Before going to bed Hermione had commented that she thought she would feel like a very early breakfast the next day, and the other two had understood. Though Harry had come to realize that Ron had understood better, when he had asked him, very nervously, if the latter minded if he borrowed his invisibility cloak very, very early the next morning. Harry had agreed, and was glad he was now falling asleep extremely quickly each night, before he thought about anything he didn’t want to think about.
When he reached the Great Hall his two friends were there already, munching away on their bacon, as if they’d simply come straight down there from their dorms, except that Ron’s hair looked like it did after showering, and when he rarely showered in the mornings. Harry told himself not the think about the possibilities of why.
They actually weren’t completely alone at the Gryffindor table, but all the other students sitting there looked pretty young; certainly Harry didn’t know any of them. For a moment he thought of Colin Creevey, which made him glad he didn’t know them.
Funnily enough, he actually didn’t feel that bothered when the other students there already pointed to him and whispered. There were worse things that had happened in the world than that.
“I’ve just subscribed to the Prophet again,” Hermione said to him as he sat down. “We’re going to want daily news for a while.”
Actually, Harry didn’t know if he really did. But he saw her point, so he shrugged and grabbed for the bacon.
“I’ve also booked us plane tickets,” she said. “I really want to go to Australia by plane, you see, and I’d like to stay in a Muggle hotel as well. It’ll be easier to find my parents with magical aid, but I want to be accessible to them otherwise. I don’t think I’ve been much these past seven years.”
Harry looked at Ron. He rolled his eyes, and looked away, leaving Harry to suspect he’d already argued with Hermione about this and lost. “If that’s what you want,” he said, and he found he didn’t mind that much. At the moment, his life felt strangely disconnected, and he found himself seeing how little it mattered if they went to a place by plane or by Portkey.
When Harry had taken to eating at odd hours during the first weeks of the Triwizard Tournament, he had found it to be a more effective way of avoiding people than it proved that morning. Maybe some of his classmates had wanted to be by themselves too. But Neville came in alone, and though he cast a long look in their direction he then went to sit by himself in the corner of the table. Harry saw Malfoy come in alone as well, and everyone gave him a wide berth. By the time the three of them were finishing up, there was a moderate crowd dispersed through the Great Hall, the amount of people one would usually have expected to see about half an hour later, which might have been why just before they got up, they were suddenly halted by the early arrival of the owls.
Like many of the students, Ron was continually expecting news from his family, so they remained seated and waited. Harry saw Neville receive a letter, as did Malfoy. And then, to his very great surprised, a great white owl, much larger than Hedwig had been, landed in front of him with a bulging white envelope. “That’s from the Ministry,” said Hermione as she received her copy of the Prophet. “No doubt about it.”
“I don’t think I want to open it right now,” said Harry, and shoved it into the pocket of his robe.
“You really should...” said Hermione.
“Well I don’t!” he snapped, and stood up; it was clear that there was no owl for Ron. He didn’t look too bothered; his family had only left the previous day, after all. Plus he wasn’t really looking forward to the forthcoming letter, since a large part of it would probably be occupied with the funeral arrangements for Fred.
It was a beautiful day outside, and with time before their first class the three of them went onto the front lawn and sat down. When Harry closed his eyes a gentle breeze whistled through his ears. Behind them he heard the doors open, and a whole crowd of voices, none of which he recognized, were oddly hushed as they passed them by.
“Umbridge is going on trial,” was Hermione’s first news as she perused the paper. “Set to begin on 20th; one of the first trials. I think they might be trying the collaborators before the Death Eaters; Thicknesse goes to trial on the 28th.”
“Awesome,” said Ron, “she’s finally going to get what she deserves.”
“I don’t know,” Hermione sighed, “I think she might be able to get out of trouble; she’s too good at that.”
“Do you think they’ll want us to testify?” asked Harry. “In theory, they shouldn’t really need us, I think everyone saw how evil she was.”
“It might not be a bad idea,” said Hermione. “If you come out strongly enough against her, your voice could tip the scales.”
She didn’t exactly sound happy, though. She wanted them to be in Australia at that time, Harry knew. “Look,” he said, “we’re not going to have much time to be out of the country in the future and I think that’s going to be that. It’s definitely not fair that we’re still needed after all we’ve done, but we can see this through to the end. When are our tickets for?”
