Just outside the Great Hall, Ginny turned at the sound of her name. She saw Dean Thomas approaching with a broad smile. She managed to smile back.
"Sooo," he began consideringly, "what kind of plans do you have for Hogsmeade?"
She raised an eyebrow. "What sort of plans do you have?"
Dean fiddled absently with a piece of drawing charcoal. "Well, I was planning to wander a bit, and maybe go to Puddifoot's tea room."
"By yourself?" Ginny said, widening her eyes dramatically. "How daring!"
He eyed her wryly. "Of course not. Thought I'd ask my girl to come along with me." Then he grinned. "So. Will you? Have tea with me in Hogsmeade?"
Ginny's mind suddenly engaged. "Um, I'll, um, have to check on that and get back to you."
Dean blinked. "Huh?"
"I may be busy."
"On a Hogsmeade weekend?"
"With Ron." Ginny smiled brightly, backing away down the corridor. "I'm not used to being a Chaser yet. So we were going to do some extra work. But maybe we can reschedule. Let me get back to you!"
Dean watched her go, a perplexed frown creasing his brow. "O-kay. Sure."
Ginny fled, feeling very strongly that there really ought to have been a manual to go with her wedding ring.
Harry did not like mornings after he'd had to stay up late to finish homework. He felt muzzy and grubby and distinctly at odds with the universe-- and moreover, he was late to breakfast again. Or was going to be. Or something. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face vigorously, trying to recall what his first class of the day was.
Harry picked up his toothbrush and started to brush his teeth, ignoring the rather acid comments of the mirror, which didn't like being ignored.
Wait a minute... what was that weird sound? He spat, set his toothbrush down, and rubbed his hands on the towel. As he dried his hands, he noticed that the familiar weight of the invisible ring was gone.
When Ron, who had been up just as late as Harry over identical homework, staggered into the bathroom, Harry was on his hands and knees, getting his pyjamas sopping wet while he frantically patted the floor down.
"What's up with you?" asked Ron.
"I've lost it!" whispered Harry frantically, crawling around the shower stall behind the sink he'd been using at the time.
"That's obvious," replied Ron, staring.
"No," hissed Harry. "The ring. And it would have to be invisible."
"Bloody hell," said Ron, suddenly looking much more awake. "You don't suppose it's gone down a drain, do you?"
Harry winced. "It better not have. Dumbledore will murder me if--"
Ron crawled under the sink and started sweeping his hands over the floor. "Right pair of idiots we look," he muttered.
"Yeah, if anyone comes in, we'll just say we're looking for a dropped contact lens," said Harry, trying to keep the edge of hysteria out of his voice.
"What's a contact lens?" asked Ron, puzzled.
Ginny got up early, hoping to catch Hermione in the Gryffindor girls' bathroom. She lingered, staring at herself in the mirror, a behavior that was not counted as too odd by some of the other girls, who stared at themselves in the mirror for long periods of time quite regularly.
Lavender Brown leaned over to her at one point. "I've got a Disappearing Cream for spots and freckles, if you need it."
"Oh," Ginny said. "Um. Thanks. But I'm okay."
Lavender nodded knowingly and wandered away.
Prudence Beecroft, from Ginny's own year, leaned over from the other side. "You have to be careful about using that stuff," she whispered. "She disappeared her own eyelashes the other day, and oh, was she upset!"
"I'll, uh, keep that in mind," Ginny assured her.
Finally, Hermione hurried in, looking rumpled and distracted. Ginny had to say hello to her a couple of times before she noticed.
"Oh, hi, Ginny," Hermione said, carefully applying a line of toothpaste to her toothbrush.
"Have a minute?" Ginny said carelessly.
Hermione looked at her in the mirror, then down at her toothbrush, then back up. "Oh, I suppose," she said, setting it down and following Ginny from the room.
Sitting on one of the more isolated windowseats, Ginny whispered urgently, "Dean Thomas asked me for a date in Hogsmeade."
Hermione looked puzzled. "So? You've been going out with him for a few months now, right?"
Ginny gave Hermione a frustrated look and gestured vehemently with her left hand.
"O-oh," Hermione said. "Right. Um? So what did you tell him?"
"That I'd have to get back to him." Ginny scowled out the window, then looked back at Hermione. "What do I do?"
Hermione looked down at Ginny's hand, an expression of thoughtful distress on her face. "I'm... I'm not sure."
"I suppose the best thing to do is ask Professor McGonagall," Hermione said. "Or the Headmaster, I suppose."
Ginny pictured discussing this with Dumbledore. "McGonagall," she said. "Definitely. I think Dumbledore's office will give me flashbacks for the rest of my life."
"We're never going to find it," moaned Ron.
"We have to," Harry said, rubbing his forehead, "or else the Order's going to roast me over a slow fire. Or give me to Snape to do horrible experiments on."
"If only we could see it," Ron said, pulling his hand out from under a sink with a disgusted expression. "I think Dobby forgets to scrub under here. I swear I felt something move."
Harry tipped back his head and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. "What was that spell that Professor McGonagall used to make Neville's foot reappear?" he asked.
"That's an idea!" said Ron.
