Disclaimer: See previous chapters if your confused about this.


Chapter 4

Harry sat in the clearing in the forest with the pond; Ginny was lying down with her head in his lap. He dragged a small white flower over her cheeks and forehead, causing her to giggle and slap his hand away playfully.

"Harry, that tickles, stop it."

"You like it," he said with a small smile.

"No I don't, it tickles," she said with a slightly whiney voice.

"Whining doesn't suit you Miss Weasley," Harry said in a professorial tone.

She stuck her tongue out at him in response.

"Tell me. When you like something, you smile. Correct?" he asked.

"Yeah, I guess," she said, swatting at his hand again.

"And when you are really enjoying yourself, you laugh. Is that true?"

"Ah, yeah," she said hesitantly.

"Well, you smile and laugh when I tickle you, so you must like it," he said smugly.

"I think you need to take a logic class," she replied dryly.

"I happen to like my logic, thank you very much." He poked at her sides lightly to tickle her some more.

She laughed and sat up next to him. "If you're not going to stop, I'll have to make you."

"Promise?" Harry smirked and was somewhat surprised by her reaction.

Ginny tackled him, suffocating him with kisses. He made no resistance, drinking in the feel of her mouth and body on top of him. She drew her hand up his skin under his shirt, and his skin burned for more at the touch. He responded by massaging her back under the thin summer top. She sucked on a spot just under his jaw that drove him mad, while he responded by kissing the dip in her collar bone, and Ginny melted against him, breathing heavily. One of them let out a whimper-like moan, but he couldn't tell who. It didn't matter; it only fueled both of their actions. He hardly realized his shirt was pulled off until he felt the grass on his shoulder blades. Harry slipped his hands under her shirt and tugged on the hem. She parted their lips as he finished removing the obstructive clothing. Harry reveled in the feel of her skin against his, and as she moved above him, his only worry was that he'd lose himself before long.

Harry awoke panting and shuddering in imagined pleasure. He took several deep breaths, trying to settle his speeding heart. He was sorely disappointed when he opened his eyes in his dark, lonely room. He was suddenly very aware of not being in Ginny's presence. Although, he had to admit to himself that he would be beyond embarrassed if Ginny was there to see him now. He looked at the clock at saw that it was only fifteen minutes before he'd planned on getting up, so he stumbled into the bathroom for a cold shower.

Once he was suitably cooled down, he turned up the heat and finished washing up. He forced himself to put images of Ginny out of his mind as he ate a small breakfast and walked to the store. He couldn't help but feel ashamed at his reaction to the dream. Of course, once he realized that his mind had come up with the dream, he felt even worse. She was a good friend and essentially family; he shouldn't have these feelings about her, and he most certainly shouldn't be having dreams like that about her. However, no matter how much he told himself he couldn't have her, the more he wanted to Floo to the Burrow and declare his undying love. Harry snorted at himself when he'd thought that. It was so utterly unlike him. He knew he would never do that, but someday he may work up the courage to tell her, more calmly, how he felt.

Harry worked from six until ten thirty at Honeydukes, filling containers, stocking shelves, and doing anything else Dave needed him to do. The work helped to control his thoughts, which kept straying to the dream of him and Ginny. When he was finished, he was again piled with treats and sent on his way by a grinning Dave.

Harry sped his way down the lanes, through the spread out residential area of town until he reached the last house. The 'Children of Peace' house. He stood for a minute and just smiled at the laughter coming from the back yard. He guessed many of the younger children didn't yet understand the seriousness of being kept here. They probably weren't aware that they'd never see their parents again. In many ways the younger children were more fortunate than the older, since they didn't know what they were missing. Of course, like Harry, they would never get the chance to know their parents either. He had no idea how to determine which was worse. After another minute of thought, he decided it didn't really matter which was worse. Neither should have happened.

He approached the door and knocked using the friendly angel shaped door knocker. The door opened to the tired, but happy, face of Grace. She smiled and invited him inside.

"It's good to see you, Harry," she said with relief in her voice.

"I'm happy to be here. I've brought some candy from Honeydukes, if you permit the children to have it." Harry remembered hearing some mothers restrict the amount of candy their children ate, especially around meal times. It was near lunch time, after all. Of course, Aunt Petunia had never restricted Dudley from candy, and Harry was permanently banned, so he didn't really know how middle ground worked in this area.

She beamed at him and brought out a wicker basket for him to place the mound of treats. She set it on top of a tall cupboard and explained to his questioning look.

"I'll give them each a piece after lunch. If I left the bowl out, no doubt one child would eat it all and make themselves sick. Would you like to meet them, now? They're all outside, since it's such a beautiful day."

She led him through the house and out the back sliding doors. To Harry, the house looked somewhat muggle-like, although bigger than it should have been by outward appearance. He didn't think too much of it, though, as the only wizarding homes he knew of were the Burrow and the Black house, which were complete opposites. Like muggle homes, Harry guessed there were probably a large array of styles of homes in the wizarding world.

With a jolt, he realized that he lived in a wizarding home, now. He never really considered it as one, because it was so very 'muggle' compared to the other two homes with which he was familiar, but that fact complimented his earlier idea about the wide variety of homes. He stopped thinking about it as they walked out the back door.