“The 11th,” said Hermione. “I wanted to give time for...” For Fred’s funeral, she didn’t say out loud.
Ron didn’t want to think about it either, because he then asked, “Any more trial dates set?”
“None that stand out,” she replied. “A number of Snatchers, but their photos are all in here and I don’t see any of the ones that caught us.”
“The Snatchers were a pretty informal lot,” said Ron. “I don’t think there were even records kept on all of ‘em. They’re probably only able to go after the leaders.”
Hermione made a disapproving noise and turned the page. “And they’re turning their focus to the Quidditch World Cup. You know, I think that’s mostly taking place in Australia.”
“Does it have the draw in there?” asked Ron. “I was staying with Bill and Fleur, you know, when England and Scotland both qualified by the skin of their teeth, and Wales actually missed out, but I left before the draw was done.”
“No,” said Hermione, “but I heard Ginny say England was drawn into the Group of Death. England’s team to be announced on the 10th, Scotland’s on the 13th. They should be glad we won the war in time; Ginny says it’ll give them a lot more freedom in whom they choose.”
Hearing that would have pleased Harry much more had he been younger, but it was still a good thing to hear nonetheless. “Anything else?” he asked. “People turning up alive or dead?”
“I’m looking...some arrests have been made in France. Oh, someone’s been arrested in Italy, too, for the murder of Karkaroff. And...‘incentive of giants to violence against humans.’”
“That’s one they might need Hagrid to give testimony against,” Harry mused. “Though it might not be the people he saw talking to the giants. Grawp too, maybe.” That was something he still hadn’t thought about much, how far Voldemort’s reign had reached. He had known there were Death Eaters outside of the Britain, since Karkaroff had been amoung them, but there hadn’t seemed to be that many.
As if reading his mind, Hermione said, “The Prophet is suggesting he had less reach outside of Britain this time. Last time, remember, Riddle did a lot of traveling around the world and especially in Eastern Europe, favouring the old haunts of Grindelwald, it’s thought, and he recruited as he went. This time he was focused more on gaining absolute power here in Britain first; though if he’d remained in power a few more months, according to this, there’s evidence he would have turned his attentions to expansion.”
“Do you think they’re right in all they’re saying?” asked Ron.
“Don’t know...no new reports on anyone who’s been missing. They express a hope to have something in the evening edition, though. Honestly, the bulletin boards will be a lot quicker.”
She read a little further, but seemed to find nothing more in the paper worth taking about. The three of them continued to lay there. Harry found himself irrationally hoping Ginny would wander outside and decide to come over, but she didn’t. He wondered if maybe he was supposed to go try to talk to her again or something. He still never knew what to do when it came to girls, even if with Ginny he’d somehow never really needed to.
“Potter, Granger, Weasley, there you are! I’ve been looking for the three of you.” The three of them rose as they heard McGonagall’s voice. “A little late in the year, perhaps, but you must have timetables. I’ve kept you in all your old classes, though there’s no Defense Against the Dark Arts right now; we’ll have to find yet another teacher, I fear.”
“Did you know,” Harry asked softly, as he took his timetable, “that Hogwarts wasn’t able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher because of Voldemort?”
“That Professor Dumbledore believed so, yes. I can’t say I’d mind if he turned out to be right." She sounded skeptical, though. "Good morning.”
The day did not include Transfigurations. Harry breathed a sight of relief.
So he didn’t mention it at all when he came down to the common room and everyone crowded again around the bulletin board.
This time someone thought of using a Levitation Charm, and soon there was the almost comic sight of one crowd hanging around over the heads of another. Hermione joined the upper group, of course, then veered down and crashed unceremoniously into one of the common room’s chairs. A moment later Ron was hovering over her, asking anxiously if she had anything broken. She shook her head impatiently. “No Prewetts or Parrots. I did see Sarpan’s parents, though; they’re fine. I hope she sees that. Also a Mallory’s dead, but I don’t know if that’s one of Seamus’ relatives or not.”
The crowd dispersed quicker this time, and Harry felt the urge to be alone, or at least out of the company of everyone who wasn’t Hermione or Ron. “D’you think we could just take a turn down the corridor. I know it’s a little late to visit Hagrid, but I want some fresh air.”