They worked on recalling the spell for several minutes before Harry remembered, "Revelomnia!."
"I think the accent's on the third syllable, not the second," Ron said after hearing Harry say it two or three times.
"Are you sure?" Harry said, then tried it. "You're right, that sounds better."
Harry managed to get it on his sixth or seventh try, and not only revealed the ring, caught up in the S-bend of the second sink from the end, but a tidy cache of elf-sized cleaning supplies stacked between the last shower and the wall.
"No wonder we couldn't find it," Ron said wonderingly. "How did you lose it like that?"
Harry snorted, picking up the gold ring and turning it over in his fingers. "Hey," he said after a moment's consideration, "there's an inscription on the inside."
Ron peered over his shoulder and read, "Olim externi nunc familia?"
"That looks like Latin," Harry said. "Do you know Latin?"
"Nope," said Ron. "You'd think we'd learn it, wouldn't you?"
"I hear it's hard," Harry said absently. "Maybe Hermione can translate it."
"She probably learns Latin in her spare time," Ron said sarcastically.
"She'll at least know how to look it up," Harry said, putting the ring on his finger. It vanished as he got it into place.
"Neat spell, that," Ron said.
"Just as well," said Harry. "I was trying to think of a vanishing charm that wouldn't take my finger with it."
"So, Weasley, what can I do for you?" McGonagall inquired, folding her hands on her desktop.
Ginny fidgeted in her chair. "I, um." She paused, took a deep breath, and said, all in a rush, "Can I go out with other people?"
McGonagall blinked, then reached for a tin on her desk. "Have a biscuit, Weasley," she offered, opening the tin.
Ginny obediently took a biscuit, watching the deputy head of school hopefully.
"Considering that the marriage must be kept secret," McGonagall said thoughtfully, "any change in your behavior -- including your romantic encounters -- would be noticed. And, since I suspect that you have no interest in Potter... am I right?"
"No--I mean, yes, you're right, no, I'm not interested in Harry." Ginny took a small bite of biscuit and said, around it, "He's a git."
"Indeed," McGonagall said with a small smile. "Since you have no interest in Potter, I see no reason you cannot go out with... friends, and, in the future, indulge in... discreet affairs. Discreet, you understand."
Ginny nodded glumly. "But won't it affect the magic?"
McGonagall shook her head briefly. "Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not necessarily a, er, romantic endeavor. Yours is supposed to be about family."
"Marriage, not romance," Ginny said with a somewhat sad smile. "Wasn't I supposed to learn about that in a few more years?"
"These are hard times, Weasley," McGonagall said, mirroring Ginny's smile.
Ginny sighed. "At least in ten years, I'll have something to hold over his head."
McGonagall's mouth twitched. "We're only expecting you to remain married until the war is over. I hope it will be shorter than that."
Ginny gave her head of house a somewhat sarcastic look. "How long did the first war last?'
McGonagall hesitated, then said, "You have a point. All the same, we can keep our hopes up, can't we?"
Harry and Ron peered into Evershed, Barke, and Chewe along with a dozen of their schoolmates. In the window gamboled strange yellow walking-stick creatures that reminded Harry of nothing so much as pencils with legs.
"Those seem harmless enough," Ron said. "Well, let's go in, then."
Fifteen minutes later, they met back up near the pencil cage at the front of the store.
"You know what the problem is, Harry? All these things are too tame for Hagrid." Ron pointed at a nearby cage. "I mean, like this thing. It just stares."
Harry studied the tag, which read "YAWFLE" and had a short treatise on the habits of the animal. "You're right," he said after a moment. "It does. But it's sort of... fluffy. And cute. In a stare-y sort of way."
They passed by a cage of small, long-eared beasts that were pirouetting oddly to the sound of a nearby gramophone, and stared, perplexed, at a lizard-like thing hanging contentedly by its tail, which was knotted around a nail.
"Look at these!" Ron said, pointing into a cage full of small furry creatures that reminded Harry of hamsters.
"It says they have 'surprising habits,'" Harry said dubiously. "Maybe surprising is good enough?"
"Please don't pick them up," said the attendant, arresting Ron's hand mid-reach. He waved a mop forward. "They've just been upset by the last group of students, who all got ink in the eye for their trouble. Let them calm down a bit."
"Oh," said Ron.
"Are you finding things all right?" the attendant inquired. "I thought I heard you say something about 'too tame'...?"
"Well," said Harry, "the friend we're shopping for likes... unusual animals."
"And he likes a challenge," Ron added.
"Oh!" The attendant grinned. "Then I have just the animal for you!"
Dean Thomas took Ginny to Madame Puddifoot's for tea, and bought her chocolates at Honeydukes. They perused books and joke things. He was good company, asking her about Quidditch and her classes and what sorts of things she liked. Although he did have a tendency to keep talking about Harry Potter.
Ginny was bored.
She really quite liked Dean. He was a nice boy, curse it, and they were friends. He was a decent sort unlikely to sulk because she won or lost at Quidditch, and he and Ron got along well enough.
It was awkward, being married to his roommate and all.
