling at her expression. "Where
do you want to be in a decade? Married with umpteen kids? A high flying
career as Poet Laureate of the wizarding world?"
"I wish I knew," she giggled at the image of herself in formal
regalia with such a serious position in life. "It'd be nice to
get married one day. Do you want to, Harry?"
"Is that a proposal?" he teased her, chuckling gently.
"No," she spluttered in a new wave of laughter. "I just
wondered, that's all; we've never talked about the future before. Do
you want a huge tribe of offspring and a life filled with arguments
over whose turn it is to do the washing up?"
"I'd like a family of my own at some point," he said slowly,
mulling the matter over in his mind. "I don't know. It's stupid,
I suppose, but it's something
something I've never had. Not really."
"That's not stupid, Harry," she said softly, leaning over
to kiss him.
The kiss caught him quite by surprise, the gentle warmth and love contained
within it reflected every bit of his own emotions for Ginny; yet there
was something more. A sense of passion and urgency were tangible, which
he recognised all too well, drawing him to her. Harry tried to force
his brain to think. A wave of desire swept over him as he instinctively
responded to her touch, bodies melting together. Fragmented thoughts
flitted through his mind; abductions into various Hogwarts broom cupboards
on the way to lessons
Ginny's confession at the end of term that,
unlike her brothers, she didn't mind much where he put his hands
and they'd talked about this before, hadn't they?
He pulled away sharply, and stared at her, heart pounding erratically
in his chest. They'd agreed this couldn't happen; Voldemort was too
much of a threat to her already. She ran her hands up to his shoulders
sending shivers of pleasure through him, stretching up to dissolve in
a kiss once more.
"Gin, no," his voice sounded slightly strangled. "We
" She looked at him directly with a mischievous glint
in her eye, and moved even closer, trailing kisses, her warm breath
brushing seductively at his skin.
"Stop it," he groaned, realising that there was no way he
could escape from her. "Ginny, come on. It's not funny."
He heard a low chuckle beside his ear, and realised she was doing this
to him quite deliberately. Pausing for a second, he knew it was time
for drastic action and there was only one way to go. He grinned wickedly
to himself. Gathering her swiftly in his arms, he hooked his legs tightly
round the branch for balance, and unceremoniously dropped her into the
There was a short squeak of surprise, followed by a loud splash. She
surfaced quickly, water streaming from her darkened red hair like a
seal. She shook her head, droplets of water flying everywhere, and regarded
him, wearing a half-amused expression, as she trod water.
"Has that cooled your ardour?" Harry grinned down at her.
She swam up to the branch and regarded him with enormous dark brown
eyes, showing a look of anguish that tugged painfully at his heartstrings.
Her arm reached out to him, and he guiltily leaned over to haul her
out, realising slightly too late what she was up to. A swift pull, and
he overbalanced, tumbling headfirst into the icy coldness of the water.
Soaked to the skin they struggled back to the bank, laughing uncontrollably.
Harry collapsed in a heap, trying to catch his breath, and pulled his
shoes off, ostentatiously draining the water they contained back into
the river. Ginny caught his eye, and grinned impishly at him, before
wringing water from her skirt, straggling hair dripping everywhere around
her. He saw her shiver in the slight breeze of the day, and quickly
got to his feet, clothes sticking unpleasantly to him.
"C'mon," he said, grabbing her books up from the ground,
and reaching for her hand. "We'd better get back, although how
we're going to explain this
?" He broke off, shook his head
at her and began laughing again.
"Well, I think we're just going to have to brazen it out,"
she chuckled. "The odds of us sneaking through our kitchen unnoticed
are pretty much nil, but if we're quick about it, at least we'll not
run into Fred and George.
Squelching their way back to the Burrow, Harry reflected that this
was possibly not the most romantic way to spend the afternoon with Ginny,
but it was good to be laughing for a change; there'd been little enough
of that in recent weeks. They slunk in through the back door, exchanging
glances of suppressed hilarity. Ginny pressed her finger to her lips,
and peered cautiously ahead. They were in luck; the place was unusually
deserted. Leaving a shining trail of water in their wake, they crept
through the kitchen and the hallway to the stairwell. The second from
bottom step creaked noisily as Harry trod on it, and they froze, hearts
beating nervously, listening carefully for movement. Nothing. Ginny
giggled softly, and they hurried up the stairs to the doorway of her
"Good luck," she whispered, pulling him close and kissing
him quickly. "Hope Ron's not up there. See you if you survive."
She grinned mischievously at him, and disappeared into her bedroom.
