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Harry went to bed early that evening, before anyone else, except for Malfoy, who was feeling as miserable as ever and had a rather sore head.

Harry had told the Order briefly that he had started asking their guest questions, that matters were in hand. After explaining this, he had excused himself saying he wasn't feeling well and retired upstairs before Moody or anyone else could start up again. He wasn't in fact lying. He had eaten very little. A tight knot was oppressing his throat and his stomach and he felt a bit sick. He wasn't particularly proud of his altercation with Malfoy and, of course, something else was playing in his mind.

He had told his friends that they could tell the Order about the problem with his mother's wand but he hadn't wanted to take part in the discussion. This was a bit out of character for Harry since, normally, he was at the centre of most conversations. That night, he simply couldn't face it.

Malfoy's revelation regarding his mother having been Snape's love interest had knocked him off balance. On the one hand, he needed to find out for sure. On the other, what if she had actually reciprocated, perhaps before she got together with his Dad? The idea was just too scary. How did Malfoy know anyway? He would ask Lupin as soon as he could handle finding out.

The air in his room was rather hot and humid. He opened the window and laid on top of the bed without the energy or the desire to get undressed just yet.

The following day was Ginny's birthday. He had gone to great lengths to ensure that it was truly special. Whatever his troubles, they weren't Ginny's fault. He had vowed to himself to put everything on hold for the occasion, to try to make her happy.

He instinctively reached for the present he had bought for her. It was nicely wrapped in glossy paper. The bracelet itself, together with his cufflinks had now been duly enchanted by the wizarding jewellers, as Hermione had suggested. The effect of this was to warn the wearer if the other was in danger and to make them more empathic with each other's feelings. He clutched it in his hands and, for a minute, he allowed himself to day dream. However, within mere minutes, the mental strain he had been under finally took its toll and he fell soundly asleep.

He woke up early the next morning not feeling particularly rested. He thought about waking Ginny up with a birthday kiss, but decided he would let her have a lay in instead.

As he went downstairs into the kitchen, both Mr and Mrs Weasley went suddenly quiet. However, he had already overheard Molly going on about how children needed an education.

A decision must have been made about Hogwarts, Harry thought, distractedly looking at the unfinished birthday cake that Molly had obviously been making before the news had arrived.

"It seems that you've got your wish, Harry," said Mrs Weasley not looking particularly chuffed.

"You mean Hogwarts is not to re-open?" Harry's voice, contrary to what Mrs Weasley had anticipated, denoted concern. "I'm surprised the Ministry is admitting that it's not safe anymore!" he added glancing at Mr Weasley as if waiting for a comment.

"Well, the decision has been made by the Board of Governors, not by the Ministry," clarified Arthur. "The Ministry, of course, is never going to openly admit that proper protection cannot be put in place. The main reason that has been given is the difficulty in finding suitable staff for various positions."

"Yeah, like Defence Against the Dark Arts, I take it?" Harry mocked. "I bet Umbridge is not tempted to take this up again!"

"Harry, this is serious," said Molly looking at him like if he had been part of a conspiracy to keep the school closed.

"Mrs Weasley," he started, addressing her formally without thinking. He had recently been calling everyone by their first name. "I never wanted the school not to re-open, on the contrary! All I said is that I have a mission that I cannot put off. Ron and Hermione made their own decisions. You know me well enough to know that I wouldn't endanger other people out of my own volition, don't you?"

Molly hadn't expected this counter-attack. She glanced at him a little surreptitiously.

"Harry, if the school is not to re-open this year, you all will have to be educated at home. You're not my son and you're now of age. I have no authority over you. I can't prevent you from doing whatever it is that you have set your mind on doing. All I ask you, Harry, is to bear in mind that your mother died for you to live. We are with you in this war, but please do not throw away her sacrifice!"

She now looked at him almost with tears in her eyes

Not the emotional blackmail, please! Harry almost said aloud. 

"But she also fought Voldemort, Molly. What kind of son would I be if I didn't continue with the task? He will go on killing and torturing until someone brings him down!" he almost yelled.

