AYNIL: Chapter Thirteen: His Own Undoing

It was in total shocked silence that Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione returned to the inn. Harry was once again enraged. His one-sided shouting match with that Daily Prophet reporter had done nothing to calm him. In fact, he now had more reason to be angry. Recalling Voldemort’s ceaseless campaign to destroy Harry, starting with everyone he was close to, would have been quite enough to be getting on with. A reporter from the loathsome newspaper mentioning the ministry and Snape as well made Harry surprised that he hadn’t exploded with anger.

As they walked, Hermione was wringing her hands and turning her head this way and that, as if checking the coast was clear. It wasn’t until they were back in the solitude of Harry’s room that she spoke, making her actions clear.

“Harry, that was really stupid you know,” she reprimanded in a shaky voice. “We’re supposed to be laying low, and now you’ve blown that. Voldemort’s going to know we were here. You know I’d be surprised if he doesn’t have some sort of insider at the paper that’s telling him all about this right now. He could arrive here with an army of Death Eaters any time.”

“I doubt it,” Harry replied in a dull voice. He was still too focused on all the people he was angry with to care about what the Dark Lord might be plotting. And honestly, if Voldemort wanted to call him out, at this moment Harry wouldn’t have cared.

“And you released his true identity, along with the fact that you know stuff about when he was a kid,” Hermione said frantically, as she strode about the room, running her hands through her already bushy hair, making it frizzy. “Oh Harry what if he suspects we know?”

“What? That his real name’s Tom Riddle?” Ginny asked. She flinched as she said the name. Harry often forgot that she was intimately aware of exactly who Tom Marvolo Riddle was. “I’d find it hard to believe that Voldemort couldn’t have worked that out for himself. And then there was Harry’s interview that appeared in the Prophet and Quibbler.”

“Yeah, You-Know-Who —“ Ron emphasized these words (he had been shuddering up a storm each time Voldemort’s name was mentioned), “ — isn’t stupid. A little arrogant maybe -” he admitted with a slight nod of his head, “- but really, Harry didn’t do anything horrendous.”

Harry wasn’t sure what was up with Hermione. She was in a fuss about the whole scene, and seemed to be trying to find a hole to expand on. She finally located one and stopped pacing.

“You two — Harry you grabbed her hand!”

“Is that not allowed now?” Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed. She clearly didn’t like where this conversation was going.

“Of course not,” Hermione snapped, “but Harry was the one that wanted to keep your relationship secret from Voldemort. Well that’s hardly going to happen now. Didn’t you see that photographer that was hiding in the bushes? I’m sure he snapped a photo of you two together.”

Harry hadn’t seen that. He glanced at Ginny, who was looking back at him. She was waiting for his reaction. He couldn’t say how he felt just now. Shock would probably have been the right feeling. His worry had come racing back, mixing with the anger still bubbling very close to the surface. He was now starting to get a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that this meant nothing but trouble.

“Why did you have to come here?” he asked Ginny furiously. Harry was berating himself again for the lack of will power that he had when it came to her. He was not denying that being with Ginny made him happier than he could ever remember being, but over the last six weeks that had been surpassed by never ceasing worry about her safety. And now, instead of things getting better, they were getting worse. Harry seemed to be losing all sense of rational thought when it came to his relationship with the youngest Weasley.

“You know why. Don’t start this rubbish where you pretend to be all mad just to turn around a second later and do the exact opposite,” Ginny fired at Harry. She appeared as angry as he felt. But for the first time, he thought that he saw a mild trace of fear. Maybe now she had finally realized how dire the situation really was.

“Oh I won’t, believe me. If you hadn’t run off to come here we wouldn’t be in this stupid situation now,” Harry fumed. He was angry at Ginny, truth be told. However, he was much angrier at the situation. They shouldn’t have to worry about this sort of thing. They shouldn’t have to hide their relationship in fear that a crazed mass murderer would use it to nefarious ends. He was mad about the fact that he had to be upset at all. Ginny being here made him happy, that should be it.

“Harry, Ginny, I didn’t mean —“ Hermione said, obviously aghast at what she had started.

“Stay out of this,” both Harry and Ginny shouted at her, barely taking the time to glance at their friend. She backed away and joined Ron who was sitting on the bed watching them.

