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Clearly, the characters belong to Joanne K. Rowling and not me; I was only wondering what exactly the rest of the wizarding world might have gone through while Harry, Ron and Hermione were on the hunt for Horcruxes.

Though it's already February, here comes the Christmas chapter, which is possibly the longest yet ;)
Enjoy, and I'd love to hear your opinion :)




The rural landscape had long given way to ever more densely populated areas. Industrial sites and drab neighbourhoods lined the tracks as the steaming scarlet train approached London. It was sights like these that had played nicely into the views that had been drilled into him all seventeen and a half years of his life – that Muggles were dirty and unrefined. It was snowing, but not the thick, fairytale snow; rather thin, tiny flakes, barely powdering the roofs of the edifices they passed, and promptly whisked away again in the colds winds. Unseen by the Muggles, the train crossed the invisible barrier into Platform Nine and Three Quarters, a loud bell sound signalling the end of their journey. All around him, the other occupants of the compartment were gathering their things; while he kept staring outside, watching the people outside. He didn’t like the rush, and for the first time, he didn’t look forward to spending his Christmas break at home. Not since his home wasn’t his own any more, since he shared – or should he say, since he was made to give up – the comfort of Malfoy Manor with and by The Dark Lord.

Death Eaters and other allies of their master were in and out all day, whether The Dark Lord was present or away for whatever he did. Everyone seemed to think of it as understood that Malfoy Manor would serve as a guesthouse, essentially not bothering to hide their contempt for the formerly so proud and influential Lucius Malfoy, revelling in their own importance and not even sparing a thought for how fragile their own current standing might be. He dreaded going back there, to the gloom of his summer break, where he had to witness people being killed and tortured. The anguished face of the former Muggle Studies teacher flashed before his eyes, her body revolving above the dining room table before the image was rigorously suppressed again. Murder. The theory of a society of pure-bloods had been alluring, but he’d realised back in June that he was not cut out for murder.

“Have a nice holiday, Malfoy!” The words meant nothing, twisted to imply the opposite as Crabbe’s beady little eyes appraised him maliciously. The two brutish boys who had once bent over backwards at his every whim had developed a mind of their own, emboldened by the Carrows’ regime, drunk on their borrowed power. With his father’s fall into disgrace and his own failure to go through with Dumbledore’s murder, he had sunken in the social hierarchy among his peers. Where he had been hailed last year for taking the mark, he was now just a normal Slytherin; pure-blood but not of particular importance or regard, a dispensable link in The Dark Lord’s great plan. Fools, he thought, like you’re any better. You’ll learn the hard way, like I did. He was far from speaking his mind like Potter, or like that fool Longbottom had taken up to doing; that was for brash Gryffindors. It was just bloody foolish to go against those in power, for however long they might be in that position. What was more, he felt overwhelmed by the developments.

Inclining his head in a demure fashion, carefully masking every other emotion, he waited for them to clear out. Pansy Parkinson seemed at a loss for what to do; though after giving him a regretful glance, she lifted her head and rushed after Crabbe and Goyle. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who went with the flow. He couldn’t say he blamed her; she’d just more to gain from sticking with the popular kids. They’d seen first-hand what happened to those who thought differently, and showed it.

The crowd outside was thinning out; no one was eager to stay and exchange Christmas wishes or idle chatter with acquainted families, instead gathering their returning children close and hurrying through the Death-Eater-guarded gate which would admit them into the noisy Muggle station. He should be able to see his own parents by now; but he didn’t. For a moment, he thought the blonde man rushing by outside, stopping every now and then to ask the remaining wizards and witches something with urgent hand gestures, could be his father, but then he saw the bright orange robes which Lucius Malfoy wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Grimacing, he figured he wouldn’t be able to put it off any longer, and stood to retrieve his carry-on bag. Draco moved slowly, just short of dragging his feet. In front of him, Blaise Zabini, Theo Nott and Daphne Greengrass didn’t seem in a hurry either, conversing quietly. Zabini had always managed to stay above the everyday hustle and bustle of school, avoiding all kind of strings or attachment. That had basically still stayed the same, and the other two had also managed to keep a low profile so far. They hadn’t procured the teachers’ wrath with refusals, nor had they said their opinion on any of the goings-on. He was doing the same; only the Carrows and his former sidekicks – for he used to take his father’s doctrine Malfoys didn’t have friends; they had connections to heart – enjoyed egging him on into doling out punishments. And for whatever reason, Snape had reinstated him as a prefect, much to Crabbe and Goyle’s chagrin.