"Have some breakfast, Harry, think things through properly," she suggested in an attempt to soothe his mood.

Mr Weasley looked at both of them with interest but decided not to take part in this just yet.

Harry also thought that it was best to let matters be for the time being.

"Is that cake for Ginny?" he asked stating the obvious in an attempt to change the subject.

"Yes, Harry, we'll have a little gathering later this evening, as we did for your birthday." Molly answered still looking worried.

Harry had an idea. If Ginny had invited people from the DA, he would have an opportunity to talk to some fellow students. Maybe he could get them to go back to the old self-teaching system. They could study together, but where? At Grimmauld Place? Hermione surely would not object to lending her very extensive notes to the people on the year below. Yes, they could continue in this way and be united. His class mates surely needed to further their defensive skills and also, perhaps they could be, even without knowing too much, of assistance in his quest. It was important, of course, that the people involved were trustworthy, but thinking about it, only one member of the old Dumbledore Army had proved not to be in their fifth year. Maybe he could persuade some of the actual Hogwarts teachers to help; not that he could offer to pay them though, since he was now technically broke. His imagination was now running fast.
He was going to see Hagrid in a few hours. He could ask his opinion on this.

Hermione woke up before Ginny. She knew it was her birthday and instantly thought about what her reaction to Harry's present would be. He had spent such a vast amount of money, especially now that he wasn't rich any longer in actual legal terms! He definitely was taken with the girl!

Hermione next thought about herself and Ron. She had been lecturing Harry about messing around with other people's emotions, and yet her own relationship was far from perfect. Ron and she were just so different but still, the feelings were there. They argued all the time, but why? Was he too laid-back, was she too bossy? Well, we all have flaws, she thought, and on this note she proceeded to open the mouldy looking curtains and let the light come in.

Almost immediately after, there was a tap on the window.

"Ginny, Ginny, Happy Birthday!" said Hermione enthusiastically. Ginny thanked her and they shared a cuddle.

"Look, there is an owl for you," Hermione said excitedly.

With all recent events, she had almost forgotten about her OWL results, thought Ginny as she recognised the bird as belonging to Hogwarts.

Hermione noticed this too.

"Come on, girl, be brave, get dressed and open it downstairs with your family!" Hermione encouraged. "I know it’s nerve wracking!"

Ginny gave the owl some nuts and decided to take Hermione's suggestion. She quickly slipped into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and proceeded down the stairs with anticipation. There would be time to dress more glamorously later on. She couldn’t wait.

“Happy Birthday, my baby!” said her mother as they came down the stairs. She left the kitchen table and gave her a hug so strong that it almost squeezed the life out of the girl.

“Happy Birthday!” Harry and Mr Weasley also exclaimed. Harry wanted to kiss her so much, but not in front of her parents. No, that wouldn’t do.

“I think I have here the results of my OWLs!" Ginny announced. "Mind you, since they can’t be any worse than the twins’! I guess I'll still be your daughter no matter what!” she joked in what would appear to be rather high spirits. Deep down, although she wasn’t as nervous as Hermione had been when she received hers, she was a little worried.

Mrs Weasley felt a bit nervous too. She was clearly fretting.

“Go on, open the letter. Let’s see if you can beat your brother Ron and me!” Harry teased.

Ginny smiled at Harry but, when she looked at her parents, realised that something was troubling them. She plucked up courage nonetheless and proceeded.

“OK,” she simply said, taking a quick glance and passing the piece of parchment to Hermione, expecting her to read the details aloud for her, suddenly becoming too nervous to do it herself.

At that stage, Ron surfaced from upstairs. Harry had woken up much earlier than him. “So you got your OWLs?” Ron asked with curiosity.

“Wow, Ginny,” Hermione was excited. “You got nine! Let me see; Outstanding in Charms and Potions, Exceeds Expectations in Transfiguration, DADA, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy. Acceptable in Divination and History of Magic! No fails at all!”

Ginny blushed at the end of Hermione’s recital and said, “Well, I believe you got eleven, and they were all Outstandings!”