“So are you trying to tell me that you don’t want me here?” Ginny asked,

“Yes, I’ve been trying to tell you that for weeks now.” Harry realized his blunder too late, but wasn’t really all that upset about it anyway. He had explained himself so many times before he felt like a recording. Why is it that Ginny just couldn’t seem to get it through her head that he wanted her to stay away from him for now so that she wouldn’t be in danger?

“That’s not how you were acting last night,” Ginny stated. Out of the corner or his eye Harry saw Ron’s eyes narrow. He looked like he was going to interject, but was stopped by an elbow in the ribs from Hermione. “Fine,” Ginny wasn’t upset about what Harry had just said, or at least she wasn’t showing it. “I’ll just go home then.”

She started for the door. Harry knew she was bluffing. How would she get home from here anyway? Lupin had side-along Apparated her here the night before. She couldn’t exactly walk back to the Burrow from Godric’s Hollow. Ginny might be stubborn and a little too independent sometimes, but she wasn’t stupid. He watched her wrench open the door and walk out into the hall. She would come back in a minute. This was just a game of wills that she was trying to win. Harry wasn’t going to give in.

“Harry, what are you doing?” Hermione asked nervously. She was staring at the still open door. The amused smile Harry had been wearing at the apparent game Ginny was playing faltered just before Hermione had spoken. Maybe she wasn’t actually playing and she was really going to leave. He wouldn’t put it past Ginny to do it. “You can’t let her leave like that.”

Harry was already ahead of Hermione. He was nearly in the hall. This game, if that’s what it was, had gone on long enough. The fact that Ginny might be serious had caused Harry’s anger to turn again to fear. He caught up with her just before she got to the exit of the inn.

“Gin, what are you doing?” he asked, putting a hand on her shoulder to turn her to face him.

“I told you, I’m going home. You have told me so many times that you don’t want me here. Well, I won’t burden you with my presence then,” she said angrily.

“You know it’s not like that. I’ve told you already that I would like to have you with us, but can’t. It would be too dangerous.”

“Save it Harry. I’m going.” She did indeed turn to leave again. But there was no way that Harry was going to let her. He had let this go on far too long. They were definitely going to leave that day, but Ginny was not leaving alone.

“I’ll take you back then, but I’m not letting you leave here without me,” he told her. “You know why. Never mind the fact that your parents would kill me if they knew I let you leave.”

Harry smiled a little, trying to show her that he was mad at what she had done, not necessarily her. He had enough of arguing with Ginny. Their fighting had almost caused him to make another huge error. If he had delayed even a minute longer she might have been able to leave. The plethora of the horrible things that could have happened to her if she had was running through Harry’s mind making him feel a little queasy.

“Yeah that’s all you care about,” Ginny shot, “what my parents are going to say. As long as you haven’t pissed them off you’re happy.” She didn’t look at Harry as she said this. Her ton betrayed the fact that she didn’t believe this. She was just speaking out of anger.

“You know that’s not true.”

Ginny still didn’t look at him, but she gave a small nod of her head, showing she conceded. She walked past him to the room she had left a minute earlier.

“Oh thank God,” Hermione cried. She had been pacing around the room again looking extremely agitated. When Ginny appeared in the dorrway she ran over and hugged her. “We were worried that you wouldn’t listen to Harry. If you had left —“ She stopped talking. An avalanche of horrible happenings had been racing through Hermione’s mind. Ron looked a little pale himself.

“I want to,” Ginny admitted. “But Harry convinced me to come back. We are going to be leaving straight away though.” She looked at him for confirmation. He nodded. This was all that Ron and Hermione needed to take action. They both looked at Harry and Ginny to make sure that they were serious about leaving, and then exited Harry’s room to get their things.

Ginny accompanied Harry to find the Clark’s to pay their bill. Without words they both had got over their fight, and were perfectly content with the other again. As the elderly couple gave them a cherry goodbye Harry was certain that it would not be the last time that he seen them. He still wasn’t feeling all that warm towards Godric’s Hollow, after the way things had gone at his parents’ graves, but he still felt like there was more to do here. Well, he thought, there was. He still wanted to see the house that he and his parents had lived in, and where they had died. It felt like there was something there that he needed to see. But that would have to wait for another time.

