The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella and Zsenya (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: After the End  Chapter: Chapter Twenty: Charms, and Other Subjects
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Ginny's First Lesson/Ron and Harry House

A/N: Thanks to Jedi Boadicea for writing "Job Hazards", and giving us such a clear picture of Bill in Egypt.  Sand Wraiths belong to her (Sphynxes are part of popular mythology, but we used her spelling and had her history in mind.)

And thanks to Moey, for giving the baby a perfect middle name.

This story is dedicated to Old Man Pants…

~*~

Chapter Twenty

Charms, and Other Subjects

~*~

 

Ginny woke early on her first day of lessons, wondering how on earth she was supposed to concentrate on school.  It was so strange: she had done everything in her power to get out of spending a year at the Burrow, and she'd been looking forward to her lessons with Remus since he'd first offered to teach her, but today, the only place she wanted to be was home.  She rolled over quickly and fumbled on her bedside table for the little Muggle photograph that she had taken the day before with Hermione's instant camera.  She hadn't asked to use it, but there had been no time to owl Hermione for permission - and anyway, it had been a real emergency. Ginny grinned at the wrinkled, sleepy little face that sat still in the funny-looking photo, and began making little cooing noises.  Percival Leander Weasley was the most gorgeous baby in the world, and a very proud Aunt Ginny studied his tiny features for a long time.  She wondered if Remus would mind putting off classes for another day or two.  She wanted to go back to Ottery-St. Catchpole and hold the baby again, he'd been so warm and soft and funny, and the whole family had been in a fit over him.  Even Penelope had smiled and laughed, and it was the first time that Ginny had heard laughter from her sister-in-law since before the memorial service.  Yesterday, it had almost seemed that Percy was just in the next room, so often had his name been mentioned. 

 

Ginny got out of bed and dressed quickly, trying as she always did to shake off thoughts of Percy before they could overwhelm her.  She tucked the photograph of Little Percy into the pocket of her old black work robes, tied her hair into a neat tail, and for the first time felt a bit anxious about her lessons.  Although it was true that Remus had been informally instructing her most of the summer, he had insisted upon treating the official tutorials as though they were both back at Hogwarts.  Ginny gathered her books and looked wistfully around the room, her eyes sweeping over the bed once occupied by Hermione, and wondered what it would have been like if Hogwarts were open this year.  Although, after all that had happened, she wasn't sure if she could have handled a return to school.  This was better than Hogwarts, she reminded herself, because Harry, Ron and Hermione would all have graduated anyway, and she would have felt alone without them.

 

Downstairs, Ginny was very surprised to see Remus, Sirius, Ron, and even Harry sitting around the table, eating breakfast.  They all paused and looked up at her when she entered, and they were all dressed - except for Ron, who was still in his pajamas.  His eyes were only half open, although he did attempt to say "Good morning!"

 

"What's going on?" she asked suspiciously.  Hands on her hips, she turned to Ron. "I thought you were staying over at home.  Why are you awake?"  He looked at her blankly, as though wondering the same thing himself, so she turned to Sirius instead. "Why aren't you at work already?" she demanded.

 

"There's gratitude for you," laughed Sirius.

 

Ron ran one large hand through his hair, making his head resemble a flaming porcupine, and sighed dramatically.  "I climb out of bed at the crack of dawn -"

 

"Quarter to nine in the morning is not the crack of dawn," Ginny interrupted.

 

Ron continued; "- the crack of dawn, in order to make you feel loved on your first day of school, so you won't have to eat in the Great Hall all by yourself..."

 

"Oh," said Ginny, flattered, and she finally slid into a chair at the table and set her book bag down. "All right then."  She picked up a piece of toast and began pulling the crusts off of it, then realized something.  "Did you Apparate here like that?" she demanded, pointing to Ron's pajamas.

 

He looked down at himself.  "What?  I'm covered."

 

Ginny huffed.  "Ron!  You could get splinched, and then you'd be half naked, stuck somewhere with everyone staring at you."

 

Ron snorted.  "You sound like Hermione," he muttered, and then let out a small, involuntary sigh, quite unlike the dramatic one he'd used earlier. 

 

"She owled, didn't she?" Harry asked.  "What'd she say?  How's she doing?"

 

Ron's ears flushed slightly.  "Yeah, she wrote," he said, looking uncomfortable.  "She said... well, you know, it was mostly personal, but I could show you the part about..."

 

Harry swallowed a bite of cereal so quickly that he almost choked.  "No, never mind," he said in a rush.  "I'm sure she'll write to the rest of us."

 

Ginny watched as Sirius and Remus both hid their grins in their juice glasses. After a few minutes of everyone quietly munching away at their breakfasts, Remus pushed back his chair. "Now, if you all will excuse me," he said, "I have a few items to prepare before my pupil arrives."  He shot Ginny a smile. 

 

Sirius wiped his mouth and stood as well.  "I'll come out with you, Moony," he said, grinning. "I've got to be off.  Good luck at school, Ginny.  Don't let the professors boss you, they're just a bunch of sad old codgers."

 

Ron and Harry sniggered, and Remus pursed his mouth at Sirius in a manner so like McGonagall's that Ginny had to laugh. 

 

Ron left the table soon after, clearing the dishes away as he went, as if by habit.  "That's a good barkeep," Harry harassed him, when he came back and ran a rag across the table with his wand.  Ron flicked his wand sharply, making the rag fly up at Harry's face, but Harry caught it deftly before it could smack him, and sent it back into the kitchen.  "Hey," he said suddenly, "are you still planning to look around later?  Should we check the paper and all?"

 

Ron shrugged.  "Probably."

 

"For what?" Ginny asked at once.

 

Ron ignored her question.  "I'm going back to bed," he announced with a yawn, and left the room.

 

Ginny turned back to Harry, who was the only person that didn't seem to have anywhere to be.  He watched Ron leave, then sat absentmindedly swirling his pumpkin juice around in the glass.  "What's Ron looking for?" she asked him.

 

Harry shrugged.  "A flat, I think."

 

"For him?"

 

"For both of us."

 

Ginny's heart sank, but she tried not to show it.  "Sirius will miss you," she said lightly.

 

Harry set down his glass and looked keenly at her.  He pushed up his glasses.  "I wouldn't mind staying here," he said quietly.  "But I think Ron wants to prove to your mum and dad that he can manage on his own.  I think he wants to prove it to Hermione, as well."

 

Ginny felt a thrill course through her, as she did every time that she found herself having a real conversation with Harry.  He was right about Ron, and she wasn't sure why, but his insight surprised her - possibly because he so rarely shared his insights.  "Where's he going to look for a place?" she asked.  "Far off, I imagine, if he's trying to prove something.  London?"  She hoped she sounded natural.  The thought of Harry being out of reach - especially now that he was going to work at Azkaban- made her feel cold.

 

"No, I told him I want to stay close."  Harry didn't take his eyes from hers.  "I like it here, I don't want to live in the city."

 

"Here - you mean, you want to stay in Stagsden?"

 

"If we can find a place, then yeah.  Stagsden."

 

"Good."  The word was out before Ginny could help it.  She blushed a little, but didn't want to be the first to look away, and Harry's gaze didn't falter.  She found herself studying the color of his eyes behind the flash of his glasses. 

 

"Nervous?" he asked, after a moment.

 

Ginny frowned, puzzled.  "About?"

 

"School."

 

"Oh.  Right."  She grinned.  "A little," she admitted. "I'm mostly afraid that Remus is going to regret offering to teach me." She laughed at herself. 

 

Harry, however, looked serious.  "You're going to know more than all of us soon. We didn't have an entirely proper education in our seventh year.  I almost wish I could study again as well."

 

"So study with me," Ginny said rashly.  "Write Charlie, tell him you take it all back, tell him you want to quit and go back to school.  I'm sure Remus wouldn't mind another student, and you shouldn't be at Azkaban."