Not only that, but she couldn't talk to him about things that mattered. She couldn't reminisce with him about the battle at the Department of Mysteries. She couldn't talk to him about what happened to her in the Chamber of Secrets. And she certainly couldn't talk to him about being married to Harry.
She had a dreadful suspicion that if she told him about the marriage, he'd want to protect her or something dull like that.
Hogsmeade was excruciatingly pleasant. And she was guiltily happy to return to Hogwarts that evening, and to retreat to the girls' dormitory for a little peace and quiet and random brooding.
"Huh," said Harry.
"What?" said Ron softly, hand over the bulge in his jumper.
"Ginny... with Dean," Harry said, gesturing after the pair with his chin.
"Well, they are going out," Ron said. "We should get back to school before it wakes up, Harry."
"You're right," Harry said, peering after Ginny's back. "We can go straight to Hagrid's hut."
"Um," Ron said, "but he's not back for another week, remember?"
Harry frowned. "What did we go and get it for then? We're going to have to keep it in the dorm."
"Maybe we should've got the Yawfle," Ron said, peering down the neck of his jumper at their acquisition. "And you wanted to get it."
"Well, the poor thing was in the back, all alone," Harry said, looking back in the direction Ginny and Dean had gone.
"I wonder why it was in the back," Ron said. "Harry, c'mon. Hey, Hermione!"
"Hi," Hermione said as she arrived from the bookstore. "What's that you've got?"
"Present for Hagrid," Ron said mysteriously.
"I hope it's not got claws," she said, glancing at the nearby shops.
"Only little ones," Ron admitted.
Hermione said, "Hello, Harry?"
Harry looked around, startled. "Oh, uh, hi, Hermione."
"What's he distracted about?" she asked Ron.
"Ginny and Dean just went off that way," Ron explained with a shrug. The bulge stirred, and he looked alarmed and put his hand over it. It settled back down after a moment.
"It's nice that Ginny's still seeing Dean," Hermione said pointedly. "Don't you think, Harry?"
"Um," he said, feeling perplexed. "I guess. But should she?"
Hermione eyed him suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, we're, y'know..." He tapped the third finger of his left hand with his thumb.
Hermione gave him a jaded look. "If you're so worried about it, why don't you talk to Dumbledore?"
Harry kicked a rock in the street. "It's just awkward, you know?" he said in a low voice. "Living with someone who's going out with my wife?"
Ron broke into the conversation with a whispered, "We need to get back now, Harry. It's getting restless."
"See you back at school?" Harry said to Hermione as she moved toward Honeydukes.
Hermione rolled her eyes, nodded, and went off, but Harry was sure he heard her mutter something about, "... dog in the manger..."
"That," Ginny said, "is the cutest thing I have ever seen."
'That' was a tiny, spotted, plush-furred griffin kitten whose ears ended in long tufts of fur. Its small wings flapped excitedly as it pranced across the floor after the bit of yarn Hermione was dragging for its benefit. Its long, thick tail lashed as it went.
Ron said, "The chap at the store said it was a challenge to train, but was entirely harmless."
"It's a griffin, Ron," Hermione said. "It's not harmless. It's going to get... big."
"He said this was a kind specifically bred to be pets," Ron protested. "He said they weren't lion-based, like the wild type."
"What are they based on, then?" Hermione inquired.
"Um. Lynxes, I think he said."
"Lynxes get pretty big!" said Hermione as the kitten pounced on her shoe.
"But not as big as lions!" Ron insisted.
"Ron," Hermione said, hastily removing her foot from the shoe, "it's already the size of a small cat and it's not even fledged yet!"
Ginny bent down and rescued Hermione's shoe from the savaging of tiny, but extremely sharp, claws. She tossed the entire ball of yarn to distract the kitten, and was successful. For about thirty seconds. The griffin ran into the curtains, which were apparently a far better toy.
"Well, we're not keeping it until it's grown, Hermione," Ron said, watching the billowing of the curtains and wincing at a small tearing sound. "It's going to Hagrid at week's end."
"You have to keep it for a week?" Ginny said, alarmed. "What if Professor McGonagall finds out?"
"We're allowed to keep pets," said Ron.
"Owls, cats, toads, and rats," Hermione said. "Griffins are noticeably absent from that list."
"It's... kind of a cat," Ron said.
There was a much louder ripping noise, and high up in the curtains, a beak poked through, then a pair of black-tipped ears. "Mew?" said the griffin.
Harry stood in front of the headmaster's door and cast his mind back to the day of the wedding. What password had Snape used? So much of that day was a blur.
Oh, yes. "Burping Bon-Bons?" he said experimentally.
The gargoyle leapt aside obligingly and the wall parted to expose the stairs.
For once, Harry didn't manage to walk in on a teachers' conference or audience with Minister Fudge. Dumbledore was quietly writing at his desk. He looked over his glasses at his visitor. "So, Harry, how are you getting along? Sit down, have a jelly baby."
Harry sat down and eyed the bowl of sweets mistrustfully. It was sitting next to a snowglobe in which a tiny castle was besieged with glowing snowflakes. "Um, Professor? I had something I wanted to ask you about."