Hermione blushed even further than her friend.

There was a round of applause. Molly Weasley was clapping frantically.

Arthur Weasley waited a little so as not to spoilt the moment but, then, proceeded to inform his children about the news on Hogwarts.

“Well, at least, all my children have got some qualifications...” sighed Molly.“Even if some of them are not intending to go all the way!" she added frowning and looking in Ron and Harry's direction.

Taking advantage of Mrs Weasley’s emotional state and the fact that there were a number of people in the kitchen to distract her, Harry led Ginny by his hand to the abandoned shed at the rear of the back yard. He kissed her passionately and said: “Ok, ready for a surprise?”

Ginny closed her eyes and threw her head backwards against the wall. She placed her arms around Harry's neck and returned the kiss impatiently, impetuously savouring every second of it.

“What’s the surprise then?” she asked him wearing a great big grin.

“We are going to Hogwarts, Gin, to see Hagrid,” he replied grinning back with complicity. I have bought something for you also, but I’ll give it to you later, at the party. You’ll just have to wait and see...” he added mischievously.

“Hogwarts? Hagrid? Whatever you have in mind?" she asked letting a cheeky smile show. "Also, how are we going to get away from my mum and how are you planning to get us there?”

“I’ll just announce that I’m taking you out for the day, which is what I’m doing anyway,” he said matter-of-factly. “Your dad is here still, so we better do it before he leaves for work. With a bit of luck, he'll come on our side! Then you’ll just have to side-along Apparate with me to Hogsmeade. Hagrid is meeting us there. 

After encountering the expected degree of resistance from Mrs Weasley who was, as usual, concerned about their safety, they Apparated to The Three Broomsticks and were greeted by Hagrid who was obviously very pleased to see them.

Hagrid immediately wished Happy Birthday to Ginny and bought them both a Butterbeer. Then, he placed an unskilfully wrapped packet on top of the table and invited Ginny to open it. It was a book on unicorns and legends. Someone must have told him they were her favourite creature, she thought glancing at Harry.

"I'll take yeh ter see the real thing soon, but be polite ter them, they're shy, yeh see," said Hagrid.

"Is it true that only maidens can approach them?" Harry asked.

"Well, it depends, 'arry. They prefer girls, but yeh never know. The thing is there are in the season when they shed their horns, so they may be a little touchy at the moment, jus' let them come ter yeh," Hagrid explained.

"So, this was the surprise! Thank you so much! So, we are going to the Forbidden Forest?" asked Ginny excitedly.

"Shush," said Hagrid taking his finger to his mouth "I'm not supposed to take kids there."

"We're not kids anymore!" protested both Harry and Ginny.

"So, Hagrid, what's happening with Hogwarts? We heard the news just earlier," started Harry.

"I'll tell yeh about it later." Hagrid replied lowering his voice and looking rather sad.

"You better be careful, Hagrid," said Harry looking preoccupied. "With Umbridge now as Minister. Well, you know how she treated you when she was in charge of the school. I think it may be best if you come to stay with us for a while."

"But, who would look after Grawp? I can't take 'im there, can I?"

Harry and Ginny shuddered but stayed silent. No, the prospect of having Grawp living at Grimmauld Place didn’t seem very appealing.

“Can the teachers remain living at the castle? I mean Trelawney, for instance, may be in danger,” Harry wanted to know.

“No-one has said that we can’t jus' yet, but let’s go ter my hut. We’ll talk more in there. I‘ve made yeh some cakes,” Hagrid said pressing on.

Hagrid had brought with him a couple of spare brooms and they flew to his hut by the edge of the Forest.

Fang greeted them with an extremely loud bark.

“Steady, now, you know Harry and Ginny!” Hagrid’s words to the dog seemed to have had the desired effect because Fang now laid peacefully under the kitchen table.

They sampled some of Hagrid’s home-baked cakes more out of politeness than appetite.

“I was just thinking that since the students are now to be home-schooled we may as well set up our own study group,” started Harry looking into Hagrid’s eyes for feedback.