 

"Ginny..." Now Harry did look down at his plate.  They hadn't discussed the dragon riding since she had announced her intention of joining him at Azkaban, if he went.  There hadn't been time to talk; there had been Penny, and little Percy, and school to get ready for.  It was time, Ginny realized, to finish the conversation.

 

"Please don't do it."

 

He flinched slightly, and did not look back up at her.  "Come on, it won't be that bad," he tried.

 

"Not that bad?"  Ginny fought to keep her voice down; she could feel it trying to rise.  "Harry, it's an evil place.  And those... things... are evil."

 

"I know.  That's why somebody has to keep them there."

 

"Why does it have to be you?"

 

Harry looked up and smiled thinly.  "I don't know."  Absently, he pushed his fringe back, revealing his scar, and Ginny thought briefly that the answer to her question was right there, on his forehead.  "I asked Dumbledore that, once," he said, almost to himself.  "Fifth year."

 

"What was his answer?" Ginny asked, very quietly, but Harry only shook his head.

 

"You should be getting ready for class, shouldn't you?"

 

Ginny glanced up at the clock - nearly nine.  She picked up her book bag and held it in her lap.  "I meant what I said about coming up there," she said. 

 

"I know," Harry replied.  "I heard you talking to your dad about it yesterday and he said there's no chance in hell he'll ever allow you."

 

Ginny felt color flood into her cheeks.  He'd been listening to her.  "So what?" she countered, standing up and throwing her bag over her shoulder.  "I'll figure something out.  Anyway, I'd like to see what it's all about, working with dragons."

 

Harry didn't answer.  He just pointed to her pocket.  "Something's falling out."

 

It was the little photograph of Leo.  The twins had started calling the baby that almost as soon as he'd arrived.  "It's sort of short for Leander," George had said, plucking him out of Fred's arms.  "And he's our little lion, aren't you mate?  Roar for Uncle George."  "Practically guarantees him a spot in Gryffindor, too," Fred had teased, giving Penelope a peck on the cheek.  "Wouldn't want him ending up in Ravenclaw with all the swotty prefects!"   The whole family had taken to the nickname right away - it was easier than calling him "Percy", which would have been quite painful, and Penelope had seemed grateful to George for coming up with it. 

 

Little Leo.  Ginny looked at him, and everything else seemed to go away for a moment.  His little eyes were scrunched in sleep and his tiny pink mouth was perfect.  He even had the beginning wisps of fine red hair.  "Just look," she said to Harry, holding out the picture with as much pride as she'd ever felt.  "Isn't he lovely?"

 

Harry took the picture as carefully as if it were Leo himself and Ginny giggled in spite of her irritation with dragons and Azkaban and Harry's general stubbornness.  "You can hold the picture normally, Harry, it's not the baby.  You can even drop it, if you like," she teased, remembering how awkward he'd been with the tiny, breathing bundle.

 

"That's not funny - I really almost dropped him!"

 

"Oh, please.  When have you ever dropped anything?"  She held out her hand for the picture, and Harry turned it over.  "I have to go to class," she said importantly.  "See you at lunch."

 

"What's first?"

 

"Oh, I don't know.  Potions?"  Ginny shrugged.  "I haven't got my schedule yet."

 

"You won't have any classes with Slytherin," Harry said, sounding jealous.

 

Ginny laughed at his tone.  "True, but then again, I don't really get to be a Gryffindor."

 

Harry looked up at her.  "Oh, go on.  You're the entire Gryffindor seventh year class."

 

"And the prefect, and the Head Girl, and the Quidditch Team Captain."

 

"Not for long.  You're late.  Professor Lupin'll revoke all your titles and have you scrubbing the Owlery.  Hedwig's cage could use it, I'm telling you."

 

Realizing that she was, in fact, late for her first class, Ginny hurried from the room, lightly swatting Harry's shoulder as she went.  As if he'd anticipated this reaction, he reached for her hand as she touched him, and she felt his fingers pull slightly against hers.  With the tingle of contact still running up her arm, Ginny disappeared into the study that was to be her castle for the rest of the year.

 

~*~

 

Remus stood behind the wide desk in his study, looking at the clock and smirking.  Ginny was late.  He remembered her at age twelve - always a very attentive student, always bright and alert and cooperative, but very nearly always the last straggler to come through the door - and apparently things had not changed.  While he waited for her, he checked things over once more; he had the teacher's guide spellbooks, several extra rolls of parchment, and objects for demonstrations laid out before him.  A chalkboard was now hanging on the wall at his back, next to a portrait of Remus's great-grandfather, which shimmered as the old man's breathing fluttered his moustache.  Near the window, Remus had hung a lunar chart, and his eyes flickered across its white crescents and orbs.  It was a little over two weeks until the next full moon.  Ginny would have to begin the potion again quite soon - he hoped that she would not come to regret her decision to give him so much assistance.  It would eat up quite a lot of her life, until she got the hang of it.  Snape had been able to do it in his sleep, but then, he'd been a genius.

 

The door banged open and Ginny stood in it, her face flushed as she fought not to smile.  "Sorry!" she said breathlessly.  "Harry wouldn't shut up!"

 

"Oh, that's right, blame me," Harry yelled from down the hall.  Ginny grew a bit redder, and her smile got the better of her.

 

"We were talking about Leo," she apologized, holding up a snapshot of her new nephew.  "I got overexcited.  Really, I won't be late again."  A smaller desk had been set up to face Remus's, and Ginny slid into the chair, letting her book bag clatter to the ground beside her.  "Right," she said, tucking away the baby's picture, and pulling out parchment and ink.  "What's first?" 

 

Remus looked at her before answering, taking in her blush, her grin, the way her eyes kept darting towards the door, and the oddly askew appearance of her rather tidy ensemble.  Her Hogwarts work robes bore a faded Gryffindor crest, and Remus's eyes lingered on it.  She was the whole of Hogwarts, this year, and she was most certainly a Gryffindor. 

 

"Without house points," he said, meeting her eyes, "I can't think of how to reprimand you for making me wait.  But let's just say that there are plenty of detentions to do around this house, and I won't hesitate to dole them out if I have to."  He smiled.  "I know it's not exactly formal, with just the two of us, but we ought to respect each other's time as much as we can.  We have a lot to get through.  All right?"

 

Ginny nodded, looking less like she'd just come from flirting with Harry, and more like a properly abashed seventh year.  Remus strained not to laugh.  How odd it was to treat Ginny like a student, when she already knew more than he ever would about her most important talents.  "Here," he said, holding out a scroll,  "I've drawn up a schedule - have a look and see if it's agreeable.  We can change it around as we go, but I thought it would be a good idea to keep with what you've been used to."

 

Ginny's eyes scanned the timetable, and she gave a squeal of delight.  "Astronomy at midnight on Tuesdays!" she cried, looking up at Remus.  "Thank you."  Her eyes clouded briefly.  "But it's... going to be so weird, without Emily.  We were partners in that class.  And Andrew always needed help with... but never mind."  She shook herself and looked back down at her schedule.

 

Remus watched her, his heart heavy for her sake.  He tried to imagine what it would have been like to have missed his seventh year at Hogwarts.  Seventh year had come for them during terribly dark times, but all he remembered now were the joys he'd felt.  After he had finally forgiven Sirius for having told Snape how to get underneath the Whomping Willow, the rest of that year had been amazing.  James and Lily had become engaged.  They, and Sirius, had begun their applications for the Department of Mysteries.  Peter had started trying to get apprenticeships lower in the Ministry.  Remus had been barred from all of that by his lycanthropy, but Sirius and James, and even Peter, had spent the whole year making that up to him with more excitement than it was legal to experience - the Marauders had caused more damage to the school in that year than in the other six combined.  They'd had their best romps in the Forbidden Forest, James had played his best Quidditch, and though they had got the map confiscated, it hadn't been long after when they'd received news that had wiped their childish concerns away completely.  Albus Dumbledore had approached them, and Lily, separately, and asked them to join a resistance movement that had led them to the Order of the Phoenix.  Seventh year had changed their lives.