From his elevated vantage point on the train, poised to climb down to the platform, he could still see the blond, orange-clad man, but he looked unfamiliar. Nor was there any sign of his mother, or even his aunt Bellatrix. Footsteps sounded from behind him; and Draco shrank back as far as he could into the shadows. His eyes widened when he recognised Longbottom and Lovegood; he’d thought he might have been one of the last if not the last to leave the train.

“Seems like everyone made it out alright,” Longbottom was saying.

The blond girl hummed in agreement. “I suppose I’ll catch up with my dad, he seems to be chasing after Moon Frogs. Oh, Ginny and Seamus are over there …”

“I’ll let them know,” the boy said, not needing for her to complete the sentence when she trailed off. “Well, Luna, have a good holiday.”

“You too, Neville,” she said, blinking up at him from where she stood on the platform, while he was still on the steps above her. “You’re holding up brilliantly.”

Draco watched as Longbottom ran a hand through his hair in an embarrassed fashion, then disappeared in the direction of the gate, stopping shortly where he could see Ginny Weasley’s telltale red hair. Lovegood seemed to contemplate one of the pillars, or whatever she might have seen there. He’d just set his foot on the last step to descend, tired of waiting for her to move, when more Death Eaters showed up, not from the gate but from beyond the locomotive. In a heartbeat, they had reached the girl. Despite her reported dreaminess, he was surprised to see the wand in her hand as quickly as he did, but she had no chance to dodge or deflect all three stunners sent her way and crumbled under the impact of the one that hit her.

“Well done keeping a watch on her; had no idea you were in on the plan, Malfoy.” The voice was undoubtedly Macnair’s, an old family friend. “Making up for your father, eh? – You are to come with us, by the way. Your mother was, ah, unable to come, she’s needed in the house.”

Unable. More like not allowed to leave. So things hadn’t really changed, they were still prisoners in their own house. His eyes, however, remained glued to the prone figure of Luna Lovegood one of the masked men was swinging over his shoulder. Macnair seemed to take his silence as confirmation, though.

Draco was grabbed by the arm, and then Macnair called down the platform, “Lovegood! You missing something? Heed a warning, why don’t you?”

Draco saw the orange-clad man storming towards them with a war-cry, but he was already yanked into side-apparition, and almost fell down upon landing. The sight of the outer fence of the Malfoy estate greeted his eyes, the house looming in the distance. Dolohov lifted his hood, striding through the gates with the Ravenclaw on his shoulder. Draco followed numbly, wishing to wake up from that nightmare.

*

For Neville, being back in his childhood bedroom felt strange. Not at all like a safe refuge, but something from a different life. His Gran was puttering around downstairs, and generally, the silence he was used to was interrupted by doors closing and footsteps muffled by the thick red carpets. His family was by no means rich, but his parents had made good money as Aurors, not to mention the estate tied to the Longbottom name, which ensured that his Gran and he wouldn’t have to suffer any want. When he had left on September 1st, they had one ‘house guest’, as a favour to McGonagall, but, as his Gran had informed him casually when they crossed over the magical wards, they’d be sharing their roof with several other people for the foreseeable future.

“People?” he had asked.

“Yes, Neville, people. Human beings. Some of them are Muggle-Borns and their families, or otherwise wanted by the Ministry.”

Like a safe-house, it flashed across his mind, not being giving the opportunity to reply as Augusta Longbottom lengthened her strides.

Now back in his room, he was just finishing unpacking the few things he brought back for the holidays, when a knock sounded on the door. “Come in,” Neville answered, curious as to whom it would be. It definitely wasn’t his Gran’s demanding knock.

A dark head was poked inside, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered body. “Neville. Are you busy?”

Neville blinked in surprise at the boy, someone he had talked to occasionally in Herbology, and during their shared DA sessions, and who he hadn’t seen since Dumbledore’s funeral in June. “Justin?”

“Yeah. How are you? Is that – is that a bruise?”

Neville touched his cheek self-consciously. A souvenir from his last encounter with the Slytherins, but he barely noticed it any more. Justin had extended his hand in greeting before stopping when he took in Neville’s appearance. Neville felt a bit awkward standing there; always had when it came to greeting people; though being stared at felt even more awkward, so he grabbed Justin’s hand instead.