“But where, Harry? Not a bad idea, thou',’” replied their former teacher.

“I dunno, maybe Grimmauld Place,” Harry volunteered.

“Would that be sensible though? I mean, it’s Headquarters, in'it?”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” contributed Ginny.

“What about somewhere in Hogsmeade?” Harry suggested.

“But it’s up ter the parents, in'it, what the kids do? How would they travel there? Many can’t Apparate jus' yet.”

“Umm... I was just thinking about the older groups, sixth and seventh years mainly, but, yeah, good point. I bet someone like Lupin would be prepared to teach us, don’t you think?”

“Yeh can’t but ask him, I suppose. I’ll be glad to help yeh, but yeh can't have creatures back at Grimmauld Place. I could teach yeh theory thou,” Hagrid offered.

"Thanks, Hagrid," said Harry sincerely but now thinking about the transportation problem.

“Now, I better take yeh ter see the unicorns. I’ll come with yeh to show yeh the paths, then I’ll leave yeh. Don't want to intrude,” Hagrid told them with a knowing grin on his face.

The Forest didn’t seem as daunting by daylight as it was at night, especially not in Hagrid’s company. However, there were certain creatures such as Aragog’s family they weren’t particularly keen on crossing their path with.

They walked deeper and deeper into the greenery. The light was almost beginning to recede. It had started to rain very finely. It was refreshing though. Harry took a deep breath. The air smelt of summer and of moist earth. For some reason, he felt light, pure and free.

“There is one!” spotted Ginny excitedly.

“Wow, yeah!” exclaimed Harry in a low voice as if frightened of scaring off the unicorn.

Ginny moved forward towards the animal. Harry realised it was just like the one he had seen in his dream. How amazing! 

The unicorn also moved towards her slowly. Hagrid winked at her as if saying that it was safe to touch him and silently went back in the direction they had come.

Ginny stroked the animal with a little apprehension. The creature seemed friendly enough. Suddenly, she felt this strong desire to ride it. The unicorn kneeled. Harry, completely in awe at the animal’s behaviour, walked towards them. Something magical was happening. It was as if he knew that he was welcome too.

They both rode the unicorn exactly as it had happened in his dream. After the most joyful ride of his whole life, he felt at peace, as if a positive force had enveloped them. That had to have meant something!

After a while, the unicorn stopped by a tree as almost indicating that their time now was up. They dismounted and witnessed what they had never seen before, a unicorn shedding his horn against an ancient oak. It looked at the couple with its beautiful dark eyes which contrasted perfectly with the silvery whiteness of his coat. For a second, both teenagers thought that it was offering its discarded horn to them. Harry and Ginny looked at one another mesmerised. Without knowing why, Ginny took the horn in her hand and passed it on to Harry.

The rain had now stopped and the couple looked at the sky in awe. A rainbow had appeared and the unicorn had gone back into the depths of the Forest as if the rainbow itself had been guiding his trot.

Back in Hagrid’s hut, they related to him what they had just experienced. Hagrid indicated that it wasn’t at all common for a unicorn to act like that.

“They’re such shy creatures,” he commented rather perplexed.

“It was as if it was giving us the horn!” Ginny explained.

“Unicorn horn is a very powerful substance.” Hagrid told them. It’s used in healing potions, it’s a known antidote to many venoms. Frightfully expensive thou', 21 galleons per horn in Diagon Alley!”

“It’s also very rare that they let a male approach them, never mind riding them, Harry, but of course yeh are special...” Hagrid continued

“What do you mean I’m special?

“Well, yeh survived, didn’t yeh and no-one quite knows how, Harry. Yeh have a good soul, yeh see. Yeh must have been meant ter live, dunno, but I never seen the like! So, he let you ride him?” Hagrid went on as if trying to piece the puzzle together.

Harry was even more mystified now. Also, he had never been very comfortable with the notion of being anything other than an ordinary wizard.

After a nice warm cup of tea and a friendly chat, Harry and Ginny were ready to depart for Hogsmeade, from where they would Apparate back to Grimmauld Place.