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny walked the same path the trio had taken the night before when they first arrived. Once they crossed the bridge there was a small forest that they could enter to Disapparate, thus minimizing the chance that they would be seen disappearing into thin air.

“Have you ever done this before?” Ginny asked when Harry told her to take his arm. “Side-along Apparated someone?”

“Yes,” Harry said, tensing at the question. Ginny didn’t ask for details.

“Right, well it doesn’t really matter anyway. I would trust you even if you hadn’t.” Grateful for this vote of confidence, especially after the fight they had just had. Harry smiled down at her, and then focused his mind on their new destination.

The four teens appeared back in the shabby London Square, and made their way, with heavy hearts, into the dingy house. They had been expected. When the door closed and their vision had adjusted to the darkness they found they were not alone in the entrance. Lupin was waiting there for them, as was Mrs. Weasley. The woman was wringing her hands again like she had done before they left the Burrow the day before.

No one said anything for the time it took to relock the door. Mrs. Weasley was glancing at Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione. It looked like she was checking them over to see if they were any worse for wear. When she had satisfied herself that they weren’t she rounded on her daughter.

“GINEVRA WEASLEY, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” she bellowed.

They really had to stop having shouting matches in the entrance, Harry thought to himself as he and Lupin raced up the stairs to shut up Mrs Black’s shrieks of “BLOOD TRAITORS, MUDBLOODS, SCUM, BESPOILING THE NOBLE AND MOST ANCIENT HOUSE OF BLACK,” that had drowned out the rest of Mrs. Weasley’s lecture to her daughter.

“You’re back early,” Lupin said a little breathlessly as he and Harry walked back down the stairs. “I’d have thought that you and the others would want to have a good look around the village. You haven’t been there before now, there’s loads to see.”

Harry told him about what had had hastened their return to Grimmauld Place. He told his former professor everything, including how he had been angry with Ginny and almost done the stupidest thing by letting her leave. He added Hermione’s suspicions that Voldemort might have someone working at the Daily Prophet. That is, someone that could inform him of these sorts of breaking stories.

“We don’t know that for certain, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.” Lupin commented. He looked like this was the least of his concerns at the moment. “Listen Harry,” he was suddenly serious, and Harry was sure that he was about to be reprimanded for his inability to control his temper. Even though Lupin was speaking in a very dour voice, he really wasn’t lecturing, just warning. “We have to be very careful what we shout at reporters. You, most especially, have to be cautious.”

“I know, it’s just we were leaving from seeing mum and dad’s graves,” Harry explained. “And that reporter started firing questions at me, asking about Voldemort and Snape —“ he had to stop and take a deep breath. Even now after all these weeks he couldn’t think of Snape without feeling that same urge to break something. The former potions master’s neck would be the most ideal thing, however . . . “And I just kind of lost it and went on this rant. Then I did the most stupid thing. Well, I wasn’t thinking properly, and I didn’t know there was a photographer there. But I grabbed Ginny’s hand.”

In any other situation that statement would have seemed overly dramatic. It wasn’t supposed to be a bad or stupid thing for a boyfriend and girlfriend to hold hands. But of course, in this circumstance it would indicate an intimate relationship, something that Harry and Ginny didn’t want the wide world to know. Reiterating this to Lupin made Harry think all over again how stupid he had been, and was still being when it came to Ginny.

Harry had never been good at hiding his emotions. His anger and frustration at himself obviously showed on his face because Lupin pulled him into a quick one-armed hug. It was a comforting gesture, but didn’t change the fact that with his actions today, Harry had made things worse.

“Molly was not pleased with what Ginny did,” Lupin told Harry. He probably changed the topic on purpose to take Harry’s mind of his own failings. It was expected that she wouldn’t be happy with her daughter’s actions. Harry said as much, but thought that Mrs. Weasley was probably a little more than ‘not pleased’ if her volume of shouting was to be held as any indication.

“It was really irresponsible of her to do that.” Hermione and Ron had just caught up to Harry and Lupin as they continued to descend the stairs to the kitchen, where they could hear voices, or one voice in particular. “Really, with all the dark activity that is going on out there; Mrs. Weasley has reason to worry.”