“Erg, do you really want to know? – Scratch that, I guess that’s why you’re here in the first place, isn’t it? To know what’s going on? It’s a bruise, but nothing serious, I just didn’t agree with Goyle and he thought to show his annoyance with me.” He stopped himself, realising he was rambling.

Justin started, then seemed to come back to the present. “Goodness, Neville, what’s going on at Hogwarts? What are they doing to you? How’s everyone?”

“I think we better sit down,” he answered, gesturing towards the group of leather armchairs near the window, before hurrying over to put away his jacket and spare robes he’d dumped there during his unpacking.

Justin didn’t seem to care, sitting on the edge of an armchair, eager to hear what Neville would have to say.

“First, who else is here that I know?” Neville asked. He was trying to think logical, like how Luna or Hermione would approach the subject.

The Hufflepuff, for once, hated having to be reasonable, but could see the point of the question. “Mostly older people. Kevin Whitby, a Ravenclaw fourth year, and a young girl from Gryffindor, Elisa Simmons. I didn’t know them before. Two Muggle-Born boys with their families who should have started first year; they’d only received the initial letters McGonagall send out before the Death Eaters took over and would have run into the Death Eaters if it wasn’t for your Mrs Longbottom.”

“I guess they have questions as well. First, though, would you trust the older children enough to say they’re DA material?”

Justin’s eyes widened. “So it’s true, then? There were rumours about graffiti all over the castle, but we never …”

Neville chuckled darkly. “Yes, the graffiti. Not the most subtle of actions, but we wanted to take a stand. Ginny knows just the sticking spell, same as the Portable Swamp, I suppose, and the one near the kitchen’s is still there. Has been painted over several times by Filch, but it’s coming through every time.”

Justin took deep breath, ordering his thoughts for a moment. “They are against You-Know-Who, of course; but I wouldn’t send them into a duel. That would be just be cruel. – How is everyone holding up? Ernie and Susan? Have you heard of Hannah?”

Neville could have smacked himself; of course Justin wanted to know about that first. “Right, sorry. Ernie is holding up fine; trying not to show the strain and keeping up the spirits. Susan wants to see this through, more than anything fuelled by anger and bitterness. I don’t need to re-hash the Bones’ family history, do I?” Justin’s baring of his teeth was enough to let him know he was right. Who didn’t know the story about the murder of Edgar Bones and his family, and Amelia Bones, the former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, turning up dead last summer? Though maybe that was just him; those things were always kept alive in the Longbottom household. “Ernie’s keeping her in check, though. She can’t let those emotions show, or she’d be done for.”

“What about Hannah? She never returned after she had to leave following her mother’s murder.”

“The Ministry’s edict about mandatory attendance for Pure-Bloods and Half-Bloods meant she had to, this year. – Honestly, I don’t know if she’d have been better off at home. Take that as a hint; Hogwarts is nothing like it used to be. Hannah’s been doing a lot of work in the background, like nursing our bruises, supplies, or just lending an ear if anyone needs it.”

“Sounds like her. How’s this going to end? Where are we headed?”

Neville gave the answer he always gave to that question, the only thing that was clear to him. “Harry will be back. And when he does, we’re ready to fight.”

Justin contemplated the boy opposite him. “You sound so sure. How do you know?”

Neville shrugged. “I just do. Harry wouldn’t leave us hanging. That’s the difference, you know? He cares. And until he’s back, we’re doing what we can, we look after each other, and we prepare.”

“I could use a sparing partner,” Justin said impulsively, taking heart from the absolute trust he could see in the Gryffindor’s eyes, “you know, because I’m planning on being there as well. Could we practice a bit while you’re here?

“Of course! I don’t know how good I’ll be …”

Justin waved him off. “You’re plenty good. It’s probably me who needs to catch up. Maybe I can get someone in the house to mock-duel with me; there’d only be the issue of knowing when it’s time.”

Neville felt an unfamiliar smirk on his face, which he could very well imagine on Ron’s or Ginny’s face. “Just hang on to your DA coin, why don’t you? You still have it, haven’t you?”

Justin’s face broke out into a grin as well. “In my trunk. I just never looked at it, since, well, the dates haven’t changed in two years.”

“Luna modified them a bit. Not all of them are given the same message, since some coins were lost, and we don’t know who has them nowadays. I’ll make sure to add yours to the list, though.”