 

"Herbology," Ginny muttered, "Charms, Ancient Runes - oh, I never signed up for that on my own, do I have to? - Transfiguration, Arithmancy, History of Magic... well, you won't bore me to sleep, anyway... Care of Magical Creatures - oh, thanks for not putting Divination on here - and Defense Against the Dark Arts."  She looked up.  "Do I really need Defense class, at this point?" she asked quietly.

 

Remus nodded, and remembered what Alastor Moody had once told him.  It had turned out to be all too true.  "Evil doesn't leave, Ginny.  It just gets weaker for awhile.  In your lifetime, you may experience the defeat of another Dark -"

 

"Fine," she interrupted, and looked back down at her schedule.  "Why does it say that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at two o'clock are to be announced?"

 

"Because I'm about to announce a new class."

 

"New!"  Ginny gaped at him.  "But there are already a million classes here!  What did you do, ask Hermione what the seventh year schedules are like?  She takes extra classes for fun, you can't trust her."

 

Remus just smiled.  "You might change your mind when I tell you what it is."

 

Ginny looked unconvinced, but curious.  "Well then?" she prodded, when Remus did not continue.

 

He picked up a thick textbook and turned it over in his hands.  "Ginny, have you ever heard of Empathic Magic?"

 

She frowned, as if trying to remember.  "I... don't think so."

 

"All right.  But you know what empathy is."

 

"Sure."  She shrugged.  "To feel what someone else is feeling, right?  Or like, to identify with someone.  Should I get a dictionary?"

 

"No, that's fine."  He watched her carefully, feeling rather excited.  It was wonderful, teaching- it gave him a kind of high to watch a face light up with sudden understanding, as he knew Ginny's was about to.  "Do you remember the first day that you helped me in the garden this summer?  We were planting the pumpkin seeds and you were able to tell automatically that the last three wouldn't grow.  You told me they were dead, and I asked you how you knew."

 

"I didn't know," Ginny said.  "I still don't.  Is that Empathic Magic?  I can tell if plants are dead?"

 

A small smile formed around Remus's mouth, and he looked at her warmly and shook his head. "That's a tiny fraction of what I believe you are able to do."  He set the book on her desk, perched on the edge of his own, and continued.  "I think you naturally sense plant auras. It's one of the many indicators of Empathic Magic."

 

Ginny stared down at the book: dark, frayed leather with the words Empathy in Sorcery, A Complete History and Guide stamped in gold on its cover.  "Oh," she said.  Her voice was quite small.  "So... why don't we learn this at Hogwarts?  Is it just not terribly important, or..."

 

"The reason that Empathic Magic isn't taught at Hogwarts is that there is no reason to train a person who does not carry the ability.  It would be like training a Muggle in witchcraft - all the knowledge in the world can't make up for lack of natural power."

 

"Oh."  Her voice was even smaller.  "So... not everyone can sense plant auras."

 

"There's more to it than plants," began Remus, assuming his professorial voice and finding that it came effortlessly back to him. "You've heard of mental health mediwizards, of course.  There are several at St. Mungo's - highly trained specialists who do all they can to help those whose minds and emotions have been addled.  General mediwizards, as you know, concentrate on healing the physical body. Madam Pomfrey, for example, is an excellent nurse, and I imagine she can heal nearly everything."

 

"Not madness or death," Ginny said under her breath.

 

"No one can turn back death, and no one has been able to cure madness, that's true.  But for everything else, there are intelligent witches and wizards in our medical community, trying to keep everyone sane and healthy.  Yes?"

 

Ginny nodded and ran her fingers across the gold lettering of her book. "Yes."

 

"They must be trained.  They work through potions and salves and charms and counseling.  They work to find out where the invisible problems of the mind and body lie, and from the outsides of these problems, they work to remedy them.  Still with me?"

 

"Mm-hmm.  But Remus- and I don't mean to cut you off," Ginny said, taking her fingers from the book and looking apologetic.  "But I should tell you that I don't think I'd make much of a mediwizard.  I'm just not the type.  I couldn't study that long, and it's not quite me, you know?  Cutting people open, or regrowing bones, or whatever... no."

 

Remus held up a hand.  "Let me finish.  There are some things that medicine can't heal.  Students of Empathic Magic do not become mediwizards - they become what are called Healers.  They require no training of the sort you're worrying about - all of the ability is natural.  It's in you, Ginny.  You are a Healer, right now.  I'm almost positive.  Do you remember what we talked about that day in the garden?  Before the seeds?"

 

"Erm..." Ginny screwed her eyes shut tightly for a moment, then jumped slightly in her seat, gripped the desk with her hands and opened her eyes.  "We were talking about your... transformations," she said, almost inaudibly.  "I'm dizzy."

 

"Why?  What just happened?" Remus asked, crouching down in front of her.

 

"Nothing."

 

"Come on, Ginny.  I saw you jump.  What did you feel?"

 

She looked at him warily.  "I don't know," she said.  "I think it's just that I have to make the potion again soon."

 

"Why do you have to?  Explain it to me again."

 

"Because..." she avoided his eyes.  "You're in a lot of pain.  Mostly it's in your mind, but it's physical, too."

 

"What happens if you don't make the potion?"

 

"I feel sick."

 

"Turn to page twenty-four and read aloud from the second paragraph."

 

Looking glad to have something to concentrate on, Ginny flipped the book open and found her page.  "Healers often discover their abilities by accident, always after having been through a traumatic experience, and usually after having spent a length of time in close proximity to a plant, animal or person who requires Empathic assistance.  The novice Healer will find him or herself working steadily to prevent the plant, animal or person in question from feeling pain.  Especially if the Healer's subject is human, he or she is likely to become physically ill whenever not engaged in some form of healing process, makeshift as it may be.  Novice Healers may find themselves suddenly capable of levels of magic that were previously far beyond their skills.  If no one present recognizes the phenomenon, the novice Healer will often spend his or her entire life devoted to a person whose pain is so intense that it requires constant attention, unaware that this devotion is a product of Empathic Magic."

 

Ginny stopped reading.  She looked pale and drawn. 

 

"Sound familiar?" Remus asked gently.

 

She nodded, but did not look up.

 

"Read just a little further, if you can."

 

Ginny drew a shaking breath.  "Healers are born, not made," she read unsteadily, "but the study of Empathic Magic requires a level of maturity that is not usually found in anyone younger than thirty-five or forty, and most students do not realize their gifts before that time.  There have been younger Healers, but they are the rarest of rare.  The reason for this is simple: in order to awaken sufficiently to the vibrations of pain in those around them, Healers must have experienced a good deal of pain themselves - both physical and emotional.  More often than not, a person born with the Empathic gift will live a relatively happy life, and never awaken to his or her ability to Heal.  Traumatic experiences are necessary awakenings for those who are gifted with Empathic Magic.  However, if a traumatic experience is strong enough, it will create a powerful chain reaction in the dormant Healer, allowing his or her gifts to rise to the surface.  Painful experiences in early adolescence are the most successful in awakening Empathic gifts.  The youngest Healer on record had the terrifying experience of being possessed -" Ginny broke off, sounding very close to tears.

 

"That's enough."  Remus had been crouched in front of her desk all the time she had been reading; now he stood and went to his own seat.  "That's quite enough."  He waited through a long pause, organizing his own thoughts and papers, giving her a chance to speak first.

 

"So I'm a Healer."  It was no longer a question.   "Whatever that means."

 

"It means that you have the ability to sense or intuit a person's ailment or condition, either physical or mental."

 

"Great.  So I can feel a lot of pain."

