Only five more chapters to go, so I apologize now to everyone who has gotten into this story only to realize that it is unfinished. You were warned in the beginning, though.
So, we continue today with chapter seven, “A Long, Hard Summer”:
In the week that followed the blast at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry and Ron spent most of their time at Grimmauld Place. Mr. Weasley had taken steps to ensure they were not mentioned in the coverage of the bombing, but he advised them to keep a low profile until the hysteria faded.
Coming in from a trip to the market, dripping from the driving rain outside, Ron entered the kitchen and undid the buttons on his jacket. Reaching into an inside pocket, he pulled out a copy of the Daily Prophet and dropped it on the table.
“Anything in there?” Harry asked, repeating the same question they had been asking for two weeks.
“No,” answered Ron, placing the bag on the counter. Kreacher appeared at Ron’s side and began taking the groceries as he pulled them from the bag. “They still don’t know who did it and there weren’t any survivors inside to say if they saw anything.”
Harry picked up the paper and looked at the headlines. Beneath an article about the upcoming Quidditch World Cup, being held this year in Japan, was a small article about the Leaky Cauldron. Tom’s brother had taken ownership of the property and was hoping to reopen by Christmas if the extensive structural damage to the building could be repaired. Other clippings over the previous weeks detailed the increasingly futile investigation, led by Dawlish, which had turned up no information regarding who was responsible for the seven deaths caused by the blast.
The lack of progress by the Auror office did nothing to improve Harry’s mood. Every moment he spent in Grimmauld Place while the Ministry failed solve the bombing reminded him of the conversation with Dawlish and the knowledge that he had been denied entry into Auror training.
“Master Ron forgot the peas,” Kreacher said, taking an armful of cans to the pantry.
Ron leaned toward Harry. “I didn’t forget them,” he said. “I just don’t like peas.”
Harry chuckled, but his laugh was cut short by a knock on the door.
“You expecting company?” Ron asked.
“No,” Harry answered, taking out his wand. “You?”
“Not me. Hermione’s spending the week at her gran’s.”
Harry walked from the kitchen to the entry hall and peered around the corner at the front door. He could see nothing through the windowless wood, but the soft rapping came again. Shrugging at Ron, he inched toward the door, wand held at chest level.
“Who is it?” he called when he reached the door. He knew the Fidelius Charm still held some of its effect, but so many people, friend and foe, had entered the house that he no longer counted on it for security.
The voice that answered was familiar, though unexpected.
“It’s me, Potter. Professor McGonagall.”
Harry looked back at Ron, who looked as bewildered as he felt.
“How do I know it’s you, Professor?” Harry called through the door.
“I chose you to play seeker for Gryffindor after watching you catch Neville Longbottom’s Remembrall during your first broom lesson. I introduced you to Oliver Wood–“
Harry opened the door. Professor McGonagall stood dressed in a long coat adorned with the Hogwarts coat of arms, her severe face shielded against the rain by her wide-brimmed witch’s hat. She swept into the house, passing Harry and continuing on towards the kitchen.
“I trust you still have your copy of Advanced Transfiguration?” Professor McGonagall asked. She nodded to Ron as she walked past his gaping form. “You, too, Mr. Weasley?”
“Yes, but–“Ron began.
“Then get them,” she said. “We don’t have much time.”
Professor McGonagall entered the kitchen, hung her raincoat and hat on a rack she conjured from thin air, and took a seat at the head of the table. A large bag hung suspended from a strap over her shoulder, its sides bulging with unseen items.
“Professor, what do you mean about not having much time? Much time for what?” Harry asked.
For a moment, the penetrating gaze of his former teacher made Harry feel as though he had taken a Portkey back to her classroom at Hogwarts. The furrowed brow and stern eyes he had seen so many times surrounded by fellow students made him more uncomfortable in his own home.
“Miss Granger sent me an owl describing how you were treated by Dawlish at the Ministry. Having taught him myself, I know that he barely met the requirements to become an Auror himself, and for him to deny the two of you based on a technicality is ludicrous.”
Harry’s heart sank as he considered that Professor McGonagall might have come to tell them that they would have to return Hogwarts to complete their education, to convince them that it was the right thing to do if they wanted to work at the Ministry, but he doubted she would come to them personally to share such news when an owl would suffice.
“That’s great to hear, Professor,” Ron said. “But what can we do about it? It may be a technicality like you say, but how do we get around it.”
“You don’t,” she answered, reaching into the bag.
“Well,” Ron said, frustrated, “that’s great for us. Another year at Hogwarts.”