Harry groaned, and trudged soggily up the next flight of stairs towards
the eaves of the house and Ron's room, lured by the blissful thought
of dry clothing. The sound of raised voices in full torrent became audible
from within, and he paused with his hand on the doorknob, wondering
what he should do. He could hardly go back downstairs in this state,
the ghoul wasn't sounding too happy as he clanked around in the attic
above, and behind the door in front of him awaited a fate far, far worse
"I don't know what made you think that!" Hermione's voice
snapped. "I've never done anything of the sort and you know it!"
"That's not the point," Ron protested vehemently. "Hermione!"
"What?" she yelled furiously. "It's bad enough having
you saying all this stuff, but to actually believe it!"
"Well, it is true," Ron said, sounding surprisingly
certain of himself. "Isn't it?"
"How dare you!" she hissed, sounding angrier than Harry had
ever heard her before. "If this is how you think of me, well
well, I'm not sure there's any point in-"
"Will you listen, for once?" Ron interrupted furiously. "I've
thought about nothing else all summer, Hermione. This is driving me
mad." There was a pause, his voice softened and he added, "You
know how I feel about you, and that's not going to change, whatever
"I know," she said, sighing heavily. "And I feel the
same, but Ron
"I know you're right," he said, and Harry heard footsteps
crossing the room. "I s'pose I
I should've thought more about
what I said in that letter."
"It's not just that," she replied. Harry was relieved to
hear that her rage appeared to be subsiding as well. "What would've
happened if Pig had delivered it to the wrong person? You know what
"Yeah," Ron said bleakly. "You've made it pretty clear
what you think about the whole thing."
"No I haven't," her voice said, so softly Harry could barely
hear her. "Ron, I
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "I've really stuffed things
up, haven't I? I've been behaving like a real git."
"Not really," she chuckled, the tension evaporating. "A
lot of what you said was true. We'll talk more about it later, though.
Harry'll be back soon. You haven't forgotten it's his birthday tomorrow,
"Would I?" he protested sounding quite injured by the suggestion.
There was a gentle giggle from within and quietness followed.
Harry heaved a silent sigh of relief. Ron and Hermione argued regularly
enough, but it could get quite unpleasant, although it was generally
short lived. He crept down and then noisily thudded back up a few stairs
to give Ron and Hermione a chance to realise that he was there. It was
that Weasley temper, he reflected ruefully. Ron exploded easily, and
that was bad enough, but on the rare occasions when Ginny lost it, you
knew it was time to dive for cover and hope that you were eaten by a
mountain troll before she found you.
"Hi there," he called, as he pushed the door open, and walked
into the orange brilliance that Ron called his bedroom.
"Harry!" Hermione rushed over to hug him and stopped dead.
"You're all wet."
"Am I?" he said, trying to keep a straight face. "I
wonder how that could have happened. You know, I was so careful, but
sometimes these rivers come out of nowhere and just attack you."
"You upset Ginny, then?" Ron chuckled. "That was quick.
What did she do? Throw you in or something?"
"Something like that," Harry laughed, pulling his shoes back
off and sticking them on the windowsill to dry.
"You'll catch your death of cold if you stay in those wet things,"
Hermione said, sounding rather like Mrs Weasley for a second. "You
really should get changed."
" Harry began.
"Hermione!" Ron's shocked voice interrupted, and both boys
looked at her incredulously.
"Oh yes," she blushed and bit her lip. "I'll
I think I'll just go and see how Ginny's getting on, shall I? Yes, I
think that might be a very good idea. I'll
see you later,
then." Still looking rather embarrassed she edged out of the door,
and they heard her heading down the stairs.
"You two got things sorted out then?" Harry asked Ron, as
he peeled off layers of cold, sodden clothing. Ron stretched back on
his Chudley Cannons bedspread, and shrugged his shoulders at Harry.
"Who knows?" he said. "Anyway, dare I ask what you've
been doing to my little sister to deserve being chucked in the river?"
"Threw her in first," Harry laughed, quickly rubbing himself
dry with a towel.
right," Ron said, looking slightly bewildered by
the explanation. "Yes, I think that would probably explain a lot."
He paused, clearly thinking about the incident and shook his head. "I'm
not going to ask. It's probably best if I don't know."
"She can't have pinched my socks already!" Harry exclaimed
suddenly, rummaging through his trunk for a dry pair. "It's impossible.
She was down by the river when I got here, and she's not been up since
we got back. How does she do it?"
"Bribery and corruption," Ron grinned over at him. "She
is a Weasley after all!"