“Sounds good to me.” Justin grinned again, and they kept their heads together until it was time for dinner, sharing their experiences. Neville felt glad the whereabouts of another of his classmates had become clear, and promised the other boy to take back letters and Christmas gifts for the other Hufflepuffs when he had to go back.

*

Bill watched his brother, who was staring into the roaring fire with a morose expression. The quaint little seaside cottage, formerly used as a get-away by members of the Prewett family, was now his and Fleur’s as a wedding gift from Great-Aunt Muriel, since for some unfathomable reason she favoured him.

They’d put up a small Christmas tree, although no one was really in the mood for it. They’d probably just have gone to The Burrow, but things had changed when Ron showed up some weeks prior and crashed on the sofa. Knowing his brother, Bill had waited for him to spill the beans, which hadn’t taken too long. Ron seemed pretty torn up about it already, and Bill could see why when Ron had finally told how he had left the other two in a short-lived rage, and how he’d immediately regretted it. And how he had searched their previous camping sites for days on end, until the weather forced him to discontinue his search. Since he had shown up, Ron had disappeared several times, intent on finding his friends again, only to return, each time more desperate.

Bill didn’t know what the fight was about, nor did he interrogate too far into the kind of mission they were doing. He held back his disapproval and admonitions, as it was pretty obvious that Ron knew all of that already.

It was his first Christmas as a married man, and so his parents hadn’t seen it as too strange when had announced he would spent it with Fleur at their new home. Which had, of course, incited the expected comments from Fred, George and Charlie. The only other choice would have been to reveal the reason Ron was back to everyone, and both knew the reactions this was likely to produce from the other members of their family. Ginny in particular would tear him to pieces.

The crackling of the fire was the only noise to breach the silence, and occasionally the strong breeze from the sea howling outside the cottage. Bill looked up warmly at his wife when he felt her presence next to the couch. She handed Ron a mug of steaming cocoa, then settled down next to him, holding one of the remaining cups out to him.

“Thanks, love,” he said quietly, holding his mug aloft until she had settled herself into the crook of his arm.

Ron cleared his throat awkwardly, for once oblivious to his sister-in-law’s attraction. “So what do you reckon? Any chance Dad might stay home after all? I mean, Harry saw the file they have on him …”

Bill didn’t miss a beat, continuing the conversation they’d had before Fleur came in. “Not yet. He’s still keeping his eyes peeled, although it really was hard on us when Tonks had to quit, and Kingsley was found out. That jinx was a rather hard blow for us.”

Ron nodded. He’d reverted back to calling Voldemort You-Know-Who, even when he’d still been with Harry and Hermione, never all too comfortable about Harry’s insistence that it was only a name. He was hoping his hot-tempered friend wasn’t unwittingly calling Death Eaters to him again; but so far, there was no mention of the apprehension of the Undesirable No. 1. “I was just so worried about you; all of you. And I had no way of knowing. We happened, ah, we heard that Ginny had tried to steal something from Snape, and was punished.”

Bill grimaced; they’d gone over the point already since it was one of the first things Ron had asked when he showed up. “I think it was rather lenient; all in all. But she seems to keep her head down now, since we there weren’t any more detentions. Though it’s always a possibility that we simply haven’t heard. Security around Hogwarts is pretty tight; mail is monitored again. When she came home some days ago, she would only say most teachers are trying to cover for them as much as possible, but also caution them to be careful.”

Ron could just about imagine that; recalling McGonagall around Umbridge. Only it seemed a lot worse even with the little information he had. He was sorely tempted to just face his family’s disappointment in him just to see with his own eyes that they were alright. “But still, Dad …”

“I know. He’s not going to budge, not unless forced. Where do you think we’ve got our stubbornness from?” The question was rhetorical of course, when they shared an exasperated glance, knowing all too well that it was true. Bill could admit to himself that he wasn’t facing a child anymore, the youngest brother he had had to babysit in the past had grown into an equal. “Take me; I’m still at Gringotts. The Goblins might be angry and embittered at the ‘Wand-Bearers’ interference, though at the moment things are only simmering. Charlie is here as much as he can …”

“I wish you would take a ‘oliday, Bill,” Fleur interrupted, and Ron had the feeling they’d already talked the issue over many times. “You made me stay ‘ome, after all.”

“Mum’s on Fleur’s side on this one,” Bill put in for Ron’s benefit, who felt his features pull into a rare smile. “But as I said, I’m just as stubborn as Dad. It would cause even more suspicion if we all dropped off the face of the earth. Fred and George are the same; their shop is still open.”