They reached the basement kitchen. This was where Mrs. Weasley had taken Ginny as well. As they pushed the door open to enter they were treated to some of Ginny’s lecture.

“YOU WAIT UNTIL I TELL YOUR FATHER!” Mrs. Weasley’s voice was growing hoarse from the shouting that she had been doing for the past few minutes. She was much louder in here than she had been upstairs, owing no doubt to the fact that her voice was echoing off the stone walls. “I THOUGHT THAT YOU HAD MORE SENSE.”

Ginny was sitting at the table, with her head in her hands. When Harry, Ron, Hermione and Lupin entered the kitchen she looked up at them. He had thought that she was crying at her mother’s angry words, but Harry saw that Ginny had been hiding an amused smile. Why she was smiling was a mystery to him. If Mrs. Weasley had been yelling at him like that Harry probably would have looked much more like Mr. Weasley, or one of his sons, who cowered at her anger.

AND YOU TWO,” Molly Weasley rounded furiously on Lupin and Harry, who did indeed blench when she addressed them. “HELPING HER DO THIS,” she addressed that to Lupin, “AND I THOUGHT THAT YOU WANTED TO KEEP HER SAFE,” is what she said to Harry. “WHAT IF THERE HAD BEEN DEATH EATERS?” Mrs. Weasley had her hands on her hips as she glanced from Harry to Lupin, breathing hard.

Harry didn’t know what he was going to say to her. It seemed like she just might pop her clogs if they said the wrong thing. Lupin was the first to speak.

“You’re absolutely right Molly. It was a stupid thing for Ginny to do, but even more so for us to harbor her. It won’t happen again. You have my word.” As he made this declaration Lupin was looking at Ginny. He was trying to impress upon her that he was quite serious, Harry thought.

“I’m sorry too,” Harry apologized. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t do this again.” How he was going to do that he hadn’t a clue. As he had been speaking Ginny got out of her chair, came over and as she wrapped her arms around his waist she whispered in his ear,

“That’s not what you were saying last night.” He felt himself go red at her words. No, that definitely wasn’t what he had said the night before. But that had been when they had been in the moment. Just thinking about that moment caused him to blush a little more. He really needed to stop doing that. It was always a dead giveaway that Ginny was making some kind of innuendo. Nevertheless, he put his arm around her and pulled her close to him.

Mrs. Weasley had been watching this interaction through narrowed eyes. They opened a little wider when Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry and whispered in his ear. When he turned the color of a fire hydrant and pulled her closer, the elder Weasley woman eyes widened so much that they appeared to be popping out of her head. She was coming to her own conclusions about what had happened between the two the night before, and from the expression on her face those thoughts were the same as Ron’s had been that morning.

“Thank goodness everything was all right,” Mrs. Weasley stated, her voice finally back to a normal volume. She had calmed down a little. But there was an appraising look on her face when she glanced back at Harry and Ginny. “That doesn’t mean that you have escaped trouble though,” she added as an afterthought, seeing the smile on her daughters face.

“Of course not mum,” Ginny replied. She was still wearing that same amused look as when they had first entered the kitchen. Exactly what was so amusing about this situation Harry was never to find out.

Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Lupin and Mrs. Weasley finally took seats around the table, and Mrs. Weasley wanted to hear what Godric’s Hollow was like. She explained her interest by telling them that she had heard that it was a beautiful village, very scenic. They assured her that it was. Hermione, ever the stickler for details, regaled the elder Weasley woman with descriptions of everything they had seen. She gave so much detail that even Harry and Ron, who had been there with her, got an education. How was it that she was able to glean so much from less than twenty-four hours in the place?

“Well, its getting on, and we really should be getting home,” Mrs. Weasley stated about an hour later. She had looked at the clock. Then standing up she said, “Ginny come on, we’re going home.”

“Mum come on, its still early, and we barely got back,” Ginny complained. She gave in though when her mother fixed her with an angry stare. “Yeah, OK, I’m coming.” She got up reluctantly and followed her mother to the door.