 

"Yes," Remus said, hoping he could make her see past that burden to appreciate what a gift her talent really was.  "You can feel it - tangibly, in the air.  Can't you?  And sometimes you might be able to see it - it might have colors, or shapes.  It might feel like knots in the air that need untying."  He studied Ginny as he spoke; her face grew more and more bewildered as he put words to the things he knew she must have been very confused about for a long time.  "You might be moved to touch someone, just to lay your hands on their head or heart.  You might feel weights around people, or see dark places, and feel that you have the ability to create a kind of light."

 

"How... do you know?" she finally said.  "That's exactly... Can you do it, too?"

 

"No.  Everything I just said came from that book." 

 

Ginny glanced down at the book as if it were going to bite her, then looked away from its open pages and gazed out the window.

 

"After the experience in the garden, I started watching you more closely.  I noticed that when people were feeling unhappy, or unsettled, that you often became pensive, sometimes even trance-like.  It's most evident - well.  Can I be perfectly honest?  I don't mean to be too personal."

 

Ginny gave a rather sarcastic laugh.  "I think it's too late for that."

 

Remus met her eyes.  "All right.  What I've noticed is that your Empathy is most evident around Harry.  It makes sense, you see.  He's been through quite a lot, you may feel naturally drawn to help him."

 

It was a long time before Ginny spoke, and when she did, she changed the subject entirely.   "I've never heard of a Healer," she said flatly.  "If it's such a bizarre study, you'd think we'd at least be taught what they are.  Mum or Dad would've mentioned something about it."

 

"There hasn't been a Healer since before Grindelwald's defeat.  There is usually one mature, trained Healer in the world at a time.  There were two, in 1938, which was very interesting.  But they were both casualties of Grindelwald's army, and we lost them."

 

"What happened to them?"

 

"They were abducted for their ability to Heal naturally, without a mediwizard's facilities or tools.  Very useful in restoring Dark wizards to the ranks."

 

"Then why were they killed?"

 

Remus sighed.  She certainly asked all the difficult questions right away.  "It is believed," he admitted, "that they took their own lives, rather than contribute to Grindelwald's continued rise."

 

To his surprise, Ginny merely nodded.  "Well, that makes sense."  She looked at her book again, this time with the ghost of determination.  "Am... I the only one?"

 

"I think so.  I wish there were someone to train you who knew better than I do."

 

She waved him off.  "Will I be able to help people like - people who were hurt in the war?  People who've suffered?"

 

"You do it all the time, without realizing it.  You do it with Harry.  And look how you've helped me already - and with study and practice, your abilities will get stronger.  You'll become able to control them, use them freely, experiment with what can be done."

 

"Hermione's parents?" Ginny demanded suddenly.  "Will I be able to wake them?"

 

Remus's eyebrows shot up.  He hadn't thought of that.  "I... don't want to get your hopes up on that score.  We've discussed the finality of death and madness.  But short of those two extremes, I think you might experiment with all kinds of things that have never been done."

 

"Could I stop you being a werewolf?"

 

Remus had to work not to show his shock at the question, and yet, even as he knew that his condition was irrevocable, he pushed down an incredible desire.  There would be no harm in letting her try... and perhaps when she was older, and had more experience... But that was all a long, long way in the future, and he had to accept that, even if she made such efforts, they would fail.  There had been werewolves for thousands of years, and Healers for the same length of time.  Some things simply were.

 

"I think it's probably fitting," he answered lightly, "to class lycanthropy with madness and death."  He laughed a little.  "Oh, don't frown like that, come on.  I can joke about it, you know."

 

But Ginny didn't smile.  "When I've studied, and I know what I'm doing, then what... I mean, will I just go about, helping people?" she asked.  "Wander all over?"

 

"You want to know if you'll be gainfully employed?"  Remus grinned at her.  "Oh, you'll have more to do than you'll be able to handle.  You'll join Sirius in the world of those who never sleep.  From page sixty-four, I believe - 'The witch or wizard who is known to be Empathic is often sought after and admired to help find cures, counter-spells, and solutions to problems ranging from marital woes to the running of governments.'"

 

"Governments!  I could help Dad."

 

"You could do a lot of things.  To start with, however, you can read through page seventy tonight as your homework assignment.  It's time to move on to our first lesson of the year, which is Charms."

 

"What?" Ginny sounded flabbergasted.  "How can I study Charms, when I've got this?"  She picked up the book and shook it.  "I have questions!"

 

"Then the second part of your homework assignment will be to write out any questions that are not answered by your reading assignment.  We will discuss all of it tomorrow at - " Remus looked down at the timetable. "Two o'clock, when you have your first lesson in that subject.  Now, pull your wand.  We'll spend the morning going over some sixth year Charms as a warm-up."

 

Ginny pulled her wand, but very slowly, her eyes skimming ravenously back and forth the pages of the book on her desk. 

 

"Ginny.  Put the book away."

 

With a plaintive sigh and a grudging thunk!, Ginny set the book on the floor and rolled up her sleeves.  "Yes, Professor Lupin," she said, her tone mimicking what it had been in second year.

 

"You know, I've missed that title."  Remus smiled serenely at his pupil.  "I like it.  From now on, in the classroom, I'm Professor Lupin to you."

 

Ginny rolled her eyes, and Remus laughed.  The school year had finally begun.

 

~*~

 

Ron was very busy procrastinating when his sister and Remus entered the kitchen at lunchtime.  He was now fully awake and dressed and had spent the late morning looking at his snapshot of Leo, thinking about Percy, and deciding that the Weasleys were universally good looking.  After that, he'd decided to clean his room and cook a stew rather than look for a flat, as he'd decided to do earlier.  More than anything else, however, he was avoiding thoughts of his upcoming trial.  He'd acted a lot braver than he really felt, when Hermione had still been in the room.  But now she was gone to some rock in the middle of the sea, and he was feeling nauseated at the idea of defending himself in court.

 

"Here," he said, distracting himself by doling out servings of stew for Remus and Ginny.  Remus thanked Ron, and then excused himself to go and eat in the "staff room" so that the students could "say all sorts of nasty things about the teacher behind his back."  He took his stew upstairs.

 

Ginny, however, refused lunch.  She sat down at the dining table with an enormous book, which she proceeded to open and read as if her life depended on it.

 

"Here," Ron tried again, offering Ginny's untouched bowl to Harry, who had wandered into the kitchen.

 

"Thanks," said Harry, and settled in the chair beside Ginny's.  "What class is this for?" he asked her quietly, tapping the page with his finger.

 

"A new one," Ginny answered curtly, but Ron noticed that she took Harry's fingers and moved them off of the book with one hand in order to turn the page with the other, and that afterward, Harry didn't bother to move his hand out of hers.  Their fingers remained touching, and Ron stared for just a second before getting a grip on himself.  It was weird, seeing the two of them so comfortable, but it was all right.  He'd get used to it... eventually.

 

"Another one done," came a victorious shout from the hallway.  "Thomas Ixion - guilty.  His wife Celeste - innocent of the Unforgiveables, but she's going to be fined heavily and they've placed her accounts under observation until further notice."  Sirius strode into the kitchen, his eyes unnaturally bright, his face looking very thin.  Ron hadn't noticed it before, but the lines around his eyes were growing deeper, and he looked sallow and unhealthy.  He also looked exhausted.  "I'm hungry," Sirius said, sniffing the air.  "What is that?"

 

"Stew."  Ron handed him a bowl, which he took with barely a mutter of thanks before he dug in.

 

"You don't usually get home for lunch," Harry said, turning in his chair.

 

"Forgot my money pouch," Sirius mumbled through a mouthful of stew.  "Would've stayed, but I was getting lightheaded.  Hell of a trial.  Outrageous."

 

At the mention of trial, Ron felt his stomach turn.  He'd been hungry just a moment ago, but now he felt he might be sick if he tried to eat.  He put the lid on the stew pot and sat down with the rest of them. "Oh yeah?" he said, trying to sound nonchalant.  "Why?  What was it like?"