Ron snorted darkly, thinking back to a few short months ago. “Let’s just hope they’re not selling Instant-Darkness Powder to Death Eaters again. Same goes for their defensive line of products.”

“Oh, zat reminds me. We wanted to try and find Potterwatch, oui?” Fleur summoned the wireless from the sideboard. When she switched it on, The Weird Sisters were blaring through the room.

“Not Celestina Warbeck, then?” Ron asked in amusement.

Bill didn’t really know what the joke was, but Fleur seemed to know what his brother was getting at. “Eet is not really my style, non.”

“Anyway,” Bill said loudly, tapping the wireless with his wand while fiddling with the …, “any guesses? I didn’t catch the last one, unfortunately, and the one before was cut short due to that unexpected ‘house-call’.”

“Dumbledore? Phoenix?” Fleur launched a few guesses.

Ron had heard about the Potterwatch broadcasts, but had yet to listen to one. “Potter?”

“Too obvious,” Bill replied, thinking. “It’s got to be more subtle, yet meaningful to the resistance. – Moody!” He said decisively, tapping the wireless.

The magical receiver crackled, until a voice grew clearer.

“… back here with us, and our very decimated crew. This is River, and I am glad to see Royal with me on Christmas Eve. How are ya, Royal?”

“But that’s …,” Ron gaped. Bill nodded, shushing him with his hands. All three of them had huddled around the receiver.

“Fine, and you? A Happy Christmas to all of you celebrating. We wanted to take the time to honour everyone who fell victim to or had to suffer from this madness. I won’t read out names this time, since there’s too many to include them all, and who is to say a Muggle-Born who is denied education and seeking salvation in running or their abandoned family is less affected than those who lost their lives, or their relatives? Or the wizard next door who has to watch their every step in fear of being deported or reported for some alleged misdemeanour? Let us remember, and hope to see this threat gone by the time next year’s festivities roll around. Let’s think about those we lost, those we love, and who love us.”

There was silence, and Ron closed his eyes briefly. Kingsley’s voice had always had a confidence-inspiring quality to it, and his speech had a heartfelt ring. Ron’s mind flitted to Dumbledore lying motionlessly at the foot of the castle, to Harry’s grief after Sirius’s death, or the photographs of his Uncles Fabian and Gideon, and how his mother would always have tears in her eyes when she saw them. Bill’s scars were illuminated eerily in the candle-light, just in front of him, but his expression was open and soft as he returned Fleur’s embrace. Ron knew who he wanted to hold just like that, and Fleur’s veela charms had nothing on her. He had to find her.

Royal was talking again. “… sacrifices. Remember to be on your toes, people. You’re not alone, even if you might think so.

“In other news, for all of you Quidditch nutters out there, we don’t have good ones for you,” River added solemnly. “It is now official that Quidditch can be counted among the victims of the pure-blood mania as well. Quidditch matches are and will remain classified as potential sources of uprising, and huge crowd gatherings are to be avoided under threat of an Azkaban sentence. A Ministry of Magic spokesperson announced this this morning, adding that ‘due to the continued resistance towards our rightful regime’-,” Ron could practically hear the disdain in Lee’s voice as he quoted the ministry official, “- the British, Welsh or Scottish national teams are to withdraw from the final rounds and return home immediately.”

“We know that this piece of news can be read in the Daily Prophet as well,” Kingsley added. “But they won’t add that various Quidditch players have disappeared off the face of the earth. We can now confirm that those who were reported missing are ‘incidentally’ of Muggle-Born descent.”

“That brings us to the one question again everyone should be asking themselves. If you’re a Pure-Blood or Half-Blood still indecisive about the matter, please ponder this: What good is it to bow to an institution that has taken to ridding the Wizarding World of anything supposedly non-magical if it means losing what makes our world what it is in the first place? Imagine a world without Quidditch, without a lively, bustling Diagon Alley. But oh hey, you don’t need to imagine, just take a look outside.”

Silence followed this; Ron, Bill and Fleur looking at each other in absolute conviction. “I couldn’t have said it better,” Bill breathed, feeling like he would be taking from the impact if he spoke any louder.

Shuffling of notes sounded from the speakers of the wireless, then Royal’s deep voice was back. “By taking a look outside, you might also have noticed the presence of Dementors, who have taken the liberty to roam the British Isles freely, while innocent wizards are being apprehended left, right, and centre. Thus, it might be useful to revise the workings of the Patronus Charm, the only spell that helps you get rid of Dementors. So, now, the first thing you want to do is …”

“This is brilliant!” Ron breathed, while he half-listened to Kingsley’s words, which basically were a rehash of what Harry had taught them in fifth year.