Given everything that had happened that day, Harry hoped that he would be able to fall asleep easily. But he had no such luck. At the very least he had enjoyed a restful sleep the night before. That always seemed to be the way it was when Ginny was around. If he could have her near him every night he doubted that he would have any trouble sleeping at all. But that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Harry was so well practiced at the insomnia routine that he gave up trying to sleep after a half an hour. He knew that he wasn’t going to have any rest that night. He came back down into the kitchen, wondering exactly why they spent so much time in this room. Its not like everyone that stayed at number twelve Grimmauld Place was constantly eating.

It was way past midnight when Harry pushed the door open but he found that there were already two people sitting at the table. Lupin and Tonks were talking quietly.

“Er . . . sorry to interrupt.” Harry started to back out, worried that he had perhaps intruded on an intimate moment.

“No, Harry, come in please.” Lupin beckoned him into the room. “We were just on our way to get you.”

What had happened now? In Harry’s life it was never a good sign when someone said they were going to come and get you in the middle of the night. The last time this had happened Ginny had advised him of Aunt Marge’s murder. Harry really hoped that he wasn’t about to learn of the murder of someone else that he cared about. He entered the room slowly. Lupin pointed to the newspaper that was sitting on the table before them.

“Read that,” he said sadly.

Harry picked up the paper. The first thing that he saw was a picture taken of himself, Ginny, Ron and Hermione. It was the one that Hermione prophesized had been snapped as they walked away from the Daily Prophet reporter in Godric’s Hollow earlier that day. The headline read:

MORE ALLEGATIONS FROM BOY WHO LIVED: ‘YOU-KNOW-WHO AND SNAPE COWARDS’

What was so ominous about that? Harry didn’t care if the Prophet reported on what he had said earlier that day. Despite his one slip up about having information on Voldemort’s childhood activities, he hoped that the paper would report what he said. He wanted people to read that Voldemort had a real name. If Dumbledore were right then maybe some of the fear in the world that was directed towards the despicable Tom Riddle would dissipate. If people stopped fearing the name, maybe they would fear the man a little less. This could only be a good thing. But knowing the paper like he did, Harry was sure that they wouldn’t stick to what he said. They were going to have to color it, and Ginny’s name was sure to get dragged in. He began to read.

After weeks of silence The Boy Who Lived has spoken out yet again. Four days ago, Harry Potter stood in the ministry of magic and made allegations that the current and former administrations were lax in security measures. He alleged these holes in procedure were responsible for the successful escape of ten top security prisoners from Azkaban eighteen months ago. This time Mr. Potter was making allegations regarding the proposed murderer of Albus Dumbledore, and about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself.

Your Daily Prophet reporter encountered the famous wizard in the tiny village of Godric’s Hollow, where he was visiting the graves of his dead parents, Lily and James Potter. Harry Potter declined comment on this visit, but became enraged when the subject of Severus Snape was broached with him.

“Snape’s nothing but a murderer and a coward who’s being shielded by You-Know-Who,” he shouted at this reporter. But Mr. Potter didn’t stop there. He went on to make allegations about You-Know-Who.

He claims that the most feared wizard ever is really a Half-Blood by the name of Tom Riddle. Harry Potter also claims that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named created this alias because he was ashamed of his heritage.

The famous teen wizard seems to have a lot of information about You-Know-Who’s former life. He claims that the Dark Lord, or Tom Riddle as we should perhaps call him henceforth, was a bully as a young child. This penchant for dominating others would certainly be consistent with his actions as an adult wizard.

Mr. Potter refused further comment on these allegations. He stormed off after providing these few tantalizing words. He seemed to prefer to be in the company of his friends, a one Mr. Ronald Weasley, Miss. Hermione Granger, and a striking red-head that was obviously his long-time girlfriend and love interest, Ginevra Weasley.

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The only line that Harry wished he could strike out was the last one. It would be way too much to hope that Voldemort wouldn’t have this news reach his ears. And now that this had been printed, he doubted that it would be the last that would be heard of it. The papers kept their noses in his business, and for some reason his love life was a hot topic ever since Rita Skeeter had printed that stupid article in Witch Weekly saying that Hermione was his girlfriend.