 

"Ixion didn't have a chance.  Evidence was stacked against him - real evidence, too, none of this 'Oh, I was working under the Imperius' loophole crap.  No- this waste of life had tried to set a family's house on fire - Muggle parents, wizard children - and he tried to start the fire in the Muggle way.  Figured he could never get indicted for it if it didn't involve magic.  He filled two milk cartons with papers and kerosene.  Must've thought it would be a perfect firestarter.  And it might've been - trouble was, the Muggles had rigged some kind of system in case of an emergency -"

 

"A fire alarm," Harry put in.

 

"Right.  So they got down there, put the fire out, the kids were smart enough to be suspicious that it was Death Eater activity, and they turned in the milk cartons as evidence."  Sirius grinned.  "They were full of papers, like I said, along with gasoline-soaked photographs.  You'll never believe who the photos were of."

 

Ron shook his head.  "You can't mean they were of himself," he said. 

 

"Thomas Ixion the third, in full and moving color.  A lovely one of him and his wife.  Several of him getting different sorts of awards.  One of him in trunks."

 

"But that's - that's just ludicrous!"

 

"So's setting someone's house on fire," said Ginny sagely, still not looking up from her book. 

 

"True."  Sirius finished his stew with a decided slurp, and stood.

 

"Leaving?" Harry asked quickly, and Ron glanced at him.  He hadn't thought about it much, but the whole point of moving in with Sirius for the summer was so that Harry could spend a bit of time with his godfather.  That hadn't really happened, what with all the trials.  It was sad, really.

 

"Have to," Sirius said.  "Another one this afternoon, and it's got the better of me, I'm telling you.  I know the woman's guilty.  I know it.  But I can't prove it.  I swear I'd use illegal means to prove it if I didn't know what it was like to be in her shoes.  Just in case.  I keep telling myself, just in case, I have to be fair."  He sounded almost manic.  "If I were anybody else, I'd've had her Stunned and thrown straight back in Culparrat," he muttered.  "The Council are ready to throw her back in, they all think I'm crazy."  He rubbed his temples.  "Can't trust anybody else to do this.  And then I've got that money grubbing Malfoy Advocate shooting me looks when he passes me in the street -"

 

"What, they're getting ready to prosecute me?" Ron demanded.  "You've talked to their Advocate?"

 

"No, I've just seen him.  But I know his type - classic Death Eater sycophant."  Sirius looked disgusted.  "You've got nothing to worry about, Ron.  Between the witnesses we have, and Colin's photographs from the hospital, we've got more on them than they do on you."

 

Ron tried to look convinced.  "Sure," he said.  "So I'll just sit tight till next week, then."  He knew he sounded terrified, but he couldn't help it.

 

Sirius gave a short laugh.  "Look, if you're nervous, I'll tell you what.  Come up to London with me and sit in on tomorrow's trial.  See what a real criminal has to go through.  I guarantee, once you hear the charges against some of these people, you won't have a care in the world."

 

"I... wouldn't want to interrupt or anything," Ron began, but he had to admit he rather liked the idea.  He'd get to see the inside of a courtroom; he'd get to know what trial proceedings were like.  He wouldn't be so uninformed, when he went up against Malfoy.

 

"It wouldn't be an interruption.  You'd sit behind Council, and observe."  Sirius pulled his wand.  "Invitation's open.  I'll be leaving at seven, tomorrow morning, and you can come then, if you want.  See you all tonight."  He Disapparated.

 

"Well," Harry said after a moment.  He was looking, rather tensely, at the place where Sirius had just been.

 

Ginny looked up from her book again.  "You all right?" she asked.  Her fingers were still on his, and it looked to Ron like she had tightened them.

 

"He hasn't said a word to me about Azkaban."  Harry smiled grimly.  "Not one word.  Don't you think that's strange?"

 

Ron was about to answer when he realized that Harry wasn't really talking to him.  He was talking to Ginny, who was answering quietly - now moving her fingers a little bit on Harry's hand. 

 

Not wanting to watch them have some sort of talk, Ron escaped the room at top speed, still thinking about London.  He had to work late tonight, so getting up at seven in the morning was going to hurt.  But it would hurt a lot less than getting pounded in court, and anyway, it would be gratifying to see Sirius putting a couple of Death Eaters away for life.  Ron had a sudden mental image of Sirius, marching up to criminals and frightening all of them into immediate confessions.  It would be great to sit back and watch him go.

 

Feeling much better about things, Ron realized that he was suddenly hungry again, but he had no desire to go back into the dining room and find out what Ginny and Harry were doing.  Deciding to grab a snack in the village, Ron headed out of the house and down the road. He pulled a wad of paper from his back pocket and unfolded it to read while he walked. 

 

"Dear Ron," read the familiar, tidy cursive, "I haven't had to write you a letter in almost two years.  It's funny, but although I hate being away from you, I love writing you letters.  It's nice to be able to say whatever I like, too, and this is the first time I've ever felt that I could.  The last time we were apart for a summer, I was just fifteen, and I didn't feel quite comfortable telling you everything.  I used to choose every word very, very carefully."

 

Ron grinned, though he'd already read Hermione's letter a hundred times.  She was so damn cute.

 

"I was so scared you'd laugh at something I said!  Of course now I realize that no matter how sensible I am, you're going to laugh at whatever I say, so it's no use laboring over every line.

 

I love you.  I miss you.  I'm glad we were able to spend the night together, because it helps to have that time to think about.  (All right, I'll be honest - I feel funny writing that, but I don't think it's because I'm embarrassed, really.  I think it's more that I'm terrified that Harry or Ginny - or Remus or Sirius! - will walk by and pick this up and see it.  So either you keep it very safe, or you have to burn it up.) 

 

Cortona is so beautiful that it doesn't seem real.  Neither does Delia - she's the Thinker.  She's so... wise.  Or she seems wise.  You know the way Dumbledore just made you feel that he knew?  Delia has that quality.  She had me tell her all about how we built Expecto Sacrificum, and she hasn't kicked me out yet, so I guess.... I guess I'm staying.  I'll write more about the island and the robes she gave me (they are sleeveless.  I like them.)" 

 

Ron had a feeling that he would, too.  Imagining Hermione in sleeveless robes, he continued reading.

 

"But I'm going to write all of the newsy things later on, in a letter for the whole house.  This one is just for you and I'm very tired, and not really in the mood to put down a lot of details like, 'And then I had tomatoes and olives.'

 

I know that you'll beat Malfoy.  I know that between you and Sirius, there's nothing anyone can do to get at you.  And if you need me to come back for any reason, you just tell me, and I'll be there.

 

I love you,

Hermione

 

p.s. - Please tell Crookshanks that I miss him, too."

 

Ron read letter over and over until he felt it had burned right into his eyes.  He wished he had a quill with him.  He wanted to write her back, right now, and tell her that he loved her too - tell her that he was an uncle.  She was going to have an attack when she got the snapshot of Leo; Ginny had taken an extra one just for her, in which the baby appeared to be sticking out his tongue at the camera.  Perfect for Hermione.  Ron grinned and shoved her letter back in his pocket, trying to imagine up a good reply.  He was so busy imagining his letter, and her expression upon receiving it, that he forgot to look where he was going, and very nearly ran down an elderly wizard.

 

"Whoa there, young man!" croaked Mr. Archibald.  He was a slight old man, who cut quite a figure in brown wizard robes and a tweed cap.  He tottered from the collision.

 

"Sorry," said Ron quickly, reaching out to steady him.  "My fault."  He liked Mr. Archibald.  The little gentleman showed up at the Snout's Fair once or twice a week, and always ordered one sipping whiskey, which he'd sip for three hours before heading home.

 

"It's all right," said Mr. Archibald, leaning against Ron with one hand as he straightened as best he could.  Then he smiled. "Perhaps you can help me, Mr. Weasley - I've got to put this sign up, but I've gone and left my wand inside.  Got yours?"

 

"Sure," answered Ron, pulling his wand out of his pocket. "Are you starting a business or something?"