"So many do," said Dumbledore. "I hope it isn't about that article in The Twaddler last week. It was a charming article, but I'm afraid I really don't know anything about disappearing supplies of Paradisical Potion. On the other hand, if you'd like to borrow a hat..."
"Ah, no, thank you," Harry said hurriedly. "It's about... um... the situation. You know."
"I know many things, Harry," Dumbledore said. "But what is passing through your mind at this moment is not one of them."
"Er," said Harry. "I... I meant the wedding and all."
"Ah," said Dumbledore sagely.
There was a pause, during which the headmaster continued to look at Harry with an expression of benign expectation. Finally, Harry realized it was his turn to speak, and said, "Um. I saw Ginny in Hogsmeade. With Dean. Thomas." He watched Dumbledore closely, hoping this was enough information.
"A very high-spirited young man," said Dumbledore. "Part of your... I'm sorry, my 'army', I believe. Served a detention with Mr. Filch a week and a half ago for putting up rather charming portraits of most of the staff on the walls of the third-floor hallway, outside the Charms classroom. I was particularly taken with my own portrait and the way my beard contained several bird's nests."
This reply, while oddly informative, wasn't the answer Harry was looking for. "Uh, yes. Um. Right. But, Professor, Ginny's going out with him."
Dumbledore peered over Harry's shoulder at Fawkes, who was sleeping with his head under his wing. "I believe she started seeing him last year."
"Uh," said Harry.
"Harry," said Dumbledore, apparently taking pity on him, "are you going out with Ginny?"
"No," said Harry. "I never..."
"It isn't really fair, given that we've already asked her to make this kind of sacrifice, to ask her to give up romantic... entanglements altogether." Dumbledore smiled at Harry. "If you recall when I was explaining your marital duties--"
Harry felt his face start to heat up.
"--the marriage is not intended to be one of amorous relationship."
Harry felt his ears start to go red. He wasn't even sure what that meant, but it sounded... well...
"In any case," Dumbledore continued, blissfully ignoring Harry's blushes, "we do not intend to deprive either of you of an essential part of human relations by forcing or requiring a sentimental attachment between the two of you. The marriage is intended to be one of friendship and family."
Harry sighed. "I've heard that before."
Dumbledore raised one eyebrow. "Harry, we need to convince the spell that you are family. We actually need to convince the world otherwise. It would look decidedly odd if Ginny dropped her petit ami for no reason whatsoever."
"I suppose," said Harry.
"So," said Dumbledore cheerfully, "I see no reason why both of you cannot indulge in what Professor McGonagall so delicately describes as 'discreet affairs.'"
Harry felt his face go red again.
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair. "I believe that answers all your questions, Harry. Unless you do want to borrow a hat?"
"Uh, no thanks, sir," Harry said, standing up and heading for the door.
As he clattered down the first few steps, he heard Dumbledore sigh and mutter something that sounded remarkably like, "Ah, to be ninety again."
After Ginny got into her pyjamas that evening, she planned to get into bed, pull the curtains, and have a good brood. Or perhaps curl up with the box from Honeydukes and a mystery story-- that sounded even better. She had a lot to think about-- or to avoid thinking about.
Alas, it was not to be.
"Ginny!" squeaked Letty, entering the dorm as Ginny tied the sash of her dressing-gown. "How was your date?"
Ginny blinked at her. "It was fun," she said, utterly at a loss to explain Letty's enthusiasm.
Evelina Urquhart, Letty's particular friend and someone with whom Ginny had established an unspoken truce at the beginning of the year, followed. "We'd heard you'd broken up with him, but obviously that wasn't true. Since you spent all day at Hogsmeade with him." Her flat tone rose ever so slightly with the hint of a question.
Oh, that was it! "I can't imagine where you heard that," Ginny said sweetly. "Really, it's amazing how rumors crop up around here."
"Amazing," said Evelina flatly. "Imagine. They were saying you were going out with Harry Potter."
Ginny gave Evelina her very best sarcastic look. "Please," she said. "I'm fifteen now. I'm a bit old for that kind of childish pash."
"You do spend an awful lot of time with him," said Letty.
Ginny sat down on her bed and kicked off her fuzzy slippers. "He's best friends with my brother, and I'm good friends with Hermione. And I'm quite good friends with him." Or I used to be, she thought.
"Friends, huh," said Evelina.
Ginny lost her temper. "Unlike some people, I'm quite mature enough to be friends with someone who happens to be a boy without imagining there has to be some kind of romantic thing. I suppose it comes of being raised with so many brothers; I actually think of boys as human beings." And with that, she whisked her curtains shut.
The curtains, unfortunately, did not prevent her from hearing Evelina's remarks about "redheaded temper." This did not improve Ginny's.
When Harry walked into the Great Hall, all the candles up by the ceiling were burning blue.
He stopped in his tracks. The Hall was packed full of people, yet eerily silent. The tables were gone, and all of the students sat on benches facing the front dais, leaving only an aisle along the center . As Harry stared, he realized that the students occupied the back benches, the teachers a single set of middle benches, and the Hogwarts ghosts occupied the front ones, shimmering bluely under the strange light of the changed candles.