“It is. You know, it would be interesting to have a Death Eater answer that question.”

Ron snorted. “I don’t think they thought about that at all. Take Malfoy, always wanting to one-up Gryffindor in Quidditch, but then he sacrifices that in order to carry out You-Know-Who’s order last year.”

“You’re talking about the son, I take it? Well, he’s a kid, he wouldn’t have been any match to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“He’s my age. He’s Harry’s age. And he’s a Death Eater!” Ron was set in his opinion, not understanding how one could condone murder.

Bill sighed. “Ron, not everyone has such a strict distinction of right and wrong you have. We’re lucky Mum and Dad raised us the way they did. Sometimes, what seemed right at first or entered into in the heat of the moment turns out wrong in the end. – Sound familiar?”

Ron wanted to deny, but lowered his head shamefully. Still, how was his situation in any way similar to Malfoy’s? Just because they came from all-wizarding families? He rather tuned in River and Royal’s speculations on the whereabouts of Harry Potter.

“Ha, they know as much as I do,” Ron tried to change the subject. Fleur gathered the mugs to put them away, and Bill broached anther subject that had been weighing on his mind for some time.

“Ron? Did you think of Percy at all, earlier?”

Ron wanted to negate that immediately, but stopped. Of course he had thought of his family, but as them as a whole. His Mum and Dad of course, and Ginny who would always stick out as the only girl and closest to him in age. The twins with their boisterous personalities, and Charlie and Bill, who he had always looked up to. Fleur had been included in that picture too, as of late. And of course he also thought of Harry and Hermione as part of his family, though his feelings for Hermione had taken on a whole different quality. Percy had always been the one he felt the least connection too, always quieter than the others, most often registering in Ron’s sphere as the annoying, overly-correct know-it-all. But if he was honest with himself, Percy was still included in that picture as well, even if he felt anger and disappointment with him. “Another case of a decision turning out wrong?” Ron asked wryly, not ready to forgive his brother for the hurt he had caused their parents. “He could just quit, if he really wanted to.”

“Could he?” Bill let the question hanging; wondering again as he had done during the past months whether Percy was staying where he was for conviction or to try and wither it out as so many did. He liked to believe the latter, but did he even still know his brother? Almost six years in age separated them, almost as much as he had on Fleur.

“It’s strange, not being able to do what I want when I want it, or thinking about why others do what they do,” Ron admitted hesitantly, as if the realisation wasn’t entirely welcome. Then he added in an annoyed tone, just as out of the blue, “Is this what it feels like as a grown up? If it is, it can bugger off again.”

Bill couldn’t hold back the laugh, which he didn’t attempt to suppress as he watched Ron attack the dying fire with the poker. “It’s a bummer, isn’t it? No more hiding and sulking, at least not where anyone can see.”

Bill laughed again, feeling the brotherly bond between them warm his insides. “So, you’re off again, soon?”

“Yes, tomorrow, or the day after at the latest. No offence to you, but I need to get back to Harry and Hermione soon.”

“I ‘ope you find zem,” Fleur said from the door, where she’d caught the last exchange, summoned by her husband’s laughter, just as River was wrapping up Potterwatch with the codeword for the next broadcast.

“I hope so too. Night you two, I’m going to bed.”

*

Bill hadn’t been able to sleep a wink; the emotions brought to the surface by Potterwatch keeping him awake. His conversation with Ron had led him to contemplate all of his family members. He had faith in all of them to pull through somehow because they would stand together no matter what. Yet there was Percy … His big brother instinct wanted to make sure the other was alright; even with the rift that currently existed between them. He thought he still knew where Percy had rented that flat in London, and it couldn’t hurt if he just happened to walk through that area, could it?

As the new day dawned and Fleur slept with her head on his shoulder, he could still see the sheen of light from the guest bedroom go on and off; in time with the clicking of the deluminator, he was sure. He wasn’t the only one awake that night.

It was some time later when he heard muffled noises from Ron’s room. He was reluctant to leave his warm bed, but when Bill went to investigate, he found his brother gone. A hastily-scribbled note told him he had a hunch and to trust him.

“Just be careful, Ron.”