Professor McGonagall pulled a large book from her bag. Several loose pages were crammed in at various intervals as though marking important places in the volume.
“No, Mr. Weasley, that’s why I’m here,” she said. “As much as I think you would benefit from another full year of school, I think you and Mr. Potter would be too distracting to the other students.”
“So where does that leave us?” Harry asked. He was beginning to share Ron’s frustration and his voice carried more venom that he had ever before dared use with his former teacher.
McGonagall looked up at him, the stern look returning with such force that Harry took an involuntary step backward. When she spoke, however, her voice was calm and patient, the same voice she used with her students. “The Ministry offers students who miss part or all of the N.E.W.T.’s an opportunity to take the test later. This is only awarded in extreme circumstances, but I’ve never heard of any student who has been allowed this privilege who had more challenges to overcome than the two of you and Miss Granger.”
Harry and Ron looked at each other, shocked. Dawlish, keen on them not entering the Ministry right away, had conveniently forgotten to mention this valuable piece of information.
“So, we can take the exams?” Ron asked.
“Yes, Mr. Weasley,” Professor McGonagall answered, her patience starting to wear thin. “The last date to take the N.E.W.T.’s before you would be forced to wait another year–either at home or at Hogwarts–is the tenth of August, giving us less than two months to get you ready, which is why you need to find your textbooks so we can begin your lessons and–“
“You’re going to teach us here?” Harry asked, not yet ready to believe what Professor McGonagall was proposing.
“Yes, Mr. Potter,” she sighed. “The rest of the faculty and I have committed ourselves this summer to seeing the three of you pass your N.E.W.T. exams. I’ve already visited Miss Granger and recommended that she do her studies independently so as to avoid–“
“When you say “the rest” you mean that–” Ron asked, also not moving from his spot by the kitchen door.
“Yes, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall answered, the agitation in her voice growing with every syllable. “Professor Flitwick, Professor Slughorn, and all the rest will be stopping by on regular intervals to give you private instruction on the grounds that you treat them with the same respect that you treated them with during your time at Hogwarts. Now, if you will PLEASE get your copies of Advanced Transfiguration so we can begin today’s lesson.”
Harry and Ron, still full of questions, fled upstairs to find the textbooks. Harry found his in one of the boxes he had picked up from his last visit to the Dursley’s and met Ron on the second floor landing, blowing the dust off his own book.
“What do you think about this?” Ron asked him, holding his own battered textbook in his hand. “Pretty cool, huh? Although I don’t fancy the idea of having professors here day and night.”
“If it will help us get around Dawlish,” Harry said, starting down the stairs toward the kitchen. “I don’t care if the whole lot of them move in.”
For the next few weeks, it felt to Harry and Ron as though the staff from Hogwarts had moved in to Grimmauld Place. Lessons started most mornings before dawn, usually with Professor McGonagall rapping sharply on the door. The noise would wake the portrait of Sirius’s mother downstairs, which would wail until Harry and Ron came down to close the curtain cutting her off in mid-scream. After two hours of Transfiguration, they had time for a short breakfast before Professor Flitwick arrived to spend two hours on Charms. Flitwick’s departure meant another short break, then Professor Sprout would arrive for two hours of Herbology before lunch. Following lunch, Professor Slughorn would arrive for two hours of Potions lessons in one of the upstairs bedrooms, then another hour of telling stories about his famous acquaintances or roaming the former house of the Black family looking for valuable items he might persuade Harry to part with. During these meanderings, Kreacher would follow the stocky professor around to ensure that nothing found its way accidentally into one of Slughorn’s hidden vest pockets.
Some days, other people would arrive to give special lessons in which they had particular expertise. Madame Pomfrey came twice a week to instruct Harry and Ron in basic healing magic, including incantations to heal wounds and potions to cure various maladies. Volunteers from different departments of the Ministry and medi-wizards from St. Mungo’s came some evenings to provide lessons on skills specific to Auror training.
The only group noticeably absent from Harry’s and Ron’s summer school were the Aurors themselves. Though several had volunteered to help them prepare for their exams, Dawlish had given specific instructions that anyone assisting in these lessons would be sacked for what he called “reasons of integrity.”
Only on Sunday did Harry and Ron find any rest from the constant bombardment of professors and guests helping them get ready. On these nights, Hermione would take a break from her own, self-guided study to have dinner with them, often staying up with Ron until all hours of the night, huddled on the sofa until they fell asleep propped against each other.