“We’ve already alerted Molly and Arthur,” Lupin said quietly. “They’ve agreed that for the short term it might be better if Ginny comes back here to headquarters, at least until the hoopla dies down over this. We were sure you’d agree with that.”

“Yeah,” Harry said a little distracted, still staring at the article. He was worried. Strangely though he wasn’t as worried as he would have thought. This might have been because action was already being taken to remedy the problem. Maybe it was the fact that Ginny was going to come back here again, where she would be safe. Maybe it was just the fact that Ginny was going to be with him again. In any case, he was focused more on the picture. His black and white self was reaching for Ginny’s hand, which she willingly took.

Harry smiled down at the picture. He couldn’t believe, even now, that he and Ginny were together. They had finally been able to synchronize their feelings for each other, and act on them. There had been all those years that she had a crush on him and then his total inability to confess his feelings for her. In the end fate seemed to have intervened though, in the form of Gryffindor winning at Quidditch. However they had finally got together, it was worth it. Ginny might be frustrating as hell sometimes, but she kept him on his toes. She didn’t walk on eggshells around him. If he were doing something thickheaded she would tell him. Much as Harry hated to admit it, he really needed that sometimes.

The Weasleys must have got the news before Harry even ventured downstairs, because he was just sitting down with a cup of coffee to wait when the kitchen door burst open and Ginny came bounding in. She slid into the chair beside him and threw her arms around his neck.

“Lucky turn of events,” she said. Harry didn’t know if he would call it lucky. All the same, as he had already thought, this wasn’t bad, having Ginny here with him again, and safe. Her parents, who had come in the room with her, were not looking happy though, they were looking worried. It was understandable; they had to move away from their home because of this latest problem. Harry felt a stab of guilt as he realized that he had caused it.

“We have to leave directly Ginny,” said Mr. Weasley wearily. She went over to hug her mother and father goodbye.

“Be careful dear,” Mrs. Weasley hugged her daughter very tightly, and didn’t let go until Mr. Weasley pulled her away.

“Molly, we should go,” he said, his hands on her shoulders.

“I know Arthur.” Mrs. Weasley’s voice was still muffled as she held her youngest child close to her. She didn’t seem to want to let go, but finally did so as her husband started to pull a little more firmly.

“We have to have a few words with Lupin and Tonks, could you excuse us?” Mr. Weasley asked Harry and Ginny. They didn’t argue and left the kitchen.

They ended up in the tapestry room. This was another room that they tended to frequent. Grimmauld Place was not a small house, yet Harry and the other occupants seemed to only use this room, the kitchen and their bedrooms. Some of the reason was that many rooms in the house still were filthy and infested with who knew what, otherwise they had no explanation why this was.

“What do you think they wanted to talk about?” Ginny asked.

“Dunno,”

“Bet they’re telling Lupin and Tonks to keep a close eye on us. Mum thinks we had sex last night,” Ginny said blatantly.

“Er . . . you can see why she might think that,” Harry said, rubbing his neck uncomfortably.

“Tsh, what . . . does she think that the minute we’re alone we jump on each other like animals?” Ginny asked in an annoyed voice.

“Probably, because you do,” Ron’s voice rang out. He and Hermione had been sitting in a dark corner; Harry and Ginny hadn’t noticed them when they first came in. “What are you doing back here Ginny?”

“You didn’t tell him?” she looked at Harry with a shocked expression on her face.

“Didn’t have a chance, I only found out about it five minutes before you guys got here,” Harry explained.

“What?” Ron and Hermione asked, coming over so they could ascertain the reason for Ginny’s mysterious return. Harry explained about the article that had appeared, and how they were just being cautious. Ginny was probably going to be staying there for a few days, closer to a week more likely.

The look of concern Ron wore changed and he snorted.

“I think that Harry’s luck is rubbing off on you. Mum should have gone totally off on you and forbid you to see Harry again. Instead she brings you back here the very same night you leave.” Ron smiled weakly. Trying to lighten the mood was something he did often. In most cases Hermione would scold him for this, but tonight she didn’t.