Bless them, they didn’t ask questions. Five minutes later the three of them were seated on a winding staircase, watching two stately old witches play bridge in one of the bigger paintings, which put Harry in mind of the planned portrait of Snape. For the first time he thought of the torment his presence might cause unwitting first-years in the Great Hall, or even the Entrance Hall. In fact, much as he now respected Snape, he kind of hoped if he was hung in the latter, he was put near the remainder of Fred and George’s swamp...which was now to also be a memorial itself.
So beset by gloomy thoughts by all directions, it was as much to distract himself as anything else that he pulled the packet back out of his pocket and revealed the news. “The Ministry’s getting generous,” he said. “All three of us have been granted Top Box seats to all of England’s games at the Cup.”
Ron exclaimed his amazement, but Hermione’s eyes immediately narrowed. “They want us out of the country,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Ron asked. “Why would they want us gone now? We’re heroes!”
“To the general public,” said Hermione. “But as I said this morning, half the Ministry’s going on trial, and well, it’s a place where members tend to cover up for each other’s wrongdoings and try to help each other escape justice. We’re being sent to Australia so we don’t show up at the collaborator trials.”
“Surely we’ll be called back!” said Harry. “People will want these people punished; there’ll be prosecutors who will order us back. Besides, it’ll probably be only three matches anyway; Ginny was right, England’s in the Group of Death. Anyway, we don’t have to go.”
“Oh they’ll want us back for the Death Eater trials,” said Hermione. “I’ve got the feeling those won’t start until after the group play’s done anyway. When exactly is all this taking place anyway?”
“Group matches have a start time of 11 AM on June 14, 21, and 28, except in cases where the matches go six days or longer, in which case the next match for both teams involved is pushed back to three days after the snitch is caught. It’ll be long after Umbridge’s trial, anyway.”
On hearing the dates, Hermione seemed to reconsider. “Well, I suppose we can see how it works out.”
“Who knows,” said Ron, “maybe they’ll even pull a miracle and get out of group play. Crazier things can happen at the World Cup. It’s all in Australia, I suppose.”
“England’s three group matches are all in the outback; don’t know about the rest.”
The three of them fell silent, giving themselves time to digest the news. Four years ago, the idea of seeing three whole Quidditch World Cup matches would have excited Harry beyond anything. But it had gotten harder to get excited over things since then. Maybe in another four years he’d feel differently about it.
But then, as they sat there, Pigwidgeon flew up to Ron, and very quickly all three realized the contents of the letter he was carrying. “Errol’s dead, too,” said Ron absently. “Died of old age a couple of months ago. Ginny told me today. He did well to last as long as he did.”
Harry again thought of Hedwig. Then he remembered Percy’s owl. Hermione beat him to it, “What about Hermes?”
“I think Percy sold Hermes. I don’t know. But Pig’s got new responsibilities. Hope you’re up to them, Pig.” The owl, not paying attention, and apparently not caring much if he had new responsibilities or not, perched onto Ron’s shoulder and pecked at his robes. Ron ignored him as he grimly read the letter. “The funeral’s in three days,” he said. “They’ve managed to bring his body back home; it’ll be a simple, Muggle-style funeral. That’s kind of funny; I would’ve thought we’d cremate him. Mum says George has spent the past couple of days catching up on store paperwork; claims they’d gotten a bit behind, but she thinks he’s deliberately going slowly with it, so it takes up more time.”
“Ron,” said Hermione gently, “you have to give him time.”
He shook his head. “You really think if he’s left alone for a few days that’ll be it and he’ll be okay again?”
“No, obviously it’s going to take more than that.”
“It’s going to take the impossible is what it’s going to take!" He was all but yelling now. "They were so close, and I don’t know if he’s ever going to be...I don’t know if he can...”
“Ron,” asked Hermione, very softly, “are you scared for him?”
Ron didn’t answer at all. Instead he just stood up, ignoring Pigwidgeon’s wild squawk as he was dislodged, drawing his arms to his chest as he stumbled down two steps. “Let’s go back,” he said. “I want to talk to Ginny.”
At hearing her name, Pigwidgeon suddenly dove into his pocket and pulled the letter out. “Oh yeah,” said Ron as he flew off ahead of them. “We both forgot it was addressed to her, too. Think he’s still learning how to do this.”