The silhouette of the castle dominated the surroundings majestically. The doors were now closed to all students. Harry would have liked so much to go inside once again, but that was not possible. With a slight trepidation, and holding Ginny's hand, they circumvented the place. They stopped by the lake for a few minutes, memories flooding back. Even as they were leaving, he felt the need to look back and contemplate nostalgically the place that had been his true home all those years, the place to where he didn't even know if he would ever return.

By the time they got back to Grimmauld Place, the house was fully decorated. As on Harry's birthday, the twins have taken care of the festive enchantments. Various people from Hogwarts started to arrive. It was the first time after the wedding that they saw some of their class-mates.

The gathering wasn't a huge one mainly due to the Order's need for secrecy, even if the building was still under the Fidelius Charm. However, many of the people in the trio's year had now become full members. Augusta Longbottom had been only too happy to let her grandson join. Luna had done this too and so had many others like Hannah Abbot and even the Patil twins, who had done so despite their parents' concerns.

Harry brought up briefly the idea of forming a study group. All of the DA members seemed keen to reunite and expected Harry to teach them as he had done back in their fifth year. He explained that he was far too busy but that Professor Lupin would be much better than himself. This met with everyone's approval.

Harry then spoke to Remus, who said he would be happy to teach, as long as it did not conflict with his Order duties. They had all agreed to further communicate via the enchanted coins they had used two years back.

Mrs Weasley had been cooking for the best part of the day. A really large buffet was laid in front of them. The residents of Grimmauld Place, minus Malfoy, together with the guests went up to the drawing room where Remus Lupin was about to magically open a bottle of champagne.

Ginny went upstairs to get changed. Her mother followed her and surprised her with a most beautiful green satin cocktail dress that she had made herself. It was simple, yet elegant, and in contrasted perfectly with the colour of her hair. Ginny looked at her mirror reflection and kissed her Mum on the cheek with sincere gratitude. Molly even allowed her to use a bit of make-up to complement the look.

Ginny finally made her entrance into the drawing room. Harry looked at her speechless.

She then proceeded to open her many presents, starting with those from her fellow students. She hadn't expected so many! Even the Patil twins had brought her a silk wrap from India, where they had spent part of the summer.

Her parents and brothers had clubbed together to buy her a new broomstick – a Nimbus 2001. It was not quite so fast as Harry’s Firebolt but rather a good one. The trouble was that, if Hogwarts was not to re-open that year, where was she supposed to practice Quidditch? Mr and Mrs Weasley had realised this but had given it to her anyway, saying that if she wanted to exchange it for something else, she might be able to. They all looked at bit sad thinking on these notes.

The twins had, of course, also secretly provided a number of their latest and most outlandish inventions. Hermione had thought it would be interesting to introduce her gently to Muggle literature and had bought her a copy of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." She had written a note to say that the heroine in the book reminded her a bit of her.

“What are we to do about Malfoy?” Ginny asked Harry, feeling a little sorry for the guy, realising that she had completely forgotten about him being there.

“I’ll ask him if he wants to come, but I doubt very much he will,” Harry replied as he went up the stairs also to collect his own present. Then he stopped for a minute and decided to bring him a glass of bubbly, out of politeness if nothing else.

Draco had heard music and noises and had of course realised that some celebration was taking place. He had felt tempted to take a secret peek on whatever was going on but had decided against it. He was neither in the mood nor ready to meet up with his host's friends.

When Harry entered his room, Draco simply accepted the drink and said thank you in a dry tone of voice. He did not particularly feel up to facing the DA crowd but, on the other hand, he knew he would have to face people sooner or later.

“Look, there is some news you may be interested to hear, like the fact that Hogwarts is not to re-open next term, Not that it matters to you much since you are in hiding in any case. I just think it would be polite of you to have a drink with us. It would also prove courage on your part, come to think of it!” Harry reasoned.

"Potter, you claim you care about my safety and now you are trying to reveal my whereabouts to all and sundry!" Malfoy cried.