Not long after, Mr. And Mrs. Weasley came into the drawing room to say their goodbyes. Mrs. Weasley didn’t try to squeeze her daughter to death this time. But from the moment that she stepped in the room she wore a very sad expression on her face. This look wasn’t foreign to Harry. He had seen the same one the night Mrs. Weasley attempted to fight the Boggart and it turned into the dead bodies of her family, and more recently at Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

Harry and the others walked the Weasleys to the door. They had explained to him that they couldn’t stay at headquarters. It would be too difficult for them with all of the things that they still needed to do for the order and the ministry. It would be a little conspicuous if they were seen leaving the derelict square everyday.

Once Mr and Mrs Weasley had Disapparated Hermione pulled Ginny upstairs under the pretence that the latter needed to unpack. Harry was sure that Hermione wanted to get an answer to whether he and Ginny had actually done more the night before than they were willing to admit.

“This is hard on Arthur and Molly,” Lupin said as he, Harry and Ron watched the two girls tiptoe past the portrait of Mrs Black.

“I’d imagine,” Harry said. Lupin continued as though he hadn’t heard Harry’s comment.

“They had so many kids, and Ginny’s the youngest. It’s hard for them to accept that she’s almost an adult. But they’ve been forced into this acceptance because of her relationship with you Harry.”

“How’s that?” Ron asked.

Lupin didn’t answer right away. He stared up the stairs for a while. “A number of things. I think it was a little bit of a shock for Molly to find you kissing her daughter on platform nine and three-quarters,” Lupin smiled one of his marauder-esque smiles again. “Seeing how close you two were when they stayed here for that week was further proof. I think what solidified it was when Ginny ran off to be with you three, and her enthusiastic greeting when they returned. Oh, and Molly’s sure that you two have . . . uh . . .” Lupin rubbed his neck in the same way Harry had done just a few minutes before.

“We haven’t,” Harry said quickly. He didn’t know why he felt the need to tell Lupin this. Maybe he wasn’t telling Lupin at all. What did it really matter. It’s not like he was Harry’s father. Perhaps it was Ron, who was not looking very pleased, that Harry had to explain this to.

“Ah . . . .well, she’ll be relieved to know that, I’m sure.” Lupin still looked a little embarrassed at this topic. Was he recalling the talk that he and Mr. Weasley had given the five Weasley boys and Harry the day of his birthday? That was certainly one of the reasons that Harry was feeling as embarrassed as he was now.

“And we’ll make sure it stays that way,” Ron said fiercely. With that comment they all decided that it was indeed time for bed, and made their way quietly up the stairs.

* * * * * * * * * *

The inhabitants of Grimmauld Place were not the only ones awake reading the Evening Prophet. In another dismal house miles and miles away a short nearly bald man was perusing the story that was crammed onto the first page, along with other stories about all of the activities perpetrated by the Death Eaters. He watched the moving picture of Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron as they started to walk away.

His small watery eyes were constricted as he read the last few lines of the story. Peter Pettigrew wasn’t sure how to take this report. Calling Severus Snape a coward was not a smart thing to do, but the allegations that Harry Potter had leveled against the Dark Lord were bordering on blasphemy. His master was going to be in a fury about these words, surely. Not many Death Eaters even knew of his true identity, or blood status.

Pettigrew returned his attention to the picture. So, Harry Potter was dating Ginny Weasley. Well, the girl was probably happy. Peter recalled vividly the boring conversations he had overheard about Harry Potter during the years he had lived at the Burrow as Ron Weasley’s pet rat. The girl had obviously been smitten with the so-called savior of the wizarding world. And he seemed happy with her too. It was just unfortunate that the Dark Lord was going to do away with the boy in due course.

“What are you reading Wormtail?” sneered Severus Snape. He was closing the door that Pettigrew had hidden behind the year before when Snape made the unbreakable vow with Narcissa Malfoy. Snape had just come up from the dungeons hidden beneath his childhood home. Pettigrew recoiled at the question. He was a little irritated at the fact that the Dark Lord still saw fit to have him staying in this Muggle hovel with the miserable git.

“Newspaper,” he said in his timid voice. His watery eyes darted around the room, looking for an excuse to escape.

“Surprising,” Snape sneered. “What rubbish are they reporting on today? More attacks?” He came over to take a look at the paper that Wormtail had abandoned on the end table.