On the dais two figures stood in front of the podium, both of them utterly, unnaturally still, like wax figures. They were facing away from Harry, but he blinked and rubbed his eyes, certain that he recognized one of them. He did... it was Sirius. He couldn't possibly be mistaken.
What was he doing up there, in front of all of Hogwarts?
He wanted to run to his godfather, to throw his arms around him, to see his face, but the strange silence in the Hall and all those eyes fixed on the dais froze him in place.
A deep, resonant voice spoke. "And do you, Sirius Black--"
It was him. It was.
"--take Cedric Diggory--"
Harry's gaze shifted slightly to the other figure on the dais. It did look like-- what was he doing here? He-- he stood so still.
Involuntarily, Harry took a step forward. He needed to see them, both of them-- he had so many things to say.
A hand with a grip like iron came down on his shoulder, the chill of the fingers burning through his robes.
"Let the dead marry the dead," said a voice far above him. "Let the dead marry the dead." The voice was so cold that he turned to look at his captor, expecting to see Professor Snape. But it wasn't.
It was Dumbledore.
Harry woke trembling and in a cold sweat. It was just a nightmare, he told himself. Just a nightmare, like dreaming that you've gone to school naked, or that your wand is broken and rotten inside, or that the door of the cupboard's been nailed shut. Just a nightmare.
But he didn't sleep again that night.
Ginny dreamed about wedding presents. They were tiresome.
Harry had escaped at some point, probably when they were transporting the pile of presents to the Gryffindor common room. Anyway, apparently it was the bride's job to deal with unwrapping everything and making a thank-you list (Hermione had enchanted a quill, bless her) and pretending to have raptures over everything. No one minded if Harry quietly vanished.
Ginny gritted her teeth and unwrapped another gift. It was a baby blanket enchanted with little moving animals.
"Er, thank you..."
A Ravenclaw girl a year older than her simpered at her alarmingly. "Well, now that you're married, you never know when you might need it!"
Ginny summoned up a grimace of a smile and tossed it on the pile. Thus far she'd got one present she genuinely liked, and that was the singing-apple tree from Neville Longbottom.
"Open this one next!"
"Oo, yes, it looks so mysterious and elegant!"
The box was black, tied with a silver ribbon. Ginny looked at the card's black morocco cover with a distinct feeling of recognition and unease. She opened the card; familiar angled handwriting stated To my very dear Ginny and her lucky husband on the happy occasion of their wedding day. There was no signature.
She set the box carefully down on the floor. "Back off, everyone." There were protests. "I think it might come from Fred and George." People hastily retreated to the walls.
She untied the ribbon with a wave of her wand, standing a good five feet away. Nothing happened.
She lifted the cover in the same manner, rather expecting a poisonous snake to leap out. However, nothing of the sort happened. The box sat there, innocently ominous and full of tissue paper.
She levitated the tissue paper out. Nesting in the tissue paper was something wrapped in green silk. She lifted that out with her wand and unwrapped the silk with another flick. A silver box.
Now she could feel the concentrated curiosity of the whole room on the back of her neck, but it was too late to stop now. "Ginny," murmured Hermione warningly, but Ginny shook her head and ordered the box to open with a wave of her wand.
Two golden bracelets tumbled out. Ginny slowly approached them. One was slightly larger than the other, but other than that, they were perfectly identical-- round, gold, and smooth on the outside, as though made to match the wedding rings. She picked them up.
On the inside of each one was engraved Mei Primum.
"I can't believe you managed to sleep last night, Harry," said Ron wearily, examining the tatters of his bed curtains. "When it was done shredding these..."
"... it ran across my head," Seamus intoned, walking past them, out of the room. "Four times."
"It settled down to sleep on my pillow," Neville said mournfully. "But every time I moved, it swatted at my face." Neville's face was, in fact, covered with thin scratches.
"I don't know when it had time to do that," said Dean. "I was up all night, batting at it with my pillow to keep it off my toes!"
The much-maligned griffin was curled up with a paw over the tip of its beak, snoozing in the sunlight on the windowsill.
Dean looked at the griffin, then looked at Ron. "Think you can convince the girls to take it tomorrow night? It is awfully cute."
"I'll... try," said Ron. "Reparo?" he said hopefully, pointing his wand at the curtains. The curtains remained stubbornly torn.
The griffin rolled over, exposing its furry belly to the sun.
"Arrrrgh," Dean said, fleeing the tableau and taking Neville with him.
"Ron," Harry said, rubbing his forehead fretfully. "I had... a really odd dream."
Ron stared at him, one leg in his trousers. "Not," he breathed, "You-Know-Who?"
"No," Harry said. "At least, I don't think so."
Ron sighed and pulled his trousers the rest of the way on.
Harry pulled out the roll of parchment provided by Mssrs. Evershed, Barke, and Chewe on the care and feeding of griffin kittens. "I suppose we should stop by the kitchen and ask the house elves for some of these things," he said. "And we can warn Dobby about the griffin, so it doesn't pounce on his head or anything."
Ginny managed to convince Hermione to go for a walk around the lake. To the other side of the lake, in fact, and since the weather had turned bitter they had no company at all.