They found Ginny sitting near the windows, letter in her hand. It was the first time since he’d come back she looked at Harry and her face had shown absolutely no sign of anger or hardness. Even under the circumstances, he took hope from that, but now wasn’t the time.
And then she asked, “How long are you going to be in Australia?”
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, uncertain what to say. Then Ron said, “Actually, we’re not sure right now,” and explained about the tickets.
“I see,” said Ginny when he was finished. “Then if you’re still there at the end of June, I want to join you.”
Harry wanted to ask her why, but was afraid to speak. So Ron replied instead, smiling a little and saying, “Sure, if you really want.”
No, the most stressful thing going on at the moment was merely that today they did have Transfiguration. Yesterday for Harry and Ron had consisted of Herbology, which Professor Sprout had literally been unable to teach because her greenhouses had been wrecked in the battle, so they’d mostly learned about how to safely gather up and dispose of magically wrecked plants, Charms, where Flitwick had reviewed very basic first-year spells, and Potions, where Slughorn had done similar. In fact, Harry had been kind of glad to hear that cleaning the greenhouses up would probably take the rest of the term. Those short hours yesterday shifting through the wreckage, hands and arms and legs and everything else getting dirty, had proved to be the easiest and most gratifying period of that day for him. But no doubt McGonagall would be as hard and demanding as ever, and he remembered almost nothing about how to do any kind of Transfiguration at the moment.
On the other hand, there was going to be at least one more piece of unpleasant business to be dealt with probably during lunch, which was when Ron expected another note from his family, saying when they were to go to the Burrow. He talked about this as the three of them searched out McGonagall’s new classroom, since the old one had apparently been taken over by the Carrows, and while it was now available again, the general feeling around the school seemed to be that noone wanted to be in there for at least a few months. “I don’t think mum and dad realize, though,” said Ron. “It’s going to be a bigger deal than they think. Of course we’re kind of used to big events in the family, since there are so many of us, but it’s not just family who are going to want to come.”
“Not everyone’s accounted for yet, though are they?” asked Hermione. “And meanwhile, I think a lot of people who might have attended under regular circumstances might not be able to; they’ll be too much putting their own lives back together.”
But when they entered the classroom, immediately a Ravenclaw girl whom Harry believed was called Lisa Turpin came up to Ron. “Excuse me,” she said, “I don’t mean to be rude, or intrusive, or anything like that, but, well, I worked for your brother, and I heard the funeral for him was going to be...”
“It’s in two days,” he said. He sounded surprisingly hostile.
She noticed, and said hastily, “Oh, that’s not what I was asking about. I only worked for them a very short time anyway; I had a summer job a couple of years ago. It’s just that since it’s before the term ends, me and some of the others who knew them a little, we were thinking we could have our own memorial. We were thinking about tomorrow originally, but I think we might do it the day of the funeral. You and your sister will going home for the funeral, of course, but, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you come? Just for a little bit? If you’re only leaving Hogwarts on that day itself, I mean?”
“We’ll have to leave early that day,” said Ron. “Almost right after breakfast.”
“The vigil would just be beginning then,” said Lisa. “Maybe you could just come and say a couple of words before you go?”
“Where’s it being held?” asked Hermione.
“We haven’t decided yet,” said Lisa. “We’re thinking maybe by the lake.”
“We could stop by, maybe,” said Hermione. “On our way out.”
Ron looked a little reluctant, but when he didn’t actually say anything, Lisa said, “Just think about it, okay? I’ll get back to you later. Bye.” She went to sit down as McGonagall came in.
Everyone fell quiet, especially when they saw the grim look on her face. When she turned to face them, she said without preamble, “Ruth Hemmings has been found. She is currently in St. Mungo’s. Her prognosis is uncertain.”
There was a soft murmur through the class, and Ernie asked, “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she said simply. “I’m not sure anybody knows. All I have been told is that she is very weak, has mostly been unconscious and has not responded to her surroundings when awake, and that she was alone when she was found.”
The murmur had not died down, but McGonagall cut if off with a sharp motion of her hand. “I understand we’re all worried, and this is a very great thing to take in. But please, take my assurance that I will tell you further news when I hear it. Meanwhile, we must go on with school business. If everyone will please take their books out and turn to page 708.”
Ruth Hemmings turned out to be the talk of the school; it seemed everyone had known her, and most of them had liked her. When they came to the Great Hall for lunch, the Hufflepuff table was notably louder than the other three.