Ginny would also come on Sunday, usually arriving with George, and would spend the day out with Harry. They walked about London, taking in all the Muggle sights that she, raised in a wizarding family, had missed. Harry enjoyed seeing the wonder in Ginny’s eyes as she admired the solemn grace of Westminster Abbey, the sinister past of the Tower of London, and the luxurious Muggle wares at Harrods.
Sunday dinner reminded Harry of his days at the Burrow. Along with Ginny, George, and Hermione, several others often showed up to take advantage of the few hours of freedom granted to Harry and Ron. Former members of the Order of the Phoenix such as Daedelus Diggle and Hestia Jones stopped by to share stories of their mutual friends, those still alive and those departed. Their tales were always humorous, sometimes bittersweet, and made Harry glad to have such wonderful friends.
At the end of July, they were allowed three days off to celebrate Harry’s birthday. Even these came at a price, though, as homework had been assigned to them both, to be completed around the planned party at the Burrow.
On the morning of Harry’s birthday, Ron sat at the kitchen table as Harry, rising late from bed, entered. Wand out, his red eyebrows knotted in concentration, Ron stared at a cut on his arm, dripping blood onto a towel spread across the table. He looked up to see Harry enter the room, then looked back at the bleeding wound.
“This is harder than I thought it would be,” Ron said. “Mom always fixed us right up when we hurt ourselves, so I always thought it would be a breeze. Episkey!”
Harry watched as the cut on Ron’s arm started to seal itself, then reopened with a bright red spurt of blood.
“You’re getting a bit pale,” Harry said as Ron wiped the blood from his cheek. “Maybe you should try again later.”
Ron frowned at the cut and nodded. Then, he sighed and held his injured arm out toward Harry.
“Episkey!” Harry said, tapping the cut with his own wand. The cut sealed itself immediately, leaving no sign that the arm had been injured.
Ron sat back in his chair and sighed. “I’m just not getting that one.”
Harry did not reply. Over the weeks of intense instruction, Ron had struggled with several of the spells they would be required to perform to achieve the necessary N.E.W.T. scores to be Aurors. He had offered what help he could, careful not to sound patronizing or glib. Even Hermione, usually so adept in helping them understand their lessons while at Hogwarts, found herself unable to help Ron perform the complex magic they would soon be tested on.
Harry found, without the pressure of prophecies and Dark Lords looming over him, that he could concentrate harder on his lessons and surprised himself with his mastery of spells that so recently had been beyond his ability. The comfortable surroundings of Grimmauld Place, the individual instruction from the professors, and, more than anything, the desire to become an Auror drove him to heights he never expected.
“Happy Birthday, by the way,” Ron said, making an effort to sound cheerful. He reached into an empty seat beside him and pulled out a wrapped present. “It’s not much, but I think you’ll like it.”
Harry took the gift and sat down. Removing the paper, he opened the box and found a framed photograph of himself, Ron, and Hermione, sitting in the grass at Hogwarts. The three friends, engaged in silent conversation, looked much younger and Harry guessed that the picture had been taken in their first or second year at school. The lake shimmered in the background, a solitary tentacle of the giant squid waving lazily upward.
“Like I said,” Ron said, “it’s not much, but I thought you would like it. Percy took the picture and when he showed it to me, I thought it might make a nice gift to, you know, remind you of where we came from.”
Harry stared at the photograph, a flood of memories rising in him. He recalled the early days of his time at Hogwarts, the innocence and dreams that were so soon to be replaced by war and loss.
“Ron . . . I . . . it’s amazing.”
Ron beamed. “Really? I know it’s not–“
“Really,” Harry interrupted. “It’s wonderful.”
They left for the Burrow after breakfast and found the Weasley home decorated for Harry’s party. Golden streamers glittered in the breeze and a large cake in the shape of Hogwarts castle sat on one of the picnic tables in the garden. A long banner, its letters flashing in rainbow colors said, “Happy Birthday Harry.”
“You know,” Ron said, eyeing the decorations. “I think they do more for your birthday than they do mine.”
Harry laughed. “Maybe they like me better.”
“Well,” Ron said after taking a moment too long to consider. “Ginny does anyway. It’s probably a draw with Mum.”
“That’s good enough for me.”
The party passed in a whirlwind of friends and presents. Hermione, arriving first, gave Harry a wrapped object he immediately recognized as a book. Tearing through the paper, he read the title–The Auror’s Path: A Guide to Catching Dark Wizards–and gaped in wonder.
Hermione seized the book and shook it at him. “All I ask is that you actually read this one.”