Snape approached so he could see what was on the front page. The headline caught his attention immediately. He snatched up the paper and started reading. As he got farther down the article his mouth formed a small line. He was seething with rage. When he reached the end of the paper he crumpled it into a ball, threw it into the empty grate, then conjured a fire and watched the paper begin to burn.

Shape watched as the paper smoldered. Potter, he let out a little growl at just the thought of the name. It really was a pity that the Dark Lord hadn’t been able to finish him off when he did the job on the boy’s arrogant father. That would have saved the world so much hassle. Perhaps if Lord Vol . . . had been able to do the job properly things would have been different. But, there were many things that could have been different. If only Snape hadn’t lost his temper years ago he wouldn’t have ended up in the stupid situation with Dumbledore that he had. He might not have had to kill the great wizard.

Thinking of the actions he had perpetrated nearly two months ago, Snape felt little. He hadn’t wanted to do it, but Dumbledore had made him swear that he would. Why the old man would even want to be killed to save a worthless lump like Draco Malfoy was a mystery to Snape. But that didn’t really matter.

Right now, Snape’s real fury was for The Boy Who Lived, The Chosen One, or whatever other undeserved title had been bestowed on the mediocre son of the great bullying git, James Potter. He had told Potter before not to call him a coward. But the boy was a little slow on the uptake; it shouldn’t have surprised Snape that he didn’t get it with just one repetition. Why hadn’t he ignored the Dark Lord’s orders and finished the boy off that night? It certainly would have made Snape feel better. Honestly, Potter trying to duel with him? The little prat no skill in that area whatsoever. This is why he would never be able to finish off the Dark Lord, if indeed he was fated to do it.

Snape would not stand for letting Potter spread untruths about him. He could just go to Order headquarters and finish off the ‘savior of the wizarding world.’ Snape was revolted at the mere thought. He stood there fuming, still watching the paper burn. He was working out a way to get back at Potter for this latest attack. Letting the Dark Lord finish him off wasn’t quite good enough. Snape wanted a hand in this.

His eyes fell on the last piece of the paper not yet charred. It was the photo. He hadn’t taken a close look at it, the headline is what had grabbed his attention. He watched it, there was Potter, his faithful sidekick Weasley, the mudblood and . . . what was this?

Snape extinguished the fire and pulled what remained of the paper from among the ashes. He watched the moving people in the picture. Potter was actually reaching for Ginny Weasley’s hand. So the two were still together then? This was quite interesting news; possibly just the sort of thing that Snape needed.

The Dark Lord had been very shortsighted when it came to the news Snape and Draco hade given him regarding Potter. Snape had been the one to provide intelligence on Harry’s aunt Marge. The Dark wizard had not thought this useful until the night Potter had escaped his clutches for the sixth time. Lord Vol . . . had been in a fury and ordered the murder. Snape had wanted to go along but had been denied this pleasure. The Dark Lord was still angry with him for the unbreakable vow. Snape was sure the Dark Lord was also still angry about his intelligence on the Little Whinging wards; at least angry about the fact that Potter had been forewarned.

Something the Dark Lord seemed wholly disinterested in was Potter’s relationship with Ginny Weasley. Draco had reported this to him right away. At first the Dark Lord seemed pleased, but later said it was useless information. Perhaps this had been because he thought he could get to Potter at Privet Drive. Snape was quite unnerved at his master not using Draco’s information.

But, with this picture Snape had certain proof that Potter and Ginny Weasley were still together. He seemed to care for the girl more than anyone had realized. This could only be good news for the winning side in this war. Remembering what Potter had done to try and save Sirius Black from the Dark Lord over a year ago, Snape’s face broke into a cruel smile. If his thoughts were right and Potter cared for the girl that much as to have her with him in public, then his master would have an in.

Potter was really stupid; Snape didn’t doubt that for a second. But this was beyond ignorant. He was going to be his own undoing. The boy, by wearing his heart on his sleeve, had given both Snape and the Dark Lord the information they needed to get to him. The foolish boy always would do anything to save those he loved, this was well known among the Death Eaters, and to the Dark Lord himself. His foolish penchant for heroics would play right into their hands. Yes, the red-head who readily took his hand, was Potter’s weakness.

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