 

"No, no," Mr. Archibald was now surveying his house with an air of authority, hands on his hips. "Just trying to rent out my place.  My granddaughter’s insisting that I go and live with her family in Hogsmeade.  Says I can't be trusted to remember my wand any longer.  Guess she's right, eh?" He chuckled at himself and nudged Ron's arm with his elbow.

 

"Yeah, right," said Ron slowly, looking at Mr. Archibald with a mixture of amazement and disbelief, and then towards his cottage, which was looking a bit rundown, but certainly inhabitable.  It had a comfortable looking front porch, and a somewhat overgrown garden.  One of the outer walls was as turquoise as his father's old Ford Anglia.  The other walls were a dull brown, but the paint was peeling a bit in places, revealing that shocking turquoise had once been the color of the whole house.  It was eccentric, but it was nothing that a bit of magic couldn't fix.  "Say - how much rent are you asking for this place, anyway?"

 

"Fifty Galleons a month is enough to keep me stocked with Ogden's Old Firewhiskey, peppermint imps, and Wizards Digest I should think," Mr. Archibald answered cheerfully. "Why? Know anyone who'd be interested?

 

"Yeah," Ron answered with a smile. "Me."

 

"Really?  But don't you just live down the street? Ahh....." A look of comprehension flickered across the old man's face and he leaned in close to Ron, winked, and whispered, even though the street was deserted. "You want a place to entertain the ladies.  I remember those days...." and Mr. Archibald stared off into the distance, his eyes slightly weepy, as he remembered something that Ron figured he'd probably rather not know more about. 

 

"Er, yeah," answered Ron, deciding just to agree with Mr. Archibald for the moment.

"So, when will the place be available?"

 

"Well," answered Mr. Archibald, scratching his nose and attempting to look authoritative. "I'd prefer to be in Hogsmeade next week, it's my great-granddaughter's birthday.  I've got twelve great-grandchildren, you know."  Mr. Archibald looked at Ron as if daring him to top that one.

 

Ron grinned widely.  "That's wonderful," he answered, trying to remain calm and nonchalant during this important business transaction. "I've just got one nephew - he was born yesterday, as a matter of fact." 

 

"Then congratulations are in order!" cried Mr. Archibald.  "Yes, yes!  Once an uncle, you'll get the itch to have one of your own, I remember it well.  Definitely going to need a place to bring the ladies."  He looked contentedly from Ron, to the little house behind him.  "It'll be good for this old house to see some young life."

 

"So then, it's all right if I rent it?" Ron asked, ignoring the comments about fatherhood as best he could.  His ears felt remarkably hot.

 

"Quite all right.  No reference necessary - I know you're working steadily at Goldie's.  Will there be a - oh, what do you young people call them now - will you have a flatmate?"

 

"Just my friend Harry.  You know him."

 

Mr. Archibald started visibly, and gave Ron a knowing look, but seemed determined not to make a fuss about fame - though Ron imagined that, once in Hogsmeade, he'd be spinning tales to all twelve of his great-grandchildren about how Harry Potter now lived in his old house.  

 

"I'll bring a deposit by this evening on my way to work, then, shall I?" Ron suggested in the most businesslike manner he could muster.

 

"Certainly," answered Mr. Archibald, with a matching air of formality, reaching out to shake Ron's hand. "I shall expect you."

 

"Great."  Ron shook his hand and had jogged partway back up the road toward Lupin Lodge when he remembered something.  "Mr Archibald," he called back, "does your cottage have a name?"

 

"The Notch," Mr. Archibald called back.

 

Ron jogged the rest of the way home - but it wasn't going to be home for long.  In a week, home would be the Notch.  He grinned to himself. Great name.  Weird color, but it had character - and it was barely a quarter of a mile down on the same street.  Harry could stay near Sirius.  He could stay near Hermione. 

 

He burst through the door of Remus's house and jogged into the kitchen, forgetting that Harry and Ginny had been in there, talking - they were there, still, and the talk looked quite private, but whatever it was, it could wait.  "Harry," Ron interrupted happily, ignoring Harry's reluctant glance and Ginny's despairing look, "do you want to see our new flat, or what?"

 

~*~

 

"Bill,

            Tried to come in and find you, but these damn goblins are ridiculous.  As if they don't know who I am.  They act like they don't even know who YOU are!  Anyhow, I just wanted to introduce you to the person they sent over from Charismatics, because the P.A.P.'s Diversion Enchantments are up and running, and they're amazing - honestly, Mick just flew out there on Viking - that's the biggest dragon we've got - and we're entirely safe, from two miles into the shoreline to two miles out past Azkaban.  These spells are exactly like the ones your old girlfriend used during the war, seriously.  Go introduce yourself - the charms at Gringotts will be restored in no time.

Got to go,

Goblins trying to strip-search me,

            Charlie"

 

Bill threw the note into the top drawer of his desk along with his identification badge, which he was tired of feeling around his neck, and looked around his office.  It was unusually tidy, and had been ever since he'd taken the job in London.  In Egypt he'd come and gone, securing treasure and busting curses all over creation, and there had never been time for cleaning up offices.  But here, he only worked in the lower vaults of the bank itself.  He was often at his desk, therefore, and had taken to keeping it clean.

 

He had to admit he was bored.  London was great, England was home, and it was good - if trying - to be with Charlie.  Best of all, he felt like a real help to his father.  But, Bill admitted to himself, picking up a polished stone model of a pyramid and standing it up in his palm, he wouldn't have minded facing down a Sphynx, or a Sand Wraith, or blasting apart a particularly difficult curse shield.  The Death Eaters had left some corkers in the depths of Gringotts, of course, but those were mostly eradicated by now, leaving Bill's work a series of menial, almost boring tasks.  He wanted a challenge.  He wanted sunshine and travel.  He thought of his mother, who was finally occupied by something other than her sons' affairs, and knew that he could make an escape without notice if he went very soon.  The birth of Percy and Penelope's son had the whole family wild with joy; they'd hardly bat an eye if Bill suddenly disappeared to the other side of the world.   He clasped the pyramid in his fist and made himself a few quick promises.  He would help his father destroy the Dementors, giving that problem his full attention once Gringotts was entirely restored.  Until then, he'd help the Charmer to get acquainted with the bank.  It would speed the process along.  And when all of it was done, he'd go back - perhaps to Egypt, perhaps to a new country.  Bill rested the pad of his thumb on the point of the pyramid, and thought.  He could go to South America.  The Mayan temples had always intrigued him.  Or he could try Rome; the ruins there were fascinating, and that wizard culture was entirely different from the one he knew.  And there was always New York - people said it was the one place where you couldn't tell the Muggles from the wizards.

 

Or you could go to France, his mind interjected.  Bill laughed briefly and wryly at himself, but allowed the thought to stay.  He had stopped punishing himself for every thought that led back to Fleur.  He supposed he couldn't help it if a beautiful woman hung about in his memory, and besides, there weren't any girls in his life to distract him at the moment.  Perhaps one of Charlie's dragon riders would be interesting, or maybe someone would show up at the Ministry before too long.  No one at Gringotts was even a remote possibility - though Bill was getting sick enough of his mother's "Any love in your life, dear?" at every family dinner, to consider dating a goblin.  Even his father had asked him if he was dating anyone: "How about Rose Brown?  Quite pretty."  But Bill had only laughed - Mick was very clearly working that corner of the room.  No, there was no one at the moment.  Even the memory of Fleur grew dimmer all the time.  At least, he liked to think that it did.

 

Bill plunked the little pyramid onto his desk, stood up, and stretched.  He was sick of deskwork and daydreams.  The quicker he met the new Charmer and got him adjusted to the twists and turns of the underground vaults, the quicker he'd be back in the desert, battling Sand Wraiths.