"Come off it! The house's location can only be disclosed by me. I'm the Secret Keeper, you see. Anyway, all the people invited are members of the Order, they know better than going blabbing to the Death Eaters!"

“As you wish,” Draco replied trying to sound disinterested but being in fact nervous at the reception that he might get from his school-mates, yet realising that Harry was right, that it would prove courage. This could be a chance for him to appease the only people who, apart from Snape, given the turn of events, could ever be on his side.

Meanwhile, Ginny had briefly told her friends that Malfoy was now living with them since his mother had been killed by Voldemort and he was in serious danger. Everyone apart from Luna appeared greatly shocked. Neville certainly didn't know quite what to make of it. Ron's facial expression indicated his strong opposition to handing Malfoy an invitation to his sister's birthday party. The adults awaited his entrance with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.

Harry led the way downstairs with a reluctant Malfoy in tow.

"Ok, guys. Our surprise guest!" he announced a little sarcastically.

"I don't expect you to welcome him after what he did but, please consider the fact that he didn't volunteer himself to kill Dumbledore and that he didn't actually do it. He tells me that he is now in our side, so let's give him a chance, shall we?"

Everyone looked at Harry as if they had just been struck with something heavy in the head. Harry then raised his own glass and toasted: "To our common goal, to Voldemort's demise!" The adults and the other youngsters partook in the toast but were definitely speechless. Harry toasted with Draco looking intently into his pale grey eyes, trying to read his reaction.

Malfoy kept himself very much to himself and went to sit on his own on a chair by the window. Ginny pretended that nothing had happened and proceeded to open the rest of the presents with a cheerful disposition.

When only Harry's remained, he covered her eyes with his hands, and took a parcel out of his pocket. Ginny’s fingers unwrapped it really fast. The quality of the box itself revealed that the contents must be something really expensive. The adults were definitely now also paying attention. She opened it, and her eyes lit up.

“Oh, Harry, it’s beautiful!” She exclaimed.

Harry had been feeling extremely nervous. Perhaps he had gone too over the top. He had thought that maybe she wouldn't want to accept something like that from him, so soon in their relationship.

But before he could allow any more fears to enter his mind, he had the answer. Not caring who was there, Ginny placed the bracelet in her wrist, surrounded Harry with her arms and kissed him for what seemed the longest time ever. He felt incredibly relieved.

Malfoy pretended not to be interested, when in fact he couldn't help but make a gesture, as if saying how tasteless such displays of wealth truly were.

All the others, could not but notice how perfectly the bracelet matched her dress and
how she seemed to glow.

Mrs Weasley, at that point, came nearer to Ginny to have a better look at the gift. Harry could have sworn that she didn't look pleased. She made a motion for Harry to come with her.

"Harry," she started in a tone that made him feel uncomfortable. "There is no doubt you have spent an absolute fortune on this!"

He gazed straight into her eyes as if confirming this and then admitted, "Molly, she deserves it. I have acted like an idiot with her. I hurt her, although I didn't mean to. I tried to keep away, for her safety but it's just..." he couldn't quite get himself to finish the sentence but finally muttered "... just… that, I love her!"

"You are too young for that, Harry. You're trying to run before you can walk. How do you know that you will still want to be with her when you grow up? You are both still at school. In, say, years to come I would be delighted if the two of you, well... but Harry you are acting like you can't wait to get engaged or something!" she said blushing strongly.

"Molly, we have been through this a thousand times! I tried not to be with her, partly because I may die soon. I have tried not to be with her but I just can't do it! I can't", Harry protested feeling very emotional. "She has made up her mind and is aware of the dangers. I just know she is the one!" he tried to explain, his eyes now becoming humid.

"I can't be angry with you long, Harry. You got a knack to get away with murder with me! I can see you feel for her and that you have a noble heart." Molly paused for a minute. "It's just that you have this tendency to play the knight in shining armour, which leads you into trouble more often than not!"

He smiled at her, realising now that she wasn't that angry after all and went back to Ginny and to the party

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