"What is it?" asked Hermione at last, huddling in her cloak. "It must be important, it's not the kind of day one goes for a stroll."
Ginny thought for a moment, then burst out with, "I... I think that You-Know-Who knows."
"Knows what?" asked Hermione, her eyes widening in alarm.
"About the wedding."
"But how could he find out?"
"I don't know!" She pulled her slightly tatty cloak more securely around her shoulders and sat down morosely on a rock. "Maybe he tried to do something to the school and couldn't. Maybe it's Harry's scar-thing again."
"Why do you think he knows?" Hermione sat down beside her and put a hand lightly on her arm.
"Because I had a dream that Tom Riddle sent me a wedding-present," Ginny said dourly.
There was a long silence after that. Finally, Hermione suggested hesitantly, "It could have just been a nightmare."
"Hermione," Ginny said reasonably, "when I have nightmares, they're about going to school naked or the thing outside the window or strangling roosters!" She caught sight of Hermione's face and admitted, "All right, maybe the last is a little weird. But they aren't like this dream. It was too normal for a nightmare, too... vivid and real. There wasn't anything cloudy or horrid about it. And you were in it, too, and you're not usually in my nightmares."
Hermione looked at Ginny. "Er, I'm sorry I was in your... in the dream."
Ginny waved a hand. "You didn't do anything weird. No one did anything weird. Everyone behaved normally. Well, aside from giving me wedding-presents, since no one knows I'm married."
Hermione gazed thoughtfully over the lake for a moment. "What was it?"
"What was-- the present, you mean?"
"Yes. What did he send you?"
"Matching bracelets with the inscription 'Mei Primum,'" Ginny confessed in a low voice.
Hermione exhaled sharply. "'Mine first,'" she whispered.
"Harry," said Ron in a low voice. "You've been awfully quiet all day. What's up?"
"Just that dream," said Harry, randomly underlining something in his essay.
"Never known you to be so worried over a dream," Ron said. "Well, except that stuff that came from You-Know-Who. Are you sure--?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Harry said, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his face. "Sirius was in it."
Ron blinked at him over the tip of his quill. "Harry, Sirius was in the last set of dreams you got from You-Know-Who."
"This was different," he insisted. "It was at Hogwarts. And-- and-- it was just different, is all."
"How different?" Ron asked.
Harry cast around for words. Finally, he whispered, "Voldemort wasn't in it!"
Ron winced at the name, but said, "Well, why are you so worried about it then?"
"It just felt... important, somehow. Like it was trying to tell me something. And Cedric was in it. And I wanted to talk to Sirius, but Dumbledore wouldn't let me. Maybe... maybe there is some way..."
Ron watched him for a moment. "Harry," he said finally, "Sirius is dead. You can't talk to him."
"How do you know?" Harry snapped. "How do you know there isn't some way? How do you know he's really..."
"Okay, okay, you're right."
There was a short silence while each wrote another sentence in his essay.
Finally, Ron said, "So, uh, you didn't get a detention that time you stayed after to talk to Snape."
"No," replied Harry. "He just, uh, yelled at me a lot."
"That's not too bad," said Ron. "Maybe being in the Order is mellowing him a bit."
"Snape said that he wanted to marry you to me instead of Ginny," remarked Harry, trying to lighten the mood.
"WHAT?" yelled Ron, dropping his quill and splattering orange ink all over his Transfiguration essay. "Get off, you're pulling my leg!"
"No, it's true. He told me so."
"AUGH," said Ron coherently, pulling a disgusted face. "Thank Merlin McGonagall and Dumbledore were able to overrule him!"
"What," said Harry, pretending to be offended, "you think being married to me would be that bad?"
Ron gaped at him. Then he spluttered, "No offense, mate, no offense, I love you, but--"
"It's not like I'm a total monster, you know..."
"LIKE A BROTHER, HARRY!" Ron yelled desperately.
Harry burst out laughing. "I was joking, Ron."
"You were?" Ron asked carefully.
"Yes," Harry assured him between guffaws.
"Oh," said Ron.
"Right," said Harry.
They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment and then Ron leaned over and punched Harry on the arm. "C'mon, we'll be late for class."
As he collected his parchments, Harry glanced at the clock and reflected that it was going to be the first time in their respective careers that they would be five minutes early to Potions.
"It was nice of the house elves to get you the bone meal and yoghurt and meat and stuff," Ginny said.
"Yeah," said Harry, trying to keep his fingers away from the clacking beak that was working its way up the long strip of bloody meat. "I just hope they're not going to be too upset about the mess we've made with it."
Ginny blinked, glancing aside at Hermione. Hermione just smiled and shrugged at her interrogative eyebrows. Well, a milestone is a milestone. Harry answering her with more than a monosyllable was certainly cause for mild celebration.
The griffin seized the strip of meat and attempted to wrest it out of Harry's fingers, shaking its head back and forth and making a tiny growling noise. Its wings flapped excitedly and it dug its paws into the rug as it tried to back up.
"What are you going to name it?" asked Ginny, trying to keep the conversational ball rolling.
"Oh, we couldn't do that," said Harry distractedly, trying to keep his school robes out of reach of the razor-sharp little claws. "Hagrid's going to want to name it."