 

He left his office and walked down the dark, twisting corridor, making eye contact with each goblin he passed.  He'd discovered they were more likely to trust him, that way, and though they glared beadily at him as he went by, he was not detained until he rounded a corner and came to a short corridor.  It was lit by just one lamp, and etched above the stone archway were the words "Temporary Gringotts Staff".  Standing in the archway were three goblins, all narrow-eyed and sharp-toothed.  They never trusted temporary staff, and now they glowered at Bill as if, by coming to this place, he was no longer a long-standing Gringotts employee.

 

"Hey, Bogsmack," he said as easily as he could, to the only one of them he was familiar with. "I'm here to introduce myself to the wizard from Charismatics Spellcraft - the one who'll be working on restoration.  Can I pass?"

 

"Identification," said the goblin on the left.

 

Bill nodded, and reached for the leather cord on his neck, then groaned. It wasn't there.  He'd left it in his desk drawer.  "It's in my office - Bill Weasley, Curse Breaker - if one of you would escort me back for it -"

 

"I'm afraid not," said the one on the right.  "Not another step down these halls until we have proved your identity."

 

"Oh, come on," Bill tried.  "Bogsmack, you know it's me."

 

"Polyjuice," Bogsmack replied thinly.  "Glamours.  Shape-shifting.  These means have all been employed, in the past, to confuse us and take advantage of this bank."  The goblin pulled a scroll from his pocket and unrolled it with his thick, knobbly fingers.  His clawed nails glinted in the dim light.  "William Weasley," he read.  "Also identifiable by birthmark."

 

"Now, just a second -"

 

But Bogsmack ignored Bill's protests and continued.  "Lower back, center, just above the tailbone.  Eight large, dark freckles in the shape of Cepheus."

 

Bill knew it was useless to fight.  He'd been careless, leaving that I.D. behind.  He knew better. Grudgingly, he untucked his shirt and lifted it slightly, turning away from the goblins.  Immediately he was pushed against the dam wall; his nose crushed up against his and his forehead smacked hard on the stone.  "Easy!" he yelled, turning so that his cheek dug into the wall.  Goblin hands pushed up his shirt and tugged down on the waist of his pants, and he felt a pointy fingernail touch each of his oversized freckles.

 

"There are only seven here," one of them finally said.  "Seven freckles."

 

"I put in for a correction to that list," Bill said irritably.  "It's been wrong for three months - Cepheus only has seven stars, check a map."

 

"That true?" Bogsmack asked his cohorts.

 

There was a shifting of fabric; perhaps one of the others had shrugged.

 

"Well it's obviously Cepheus," Bill said, growing more annoyed all the time, "And it's a birthmark, isn't it?"  Birthmarks were, for some odd reason, the only body features left unchanged by a Polyjuice Potion.  "It's not as if anybody else is going to have one just like that."

 

"Scrape at it," said one of them.  "See if it's paint."

 

"It isn't paint!"  But Bill shut up when he saw a door swing open at the end of the short corridor.  That had to be the Charmer.  Bill winced at the thought of meeting him with goblin hands up his shirt.  He felt them pull his trousers down over the band of his knickers.  This would make a wonderful first impression.

 

"Look, are you done?" Bill hissed, hoping for a quick escape.  He could go back to his office now, grab his badge, and meet the Charmer under better circumstances.

 

"I don't remember what Cepheus looks like," one of them admitted. "Inkhorn, go and get the book."

 

"For God's sake!" Bill cried in frustration, still staring at the door down the hall and hoping no one would come out of it.  But, to his horror, someone did.

 

The first thing he registered was the hair - sleek, so light in color that it appeared pale even in the orange light of the one lamp, and so long that it eclipsed the face, profile, and even the waist of the person in the doorway.  The Charmer was a woman, after all. She tossed her hair behind one shoulder and peered down the hall, her expression a mixture of curiosity and annoyance.  When she locked eyes with Bill, however, her face went white and her mouth dropped open.  Bill felt his features mimic hers as his heart stopped briefly in his chest.

 

It was Fleur.

 

A series of images flashed through Bill's mind, suddenly as sharp as they had been in the weeks following their only meeting.  Her eyes full of tears for Percy - that was perhaps the strongest memory.  Bill nearly opened his mouth to tell her that he was a brand new uncle, that his brother's baby had been born beautiful and healthy, that they still had a living piece of him.  It was a nearly overwhelming urge, and for some reason he felt that she had a right to know - as if they'd been friends for a very long time.  He could anticipate her reaction; he knew she would be thrilled, for his sake.  He remembered her sister, lost in Mont Ste. Mireille, and he still wanted to lift her grief.  He remembered the way she had built the Diversion Enchantments, with simple, powerful efficiency, her fingers steady, cursing under her breath.  He still wanted to watch her work.  He remembered everything, down to the fit of her form against his, her hands on his neck, sliding beneath his ponytail, the first soft brush of her mouth. 

 

Without meaning to, he began to breathe more heavily than usual.  His heart sped up in his chest.  She was right there.  Really right there, not a dream, or a mirage.  It was a long, long moment before he realized that his back was bare and his knickers were on display.

 

"That's enough," he muttered sharply, jerking out of the goblins' grip and turning toward them, never taking his eyes from Fleur's face.  He heard the goblins laugh nastily, almost as if they'd been hoping for this embarrassing turn of events, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw all three of them bow very low to Fleur.  Bill was shocked by their unusual courtesy, but Fleur didn't seem to notice their adulation or to find it at all disconcerting.  She only stared back at him.

 

"You," she finally managed.  Her voice was dry.  He recognized it immediately and realized how strange it was that he had not spoken to her for nearly seven months, yet she sounded so familiar.  He would have recognized her voice without looking at her: low, lilting with her accent.  Beautiful.  "You," she repeated, as if dazed.  "Bill Weasley."

 

The three goblins straightened up and turned to leer at Bill, clearly nonplussed to learn that he and the Charmer knew each other.

 

"We are working to determine," one of them said silkily, "if he is, indeed, William Weasley."

 

"Yes.  Pardon us, Mademoiselle Delacour, as we must... escort him back to his office and check the necessary identification."

 

"And I'll stay to guard this area against further intruders," Bogsmack said quickly.

 

Bill would have gaped, if his attention had not been so centered on the pale face at the end of the hall.  He had never heard goblins sound so cultured, nor so polite.  He was too stunned, both by Fleur's presence and by their odd behavior, to protest when two goblins moved to either side of him, took his arms, and propelled him away from the Temporary Staff corridor, toward his own quarters.  Fleur watched him leave, her mouth still partly open, and he did not take his eyes from hers until he had rounded the corner and lost sight of her.

 

He hardly noticed the goblins after that.  In his office, he went through the motions of proving his identity, all the while unable to think in a straight line.  Fleur.  In London.  At Gringotts.

 

Bill ushered the goblins out, noticing absently that they seemed peeved at being unable to kick him out of the bank altogether. He swung his badge around his neck and went to shut his desk drawer, but first withdrew the note from Charlie.  "These spells are exactly like the ones your old girlfriend used during the war, I'm serious," he muttered aloud.  "Charlie... you total bastard." He'd had no warning - though he could have had one from his brother - and Fleur had caught him by surprise in a rather humiliating position.  "I'll get you," he muttered at the parchment, then crumpled it up and tossed it into the waste bin. 

 

She's here.  She's right down that hall.  Go on, find her - show her around - ask her how she came to be here.  Ask her how she is.  Ask her if she knew you were here before she took the job.  Give it five minutes, and it'll be just like it was before, you know it.  You felt it.

 

Bill leaned over and rested his hands on his desk, still breathing oddly, still unable to believe whom he'd just seen.  He thought about crying off work and running to the pub.  Or to the Ministry.  Or home, to his mother. 

 

A knock on the door sent Bill three feet into the air.   "Come in," he called, his voice cracking for the first time in at least eight years.  The door opened and Bill forced himself to look up.