*

Ginny’s eyes opened, and she was instantly aware of her surroundings, skipping the wake-up phase. She was in her own bed, not the one in Gryffindor Tower. Pale light filtered in through the shutters, telling her it must be the early hours of the morning. Not just any morning, but Christmas morning. Her instinct would have been to jump out of bed to try and wake up Ron; she’d done it before their Hogwarts years, and whenever they would spend Christmas at the Burrow instead of Hogwarts. It had developed into a challenge waking him up as he grew older, claiming that he needed his sleep. It hadn’t stopped her, and she’d called him a lazy teenage prick for it. The sadness was overwhelming, and she sighed into her familiar room. Last year, she had snuck up there again, determined to get her lazy brother out of bed for their Christmas routine. She hadn’t exactly forgotten Harry, but she was so used to ignoring her feelings for him, she was halfway across the room before rustling from the extra bed had caught her attention. Tufts of black hair had stuck out from where he was buried deep into his blankets, and she’d had to fight the desire to jump onto his bed instead of Ron’s, a whole other motive than pranking on her mind. She’d left quickly after that.

“That was a year ago, get a grip,” Ginny told herself. She knew why he had broken up with her and why she couldn’t have gone with them; with her trace still active, she’d be more of a burden than an asset.

Her brother and Hermione were completely forgotten as Ginny allowed her thoughts to drift back to sunny, lazy afternoons spent on the shore of the Black Lake.

”Ginny! You’re on strict orders to make a dent into those Charms notes! Hermione will have my head!” Harry was sitting against the trunk of an old, burly oak, and Ginny felt snug and comfortable as she leant against his chest.

Tilting her head so he would catch her grin, she replied, “Well, mister, it’s your own fault for being so distracting! Besides, I know most of this stuff; you don’t sit next to Luna Lovegood for years without catching the one or other trick.”

“How am I being distracting?” Ginny watched as his eyebrows climbed higher on his face, drawing closer together a little in confusion. His brilliant emerald-green eyes weren’t guarded for once and held curiosity, nothing of the wariness that they had acquired over the course of the previous years, especially after his godfather’s death. She thought it meant that she really had a chance with him, after waiting for what felt like all her life.

“Okay, maybe more like cute,” she amended, feeling mischievous.

Harry wrinkled his nose on instinct, before opening his mouth to protest. She loved seeing the different emotions in his eyes, and thought she might never get tired just watching them.

“It’s true, don’t fight it,” Ginny cut him off, straightening up a bit to press a light, teasing kiss on his lips. The little interlude wasn’t supposed to leave her wanting more, which it did.

Harry licked his lips, then tapped her on the nose. “You, Ginny Weasley, are a tease.” He barely hesitated to replace his finger with his lips, as he would have done right at the beginning of their relationship. Both of them moved their heads in mutual understanding, Charms notes completely forgotten, as their lips met again.


Ginny sighed again, wistful. They had shared their last kiss in this very room on Harry’s seventeenth birthday. She had done pretty well to try and avoid thinking about their short time together, the snogs, the talks, or just hanging out. If she did, she could feel the tears pricking the back of her eyes. The magnitude of her feelings scared her sometimes; how could she feel so much for another human being? She was only sixteen, but somehow, she couldn’t imagine a life where he was not present in some way; be it in her mother’s goodnight stories, her childhood fantasies, as her brother’s friend, or more. She could even see little messy-haired boys looking up at her with wondering, bright green eyes.

“Enough!” Ginny jumped out of her bed, wiping furiously over her eyes. She usually didn’t allow herself to think along those lines for a very good reason; because it was hurting too much. At Hogwarts, she put her energy into the DA instead, and simply getting through each day. She breathed in deeply in anticipation of the day. If the evening before was any indication, the glaring absence of those who should have been there would have them all tense, while trying put up a cheerful face for the others. She hadn’t actually seen her mother sit down since she arrived, arranging and rearranging Christmas decorations, tending to biscuits in various stages of completion or fussing over the twins, Charlie and herself. She was a bit cross at Bill for holing up at Shell Cottage with Fleur, since he had always been the best at calming their mother.

Pacing back and forth brought her closer to her bedroom door than she would have been had she still stayed in bed. This was probably the reason she heard the whispers outside her door. Picking up her wand, Ginny moved closer on tiptoes, and pressed her ear against the wood.