Hermione said suddenly, "Why are we all calling it 'it'? Do we even know if it's male or female?"
Harry and Ron looked at one another. "Actually," Ron said, "I don't think the chap at the shop ever said."
While Harry was distracted, the piece of meat he was holding tore. Triumphant, the griffin dashed off with the greater part of it and hid under one of the armchairs, leaving a trail of bloodspots as it went.
"I suppose," Hermione said slowly, "that one could tell on a griffin the same way one tells on a cat."
"I suppose you know how," Ron said. "Though I don't know how you can be sure through all Crookshanks' fur."
"It's easy," said Hermione. She grabbed a yoghurt-covered strip of meat out of the bowl and dangled it in front of the armchair. A furry paw swiped at it, and she moved it a little further away. The griffin pounced out after the meat, and she swooped it up in the other hand.
She gave it the meat to distract it while she tucked it, on its back, in the crook of her arm. It meeped happily around a mouthful of meat and smeared yoghurt on the front of her robes. She gently pulled its tail away from the region in question and examined it.
"Well?" asked Ginny, quite curious.
"Er," said Hermione. "I think it's a girl."
"I thought you said it was easy to tell," said Ron.
Hermione looked up. "I forgot that it takes a while for the, er, you know, to show," she said dryly.
For some reason, this shut Ron up, as well as turning his and Harry's ears red.
The griffin snatched her tail out of Hermione's hand with both front paws and nibbled experimentally at the tip.
"Well, since it's a girl," Ron said, "perhaps you all would like to take her for the night?"
Hermione set the griffin down. She romped away and attacked a cushion that someone had left on the floor, kicking happily with her rear paws. "You've got to be kidding."
"Ginny?" asked Ron pleadingly.
"Not a chance," Ginny said. "My roommates like me now."
The cushion ripped and feathers fountained into the air.
"I wish we could say the same for our roommates," Harry muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.
It was late. Harry and Ron were playing chess in front of the Gryffindor fire while Hermione worked on an essay. They were the only ones left in the common room, except for Neville, who was playing host to the griffin, sound asleep on his lap following her rather messy dinner. He was afraid to move lest he awaken her, so he was attempting to read while sitting very still.
Crookshanks, curled up on top of the mantelpiece and looking as though someone had tossed a thoroughly disreputable pillow up there, kept one ear swiveled in the griffin's direction, just in case.
"Checkmate," said Ron as his queen picked up Harry's king, held him triumphantly over her head, and then tossed him entirely off the chessboard.
"Third in a row," said Harry, wincing and pressing the heel of his hand to his head as the king bounced off a chairleg. "I'm packing it in for the night."
"Aw," said Ron. "You just need some more practice." But he started pointing his wand at various pieces and summoning them back to the box.
Harry glanced over at Hermione, who was writing very fast, her parchment propped on the back of a very formidable-looking book. "Hermione, how much Latin do you know?"
She looked up, interested. "Some," she said. "I had it in school, before I came here."
"Could you translate something for me?"
"Probably, just a sec." Hermione set books and essay aside, and darted up the stairs to her dorm. When she returned, she was holding a battered hardback book in a paper cover. It looked rather unlike any of the wizarding texts that Harry and Ron were used to seeing.
"Whoa," Ron said. "Is that a Muggle book?"
"Lewis and Short," Hermione answered. "I've been bringing it to school with me since I noticed that most of our spells have Latin in them. It helps to know approximately what you're saying, I think."
Harry glanced over at Neville, whose head had flopped over against the back of his chair in a way almost reminiscent of the bonelessly sleeping griffin on his lap. Hermione, following his glance, remarked, "He's going to get a nasty taste in his mouth if he sleeps with it open like that."
"Oh, he snores like the dickens," said Ron.
Satisfied that Neville was asleep, Harry pulled the ring off his finger, pointed his wand at it, and muttered, "Revelomnia." He handed the heavy gold band over to Hermione and said, "The inscription?"
Hermione examined the ring with open curiosity. "Very plain, practical, and traditional," she commented. "Probably excellent for the spell." She peered inside it. "Hmm."
She spent a little time looking things up in the book while Ron and Harry fidgeted. Finally, she looked up with a small smile. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, given what you've said people are trying to tell you, Harry."
"What?" said Harry tensely.
"It means, 'Once strangers, now family,'" said Hermione.
An owl landed in front of Ginny at breakfast, and she squinted at it for a moment before she said, "It's Hermes!"
Harry and Hermione looked over with some interest. Ron looked up from his porridge sourly. "I wonder what Percy's got to say to you that he can't manage to say to Mum and Dad."
Ginny sighed and rolled her eyes as she untied the message from Hermes' leg. She said, "Off you go then," to the owl.
"What, not going to read it?" Ron sounded strangely outraged as she tucked the letter into the sleeve of her robe.
"Not here," she replied.
Harry stared at Professor Flitwick, absently rubbing his forehead while wondering whether he actually ought to take notes for this particular lesson. His dilemma was resolved, however, when they moved on to practical demonstration of the Avoidance Charm.