Hermione, however, kept her eyes upwards, as if she was expecting mail. When the other two noticed, she said, “I don’t know why, but I have a strange feeling we’re about to get hit by another twist.”
But no owls came to greet them. Instead, Neville came up to them, and said, “Parvati and Padma are staying; they got the letter from their parents this morning. Lavender’s undecided, but she’s leaning towards staying. Seamus isn’t really in a position to say right now. I could go talk to the others if you want.”
“Later,” said Hermione. “Sit and eat lunch with us.”
“No, that’s okay,” said Neville, hastily backing away, which Harry thought was kind of strange.
So did Ron, who asked, “What, you don’t want to eat with us?”
“Not today,” said Neville, suddenly refusing to look at them.
“It’s okay if you want to eat with someone else,” said Hermione, “We don’t mind.”
“Thank you,” said Neville very quickly, and fled with an almost bizarre haste.
“What’s bothering him?” Ron wondered out loud as he plopped down next a pair of fifth-years at the far end of the table. “He’s acting like he might have back when we were in our first year. You’d think he’d be past that by now.”
“Probably just really wanted to talk to someone,” said Harry, but that didn’t entirely explain his behavior. He wondered if maybe it had to do with a girl, but he wasn’t sitting with any down there, so maybe not.
“He’s very popular now,” said Hermione, and she sounded very pleased by it. “From almost the beginning of the year, and then especially once even Ginny had to go into hiding and he was just about the only person they could look to.”
The mention of Ginny, of course, couldn’t help but distract Harry. He looked around for her, and saw she was seated at another part of the table. She was actually with Dennis Creevey, who to Harry’s eyes now looked smaller than he had ever been. She seemed to be demonstrating something to him that sent off tiny silver sparks from her wand.
Hermione saw where he was looking, and said, “She’s really popular too, now. Not that she wasn’t always liked, but it’s even more now. Even Luna is, though of course she was only here until Christmas. I think she’s doing very well with it, quite honestly.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. The fact that Dennis Creevey was now smiling probably meant a good deal, after all, but even if he hadn’t seen her obviously helping him out, he would have assumed she would’ve done good from her new position in the school.
But for the first time, that made him worry about what would happen between the two of them as a result. Uneasily he found himself thinking a girl like her, so beautiful and talented, and one of the heros of the war to boot, could probably have any boy she wanted. Harry was aware girls went after him too, had been since the whole Yule Ball business in his fourth year. But when that had always been for the wrong reasons, he didn’t think Ginny would take that much interest in who went after her in the same manner.
Though as he watched her wave at a pair of Hufflepuff boys he didn’t recognize, he thought, for the first time, about the possibility of whom she might have met or grown close to over the year. They’d joked about there not being very many opportunities for him to meet other girls while wandering about on his quest, but the same hadn’t exactly been true for her. That old presence in his chest suddenly seized up and started growling again at the thought that she might now have a new boyfriend.
But it didn’t seem that likely, he thought a moment later. Surely if she did, he would have seen or heard something of him by now. With that reassuring thought, he relaxed. If she had new friends and new things in her life, he could get used to them. His life was going to be very different anyway.
No, the real question wasn’t if there was room for him back in her life. It was if it suited her to have him there. Even if she did eventually forgive him for pushing her off this last year, she might want to do anything, and she really might not want a relationship at the moment. And even if she did, she might not want someone like him. Harry was becoming aware that some of the things he’d endured this last year, or even before that, some of the pains left in his heart, weren’t going away so easily.
He hadn’t sleep as peacefully that last night as he had before. Instead he’d had a nightmare where he’d been back in the cave where the fake locket had been hidden, and Snape had been clinging to the rocks as the snake savaged him, and Harry had been on the other side of the water and unable to help because the boat was being stolen by Griphook and he knew if he tried to steal if back the dragon would burst through the floor and Bellatrix might even come with it. Even after he’d woken up and reminded himself the snake and Bellatrix were dead and the dragon wouldn’t burst through the floor, he’d felt tense for an hour, some part of him still believing Death Eaters were going to come charging through the door at any minute.
Ginny, he supposed, might have changed too there. In fact, that was the greatest fear of all, that he would still want her, and she would still want him, but when they looked at each other fully one of them would no longer see the person they wanted any longer.