“Hold it still! I need to put the glue on …”

“Hurry up! It’s no use if it starts drying off …”

Ginny’s eyebrows rose, she definitely knew those voices. A third one chimed in, a little louder. “I still think it would be a better idea to raid Mum’s biscuit stash;’s not like she wouldn’t be making new ones before we can as much as blink.”

“Sshh!” The former voices and ensuing pushing could be heard. Ginny shook her head; Fred and George must be loosing their touch if they took to pranking her. They should know better, but she guessed the two of them were just as keyed-up and impatient as her.

“I can’t hear anything,” someone whispered.

“What are we waiting for, then? The stuff’s starting to look off; are we sure we want to launch it yet? Or use it on our sister-dearest for that matter?”

“Right, that’s it, I’m out. There are biscuits calling my name while you get yourselves into deep dragon dung.” A set of footsteps shuffled away, while the other two once again made shushing noises. Ginny could hear scraping against the wood from the other side, guessing they were mirroring her own position with their ears against the door. She wasn’t surprised they weren’t using Extendable Ears; since they’d learned the hard way she had sealed that little loophole ever since they’d all tried the same thing on the Order at Grimmauld Place.

Grinning wildly, Ginny stepped back to stand to allow for the door to open, and waved her wand quickly at the handle. The door snapped open, admitting two stocky, broad-shouldered red-heads tumbling down on her carpet.

In the tangle of limps and string of expletives, she made out what she thought was a red cap lined with white fur and a fake white beard. A quick Expelliarmus had two wands soar into her left hand, while she pointed her own back at her brothers. “That was rather pathetic. What do you have to say for yourselves?”

“I told you so,” a smug voice sounded from the open door, and a quick glance showed her Charlie was leaning against the doorjamb with his arms crossed.

“In our defence, we needed to test the Glitter Goo Glue …“

“… but Charlie is too light a sleeper …”

“… and our favourite test subjects …”

“… or make that our favourite guinea-pig and our favourite prank victim …”

“… are currently not available.”

Ginny then cocked her head in a mock-thoughtful manner at Fred and George. “I see.” She accio’ed the items which indeed turned out to be a Santa’s hat and a white beard. The glue – which indeed looked like some glittering, gooey blob – was already half-caked. “Does this stuff come off again?”

“Uh,” the twins shared a look as if trying to determine which answer would cause the least damage to them, “it does?”

Ginny shot Charlie a quick grin, supplying the rest of the sentence; it probably would, they only hadn’t said when. “Well then, you won’t mind trying it out yourselves, will you?”

Fred and George shared another, wide-eyed, glance, before scrambling to their feet, but Ginny was equally as fast. Shooting the hat and the beard at them was the work of only a few moments and a flick of her wand, and she could hear a sucking noise as the goo attached itself to their heads.

“It’s on a bit loop-sided,” George pointed out, examining the hat on his twin’s head, the white bobble swinging jauntily in Fred’s face.

“Damn, I thought she was supposed to have a good aim,” Fred joked, pulling on George’s beard probingly. When Ginny advanced on them again, they shot out of her room.

“Eeviiil,” they shouted gleefully, already racing down the stairs.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here you see representatives of the wizarding world’s current and future entrepreneurs.” Charlie remarked, before taking off himself, muttering something about breakfast.

“Brothers,” Ginny commented flatly, taking the stairs two at a time on her way down. She almost crashed into three broad backs blocking the stairs. Charlie turned around, a fingers on his lips. Ginny elbowed him, to make him move and let her see.

From their perch on the stairs, they had a direct view into the sitting room. Arthur Weasley sat on the worn couch, body slumped a bit forward in sleep, with his head on his wife’s head, while she had her arms wrapped around his upper body. The fire must have flickered out sometime during the night, with a little warmth and a smoky note still lingering in the room. A maroon woollen blanket covered their legs, revealing yesterday’s clothes. As if to cement the fact that their parents hadn’t gone up to bed at all were the used tea mugs on the table, right next to their father’s glasses.

Ginny felt her whole countenance soften as she watched her parents sleep; content in the oblivion of sleep and the comfort of the other’s arms. Still, there was sadness tugging at her heart; wishing she were in Harry’s arms at that moment for however brief it would be.

“Come on, you lot, let’s see whether we can produce a decent breakfast. And without causing a ruckus or blowing something up,” Ginny said quietly, poking her brothers in the ribs. She glanced behind her for another moment before following Fred, George and Charlie to the kitchen. She’d take what her parents over any pure, arranged alliance any day.

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