"When properly used," Flitwick declared, "the target will not even notice whatever you want them to avoid."
Hermione cornered Harry in the usual bustle and chatter of the classroom. "Harry," she whispered, "is your scar hurting?"
"No," he said, looking at her as if she'd just sprouted a sparkling horn. "I'd tell you if it were."
"You've been rubbing your forehead an awful lot lately," she said.
"Have I?" He thought about it for a moment. "Oh."
"Well?" Hermione said.
"I... guess it does hurt a little," Harry said wonderingly. "Not really enough for me to notice. It must have come on very... slowly."
"I think you'd better tell Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said.
"What would I tell him?" Harry said. "My scar aches a bit? I'd feel like a nutter."
"You know," Hermione said, rubbing her own forehead, "you always say things like this."
Ginny handed the letter to Hermione without comment. Hermione's eyes widened as she read it. Then she looked up at Ginny. "Your family didn't tell Percy," she said. "This sounds like he's heard of it, though. How would he find out?"
"That," said Ginny, "is what I would like to know."
"You haven't told anyone but me," Hermione said. "I haven't told a soul. I can't imagine Harry has told anyone. And Ron would rather snap his broomstick over his knee than tell Percy." She scanned the letter again. "He says something about reliable sources. Sounds fishy to me. Just who is he involved with at the Ministry?"
"Someone entirely respectable, I'm sure," Ginny said sarcastically.
"You're not going to Hogsmeade to meet him alone, the way he says," Hermione said.
"Of course not," Ginny replied. "You're coming with me."
"I'm coming wit-- of course I'm coming with you," Hermione said briskly. "The only problem is, I'm sure he's not going to talk if he sees you with me. He knows perfectly well that I'm one of Harry's best friends."
Ginny thought a moment. "So, where does Harry keep his Invisibility Cloak, do you know?"
Hermione's jaw dropped. "Ginny! That would be stealing!"
"Just borrowing," said Ginny. "Besides, technically, we share everything we own now. Even Invisibility Cloaks."
Hermione stared at her for a moment, then cleared her throat and said, "I admire the way your mind works."
"Survival instinct," Ginny said.
An owl pecked at the window of the dorm. "Could you get that, Ron?" Harry asked, a little desperately, as the griffin clung to the front of his shirt and slurped noisily at the meat he was feeding her.
Ron, whose face was half-covered with gritty yoghurt, rose obediently to let the owl in. The owl hooted its thanks and fluttered over to Harry, only to squawk angrily when the griffin, apparently taking the owl to be her mother, dove for it athletically.
"No, no!" Harry shouted. "Bad griffin!"
There ensued a merry chase of the griffin after the owl, Harry after the griffin, and the other boys leaping out of the way.
Finally, Harry had successfully tackled the griffin, the owl was hiding behind Ron, and only Harry's bed had transformed into a bloody mess.
"Ron," Harry said, panting, "could you get the letter then?"
"Sure, Harry," Ron said, untying the missive. The owl hooted reprovingly and vanished out the window. Neville closed the window after it.
"It's from Hagrid," Ron said dubiously.
"Please let him be saying that he's coming home early," Seamus said.
"Open it," Harry said, clambering to his feet with the griffin in his hands. The griffin was curled around one of his hands, clinging to it with beak and paws and nibbling happily.
"Uh-oh," Ron said after scanning the note.
"What?" Dean said pleadingly. "Spit it out!"
"Harry," Ron said, "Hagrid won't be back for another two weeks... at best."
"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" they all howled, alarming the griffin so that she leaped onto Harry's head, knocked off his glasses, and dug in all her claws.
"Ginny," Hermione said, poking her head in between Ginny's bed curtains, "I've something I need to talk to you about."
"Come on in," said Ginny. "Sorry about the mess. I'm working on yet another extra Potions essay. Do you know anything about blue faience?"
"I wrote an essay on it last year," said Hermione. "I can give you a list of books if you like."
"You're a lifesaver," Ginny said. "Everything I have is yours. What can I possibly do for you in exchange?"
Hermione charmed the curtains, and sat down crosslegged on the end of the bed. "Let me see your ring a moment."
"I'm not supposed to take it off," Ginny said slowly, curious.
"Five minutes," Hermione said. "This is important."
Ginny tugged it off and carefully handed it over. Hermione took it and cast the Reveal charm. Ginny leaned forward, interested. She hadn't seen it since the wedding ceremony.
"Take a look," Hermione said, handing it back.
Turning it over, Ginny examined it. Then she turned pale. "It's got an inscription."
"And you didn't know about it when you had that dream," Hermione said.
Ginny stared at the ring. "The inscription on the bracelets was on the inside too. I thought that was odd."
Hermione propped her chin up on her fist. "How did You-- Voldemort know about it? I asked Harry, and he found out about the inscription the morning before you had that nightmare."
"Is Harry still taking Occlumency lessons?" Ginny wondered.
"He doesn't talk about it," said Hermione.
"He needs to start again, then," Ginny said darkly.
"Look at it this way," said Hermione, looking significantly down at Ginny's Potions essay. "Would you want to?"
"You have a point," Ginny said. "But I think we're in trouble."
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