 

She stood there, so beautiful that he couldn't really comprehend it.  He'd told himself again and again that he'd glamorized her memory, that she hadn't really been perfect, but he'd grossly understated it instead.  She was beyond perfect.  She was -

 

She was a veela.

 

Bill remembered that fact with sudden fierceness, and sat down abruptly in his chair.  He hadn't thought about it in a long time - he hadn't had to - but she'd tricked him once.  The feelings he was having - he'd had them before.   They were overpowering, yes, but they weren't real feelings.  They were induced by her magic, or her... whatever it was.  She'd manipulated him, and then left without a word the next morning.  He remembered that feeling; it had been real enough.  It wasn't going to happen again.

 

"Hello," he said with surprising evenness.  "Come in."

 

Fleur hesistated, then stepped into the office and shut the door behind her.  Torches burned in sconces on either side of her, sending light across her hair and skin.  She swallowed visibly, then smiled at him.

 

Bill wondered how long his resolve was going to last, in the wake of a smile like that.  He looked down at his papers, took up a quill, and tapped it needlessly against a bit of parchment as if he were going to take notes.  He glanced up at her.  "Fleur... what was it?"

 

"Delacour," she said, very quietly, her eyes alight.  "You remember me."

 

He cursed himself inwardly.  They hadn't said her first name; he'd remembered that from months ago.  He shouldn't have admitted it.  "Of course," he said briskly.  "You did the Diversion Enchantments for my brother, last February - and out at Azkaban yesterday," he added, for good measure.

 

"Oh, zen you..." Fleur's forehead creased slightly between her eyebrows.  "You knew I was 'ere?"

 

The accent was killing him.  "Sure," he said lightly.  "Charlie said the charms you set up were fantastic.  That's great news."

 

She smiled again.  "Yes.  It was 'ard, but zey should keep trouble away.  I thought it was so interesting, what your - brother -" she pronounced the word carefully, and Bill remembered that she had once said "bruzzer", " - is trying with ze dragons.  I 'ope it works."

 

"Well, I can't see why it wouldn't," Bill said, looking down at his paperwork again.  He found he couldn't concentrate when he looked at her, and vowed to kick Charlie's ass when he got home.  There was supposed to be a nice, strong, Love Charm Repellant on him.  It should have worked on everything, from simple Kissing Solutions to veela airwaves, and it wasn't working at all.  Her power was stronger than whatever Charlie had done; she even had the goblins falling all over themselves, and Bill realized that he wasn't going to be able to control himself much longer with her in his space.  He wanted to talk to her.  Tell her everything.  Act as if no time had passed.  He had an idiotic feeling that it was what he was supposed to do, and that she even wanted him to do it. 

 

"I did not know you worked for Gringotts."  She was coming closer to his desk, dropping pensively into the chair across from his.  "I worried... I am glad you were not 'urt in ze war."

 

She wondered.  She's thought about it.

 

"Thanks," Bill said, feeling quite strangled by her proximity.  He couldn't look up, but even as he pretended to be occupied with his papers, he caught glimpses of swinging blonde hair, and of slim hands clasped together on the edge of his desk.  "I'm, er - glad you're all right, as well."  He randomly shuffled a few forms.  "I don't suppose your sister was ever found."  His voice was low.  He hadn't been able to help asking, and when he noticed her fingers tremble in response, he watched his own hands reach across the desk.  Her fingers slid into his grasp and they held tightly to each other, instinctively, as they had in the trench. 

 

"Gabrielle is gone.  And your - brother?"

 

"Percy's dead."  Bill looked up, knowing what he would see.  Her eyes were as dark and sad as they had been once.  "But his wife had a baby," Bill told her, watching her face brighten as he spoke, "just yesterday.  She was pregnant when - and it's a boy.  I have a picture - my little sister took a bunch with some sort of Muggle thing, so it doesn't move like a normal one, but -"

 

"Please, may I see it?"

 

Bill let go of one of her hands and fished in his pocket for the snapshot.  Ginny had taken loads of them, enough for everyone, and Bill thought he'd got the best of the lot.  Little Percy's eyes were open, pale blue and wondering, and his mouth was wide. 

 

"Ohh..." Fleur took the picture and, after studying it for a long time, gave Bill a brilliant smile though her eyes swam with tears.  "He is perfect."

 

"I know."

 

"What is his name?"

 

"Percival Leander."

 

"Congratulations -" Fleur stood without letting go of Bill's other hand, and leaned across the desk.  Before Bill knew what was coming, she had swiftly kissed both his cheeks, and she left her face against his for a brief moment.  Her cheek was soft.  She smelled like rain.  Bill drew a deep breath and leaned closer, wondering how he had lasted so long since their first meeting, feeling his blood pound in all the parts of him that counted.  Fleur drew back slightly, resting her mouth rest just to the left of his, and Bill very nearly forgot that he was at work, and that the desk between them was not technically intended, by Gringotts Bank, to serve as anything other than a desk.

 

"Oh, I 'oped I would see you..." she was saying, quietly.  He felt her whisper move across his skin.  "But I did not really think... I sometimes thought that it was never real."

 

Bill pulled back, quite suddenly, and looked at her.  "So did I," he said slowly.  "Mostly because you disappeared."  He let go of her hand and waited for an answer.  He hadn't meant to let the conversation get this far; he'd meant to keep everything professional, to behave as if nothing had ever passed between them - which it hadn't.  Not really.  Not if she'd Charmed him.  But as long as they weren't going to pretend anything, he needed answers.  "Where the hell did you go?  And why?"

 

She flushed, and looked disconcerted.  "I am sorry," she said.  "I was needed somewhere else, and when my escort arrived, we did not have time to wait."

 

"You could've at least woken me."

 

"I am sorry," she repeated, keeping her eyes on his.  "Forgive me."

 

"And after all we'd talked about... well, I didn't know what to think, I'll tell you that."  He laughed roughly, trying not to show how much her sudden departure had hurt him.

 

"Bill -"

 

"Right, and you knew my full name - you could've looked me up if you were so worried about me."

 

Fleur didn't answer.  Neither did she move her gaze.  It was deep, and blue, and sorrowful - and impossible to look away from.

 

"Stop looking at me like that," Bill snapped, wondering if this was how she hypnotized people.  He tried to take his eyes away, and couldn't. 

 

"Please let me..."

 

"No - stop looking at me.  Never mind, I'm making an ass of myself and it's not even my fault, is it?"  Bill forced another laugh.  "Look, you don't have to explain. I know what you are. I know what really happened."

 

The longing expression in Fleur's eyes vanished, and was instantly replaced by something else - something cool and shallow.  Her face became a mask.  She looked prettier than she ever had, but the prettiness was brittle; the depth of her beauty was gone.  She was a doll girl, suddenly, and not a woman.  The transition shocked Bill. 

 

"And what am I?" she asked quietly, her tone dangerous.

 

Bill swallowed.  "You're a veela," he said.  He hadn't meant it to sound like an accusation, but Fleur visibly recoiled.

 

"Yes I am," she said haughtily after a pause.  "I am one-quarter veela.  Not a pureblood.  Not zat you would know anything about ze differences."  She stood and smoothed her robes, flashing him an artful smile.  He flinched, not certain as to why.  "Well, it was lovely speaking wiz you, Monsieur Weasley."  She went to the door.

 

"Wait," he said, standing, "I didn't mean anything by it.  I'm just saying, you know, if you're part veela, then chances are I was... well... acting under the influence."

 

Fleur smiled at him again, another perfect, heartless smile that made him feel a little sick.  "Of course you were," she said, and reached for the door handle.

 

"Look, you're going to need a guide around the bank, so whether you're going to speak to me or not -"

 

"Ze goblins will be more zan helpful, I assure you."  She opened the door and swept through it, gave him one last dazzling smile - so bright that it made Bill's eyes hurt - then shut the door between them without further ceremony.  Before it slammed into place, he thought he heard her mutter: "I should 'ave known."

 

~*~

 

***

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