A steady procession of people joined the party throughout the afternoon. Many bore housewarming gifts for the house at Grimmauld Place. Some brought magical devices that he might use as an Auror, which he accepted with all necessary gratitude while feeling an uncomfortable tightness in his stomach. The entire Weasley family had gone together to purchase a Firebolt Mark Two racing broom, something they never would have considered before Mr. Weasley’s promotion.
“We know you lost your old broom last summer,” Mrs. Weasley explained as Harry stood speechless over the gift, alluding to his flight from Privet Drive in which he lost his old Firebolt while fleeing Voldemort and dozens of Death Eaters. “It’s something to show you how much we appreciate everything you’ve done for us.”
As dusk fell over the Burrow, Hagrid arrived with one final gift. His large figure crossed the garden carrying a large object draped in what looked like a bedsheet.
“‘appy Birthday, ‘arry!” the half-giant boomed.
“Thanks, Hagrid,” Harry replied, shaking the huge hand.
Hagrid held up his gift and seemed to vibrate with excitement. “I don’t know if your ready for this, but I figured since I got you your first one . . .” He pulled the cover off the thing in his hand, revealing a wire cage and, inside, a young snowy owl.
“Oh, Hagrid,” Harry said. Confronted with such a strong reminder of losing Hedwig on the same night he lost his old broom, he could not say for sure how he felt about being offered another owl.
Hagrid seemed to sense Harry’s discomfort. “If it’s too soon–if you’re not ready for a new one–I can keep it for you until . . .”
Harry reached out slowly and took the cage from Hagrid. Without a word, he opened the door and reached in. The small owl regarded his hand with curiosity for a moment, then stepped forward with its taloned feet and settled in Harry’s palm.
“Hagrid,” Harry said, staring at the owl. It looked so much like Hedwig that he felt guilty for being so pleased at the gift. “I–thank you.”
“She’s a smart one,” Hagrid said, obviously relieved at Harry’s acceptance of his present. “Just like ‘edwig.”
Everyone looked at the owl as she studied her surroundings. At first, she found nothing of interest, then she spotted the gnomes watching from the fence row. Spreading her wings, she took to the air to give chase, sending the little figures racing for cover.
“What are you going to name her?” Hermione asked.
All eyes now turned to Harry, who stood watching the white owl swooping down toward the hedge.
“I think I’ll name her . . . Bellatrix.”
A collective gasp rose from those in attendance.
“Just kidding,” Harry said quickly, not wanting to stretch out the joke any longer in the face of such ferocious stares. He watched the snowy owl soaring over the Weasley garden and said the first thing that came to his mind. “How does Sophia sound?”
There was a general murmur of consensus, though several of the guests still eyed Harry for his reference to the late Death Eater.
“Thanks, Hagrid,” Harry said, turning back to the half-giant. “She’s great.”
“I’m glad you like her,” Hagrid beamed. He pulled a pocket watch from his moleskin jacket and checked the time. “Well, it’s time for me to get back. I’ve left Grawpie in charge of the grounds while I’m out.”
Harry raised his eyebrows in concern, but Hagrid shook off his concern.
“Don’t you worry about Grawp,” he said. “Come a long way since I’ve been workin’ with ‘im. Professor McGonagall says that ‘e can stay on the grounds and ‘elp me out with my duties, seein’ as how I’m the new Head of Gryffindor.”
Harry gaped. He knew no professor at Hogwarts was more dedicated to the school than Hagrid, but he had never expected the gamekeeper to be given such an honor. He turned to see if Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had heard the announcement and, seeing their open-mouthed stares, he guessed they had.
Hermione was the first capable of speech. “Hagrid, that’s wonderful! You must be thrilled.”
Hagrid nodded his shaggy head. His beady eyes, nearly lost beneath the bushy eyebrows, were glistening and red. “Thrilled don’t even begin to cover it, ‘ermione. This is something I’ve dreamed about me whole life.”
They talked with Hagrid a few minutes more before the new Head of Gryffindor checked his watch again, begged their pardon, and left for Hogwarts.
“Whatcha think about that?” Ron asked. “They must be really desperate for Gryffindor faculty.”
“Ron!” Hermione and Ginny cried together.
“Well, Hagrid’s great and all, but . . . I mean . . . Head of Gryffindor?”
“I think he’ll do a great job,” Hermione said, “and he’s earned it.”
Harry watched Ron and Hermione argue over Hagrid’s promotion in amused silence, then a gentle tug on his sleeve drew his attention away. He turned to see Ginny motioning for him to follow her.