The evening was drawing on, mellow sunlight casting a warm glow around
the three figures in the living room, whilst the wireless in the corner
was playing soft music from the Wizarding Wireless Network. Harry was
engaged in a game of chess with Ron, and was losing badly, his chessmen
casting him baleful glares and arguing with him about his every move.
Ginny was sprawled over an armchair, half-reading and half-laughing
at Harry's inept efforts.
"No, use the pawn, Harry. That one, over there," she gesticulated
at it and chuckled as it waved back to her. "Don't move the bishop,
or he's got a direct line of attack."
"Hey!" Ron protested, throwing a cushion at his sister. "Let
him lose on his own. He doesn't need you to help him."
The door swung open and Hermione wandered in, looking a lot happier
than Harry had seen her earlier in the day. Ron grinned up at her and
shuffled over to make room for her. She surveyed the game of chess carefully.
"Aren't you going to move your bishop?" she asked Harry,
curiously, seeing his hand hovering beside the pawn. "It means
you can take that pawn next turn."
"That's my girl!" Ron beamed at her, whilst Ginny choked.
Suddenly their attention was distracted by a crackle from the radio,
before the clear, precise tones of the WWN newsreader wafted across
the airwaves. Harry saw Ron look quickly at Ginny, and both of their
faces became instantly grave.
"Disturbing new developments have stunned the entire wizarding
community, as the grip of He Who Must Not Be Named appears to be tightening.
Perseus Appleby, a researcher within the Ministry of Magic, was killed
by Death Eaters in the early hours of this morning. Appleby had been
engaged in consolidating the confining spells on some of the more dangerous
magical creatures, and his death has lead to breakdowns in the network
of protective spells. Although at this point in time it is impossible
to know the full extent of the damage, a chimaera attacked a group of
Muggle tourists near Carlisle and other allies of the Dark Lord are
still at large. The Minister of Magic has refused to comment on today's
events, but his spokesman recommended that the curfew, that was established
last week, is maintained for security reasons."
Harry stared at Ron, his throat suddenly so dry it felt like sandpaper.
"What's been going on?" he croaked, leaping to his feet,
his breathing slightly unsteady and legs trembling beneath him. "Why
hasn't anyone been telling me all this?"
"It's bad, Harry," Ron said bleakly, looking more anxious
than ever. "These last four weeks things have been getting worse.
Dementors coming across from Azkaban to feed on emotions, or worse,
every time they feel like it; giants attacking some people in the North;
and the Death Eaters
well, you know what they're like."
"They've recommended we're all locked in our homes by six every
evening," Ginny explained, looking rather white. "Most of
the serious incidents happen late at night. We didn't tell you, because
you were safe with the Dursley's. If we had told you
Her voice trailed off, and Harry's heart melted as he looked at her
"It's OK, Ginny," he said softly. "I understand."
"What are The Ministry of Magic trying to do about it?" Hermione
"I don't think they know," Ron said, getting up from the
floor. "Dad should be back any minute, and he'll probably be able
to tell us what's really happened today. He's at the office every second
he can be right now, even gets called out sometimes after curfew, and
you can imagine how Mum feels about that."
Noise was emanating from the kitchen; pots and pans were thudding and
crashing far harder than was usual, and Harry followed Ron to see what
was happening. Mrs Weasley was rummaging through cupboards and slammed
a large metal pot onto the stove with a resounding clang.
"Mum?" Ginny pushed past and hurried over to her. "What
is it? Here, let me do that." She knelt down and started to stack
things tidily back on the shelf.
"Look at the time," Mrs Weasley moaned, waving her wand vaguely
at the potatoes, which scrambled across the bench and dropped into the
sink. "They should have been back by now. All of them should."
"They've got ten minutes yet, Mum," Ron said reassuringly,
moving her towards a chair. "That's loads of time when you're Apparating."
"Did you hear that news report?" she said, her voice rising
in panic. "They should be home."
A sudden popping noise heralded the arrival of Fred and George at the
opposite side of the kitchen.
"What's for dinner?" Fred said cheerfully. "Mum! Not
again!" he protested, as he was almost bowled over by his mother
enveloping first him, then his twin in massive hugs.
"I think she just likes strangling us," George commented,
massaging his throat. "Diagon Alley's still safe, you know Mum.
It's probably one of the best protected places in England."
"Just because it was yesterday, doesn't mean to say it is today,"
she snapped, wiping her eyes. "Anything could have happened."
Another pop and Percy arrived, narrowly missing landing on Hermione,
closely followed by a very weary-looking Mr Weasley.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Mrs Weasley cried. "Arthur, what
has been going on today?"