She led him around to the deserted far side of the house, away from the party. The garden here was overgrown, the majority of the family’s attention reserved for the part where the dozens of guests were probably wondering where the guest of honor went. Harry looked back to see if anyone had noticed them sneaking off, had followed them in hopes of breaking up their moment alone. Ginny, seeing him distracted, put her hand against his cheek and turned his face back toward hers.
“Do you want your present now?”
Harry felt the heat from her, even over that of the late-summer evening. He marveled that her red hair was not glowing like a banked coal.
“Whenever you’re ready for me to have it,” he said, his voice breaking.
She leaned in and kissed him. Now the heat seemed to flood into him, passing through his lips until he thought he would spontaneously combust. In some distant, detached part of his mind, he wondered what the party guests would say if they rounded the corner of the house and found he had turned into a smoking pile of ash.
Ginny pulled back just enough to use her mouth for speech.
“I love you.”
The words seemed to douse the heat she had transferred into him. Cold fear, from origins unknown, rushed through his body, extinguishing every trace of the fire he thought would consume him only a moment before. In his entire life with the Dursleys, through six years at Hogwarts and another year fighting Lord Voldemort, he had never heard those three words directed at himself.
Unable to think of any response, he leaned in to kiss her again, desperate to rekindle that pleasant flame. Ginny turned her head to avoid his approaching lips, then turned back to stare into his eyes.
“I said I love you.”
Panic filled him. His mind recognized that some reply was expected, that every passing second brought him closer to disaster, but the proper words seemed as elusive as a Golden Snitch in a rainstorm. Then, his mouth acted of its own volition, despite the silent screams of protest inside his head.
Ginny’s face darkened as though a cloud had just passed overhead. She took two steps backward, placing herself just out of his reach, her face taking on a dark red color that he had never seen and already hoped that he would never see again.
“You know?” she hissed, her voice low and deadly. “You know what?”
Harry fought for control over his mouth and lost. “I know what you said.”
“But you didn’t say it back.”
He stammered for some answer that would smooth things over, some conciliatory phrase or gesture that would diffuse the situation before . . .
Ginny’s wand appeared in her hand so fast that Harry did not see her move.
The last things Harry saw before the flash of red light were the tears on Ginny’s cheeks.
Harry dreamed that he was surrounded by hundreds of Rons and Hermiones, all asking him why he did not tell Ginny how he felt about her. Their familiar faces, usually friendly, glared at him with anger and, worse, disappointment. He tried to avert his eyes from their accusatory gaze, but even when he closed his eyes, he could see them.
“I wanted to tell her,” he told them. “She knows I do. I just panicked.”
“I know, mate,” came Ron’s voice in a tone that did not match the many faces of Ron in his dream. “It’s a hard thing to say.”
Harry opened his eyes. He lay on Ron’s bed surrounded by the newspaper clippings. The faces in each remained congenial, bearing none of the contempt that he had seen in his dream. The real Ron, newspaper in hand, sat in a chair by the darkened window, reading by lamplight. Seeing Harry awake, he folded the paper and laid it in his lap.
“What happened?” Harry asked.
Ron smiled, amused. “You mean after my sister stunned you?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “After that.”
Ron folded his hand behind his head and leaned the chair back. “Well, we heard the bang, came around the house, and there you were, lying on the ground. Ginny burst into tears and ran into the house. Mum and Hermione followed her. She’s been in her room ever since, crying her eyes out, even when she got the warning letter from Hopkirk about using magic out of school.”
Harry groaned. If he had only said it back, had only told her how he felt about her, he could have avoided all of it.
“George and I brought you up here,” Ron continued. “Thought it might be the safest place in the house in case Ginny comes out and wants another go.”
The door to the room burst open and Harry cringed, expecting another Stunning Spell. When no spell came, he looked up over his upraised arms and saw Hermione standing in the doorway. She, too, appeared to have been crying, though her face now was contorted with rage.
“Harry Potter,” she bellowed. “You are the most insensitive, most pig-headed, most unbearably stupid boy I’ve ever met.”
From his chair by the window, Ron snickered, obviously thankful to see Hermione direct her wrath toward someone else.
Her wand was out as quickly as Ginny’s had appeared before stunning Harry. With a flick she upended Ron’s chair, sending him tumbling to the floor in a heap of lanky arms and legs. Then, she pointed it at Harry, who knew he was about to be stunned again.
Hermione’s wand tip trembled for a moment, then she put it away and stormed back out, slamming the door behind her.
Ron, cowering behind his overturned chair, stared wide-eyed at the door until Hermione’s steps faded away down the stairs.
“See what I mean,” he said. “They’re all mental.”