The back yard was a very large area with soft grass and few trees. There was a small patch of woods beyond, but nothing big enough to hold any dangerous creatures. It would probably be a fun place to play or build a children's hide-out of sorts. He remembered reading about such things in muggle fiction novels when he was younger. One of his classmates in primary school talked about a 'tree house,' he recalled. He hoped he'd be able to learn about some of those things while spending time here, both for his own, as well as the children's benefit.

Grace waved over a lanky boy probably around the age of twelve or thirteen from the look of him. He had a smile on his face as he interacted with the other children, but Harry could see a sadness in his eyes that mirrored his own.

Harry was suddenly unsure of what he was supposed to do and if he could do it. What if he just made things worse? What if he upset the kids and drove them to a life of darkness? He, of all people, knew that a few kind words and a dozen chocolate frogs couldn't make the pain go away. Strangers could say they cared, but you could tell by their false smiles and over-expressive words that they didn't, not really. And they would never understand. He wanted to leave. What was he thinking coming here?

Grace cut through his muddled mind with her introductions. "Max, this is Harry. He's going to come over every once in a while to chat or play games. Harry, this is Max. He our eldest and attends Hogwarts. He is thirteen, so he'll be in his third year this fall." She smiled at the boy and he smiled politely back and shook Harry's hand. By the boys wide eyes and the glance to his forehead, Harry knew he recognized him. He hadn't done anything, yet, and Harry was searching for something to say. He thought he remembered seeing the boy around school.

"Nice to meet you, Max. You're in Ravenclaw, right?" asked Harry. He really hoped he was right, or he'd just made a right mess of things.

Max grinned and looked a little awed that the Boy-Who-Lived recognized him. "Yes, sir."

Harry made a face at the title. "Eugh, call me Harry. I just left school; I'm not old enough to be called 'sir.'"

Max laughed at that, "True. Do you want to meet my sister, Melissa?"

"Sure," Harry smiled. He followed Max over to a little girl with spiral, blond pig-tails. She was very cute, like one of those kids on ads for children's products.

Max sat down in the grass next to her, and Harry sat in front of them, facing her. She was drawing with charmed crayons. Her oddly shaped stick man was walking about the page, occasionally colliding with a rock or misshapen tree.

"Lissa, this is Harry Potter. He's here to visit us," Max said to the small girl.

She looked up at Harry with big eyes, and nervously looked to her big brother. She pulled him down and whispered something in his ear. Harry thought it sounded like "Bad or good," but he wasn't sure.

Max chuckled at her and said, "He's good, don't worry. Maybe you can explain your picture to him." He looked at Harry apologetically and said, "Sorry, she's only three. She doesn't really know about you and all. She won't talk to anyone unless I tell her they're ok. Last night I had to introduce each kid and Grace before she would even leave my side for bed." He rolled his eyes, but Harry could see that he was a very good, protective older brother.

Harry smiled, "It's ok. I don't often get to meet people in this world that don't already know me. It's a relief."

Melissa apparently took her brother's word and sat on Harry's lap with her picture. He didn't really know what to do, but he put a hand on her side so she wouldn't topple off. He looked on amused as she explained the picture.

"Max play hide-n-seek," she said pointing at the wandering stick figure.

"Oh? Who's hiding?" Harry asked her.

"Me," she said obviously.

"Where are you hiding?"

She wiggled her finger at him, looking suspiciously at her brother, so he bent closer as she whispered loudly in his ear, "Behind the rock. Shh, don't tell."

Harry smothered his laugh and nodded conspiratorially. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me." He glanced at Max, who was laughing behind his hand, and had easily heard his little sister's answer.

Harry met the other kids over the next hour. There were only eight, instead of the dozen or so that Grace had expected. The Ministry was able to find relatives for a handful of the children, and placed them in homes already. Harry hoped they were better relatives than what he had been stuck with. He almost wanted to go find the rest and make sure they were safe in their new homes. He decided to check with Mr. Weasley to see if they had interviewed the families or not. It seemed a good place to start.

He asked the kids if any of them were scared of dogs, and when none of them said they were, he asked Grace if he would be allowed to bring Simon along someday. She agreed, and Harry made a mental note to bring him one day that week.

Grace gave him some lunch with the other children and brushed off his refusals as well as Mrs. Weasley. She made him feel like one of the kids, and except for the embarrassment, it was a good feeling. He felt like he belonged somewhere. He was an orphan, but he wasn't alone. It was a kind of bond that wasn't possible with Ron or Hermione. He wouldn't trade them for anything, but it was nice to know someone else knew how he felt at times.

He had found out that Grace was an orphan, too. Although, she was sixteen when her parents died, so she was quite a bit older than the kids under her care. She said that it didn't matter how old a person was, it hurt to lose parents and any other family. She'd taken care of her little sister who was twelve at the time. She loved working with kids, and she found that this was her dream job. It was difficult, but she told Harry that there was nothing she'd rather do. Despite that, one of her greatest wishes was that places such as 'Children of Peace' would be made unnecessary. Harry agreed.

Harry glanced at his watch and almost spit out his pumpkin juice. It was twenty minutes until three o'clock. "Grace, I have to get to work. I'll be back tomorrow, though, ok?"

"Of course, Harry. Sorry for keeping you," she said uncertainly. She looked like she was afraid he wouldn't come back.

Harry just smiled. "It's ok; it wasn't your duty to watch the clock for me. I'll have to set an alarm next time," he said half-joking. She laughed and bid him goodbye. He offered quick goodbyes to Max, Melissa, and the other children, and ran all they way to the Three Broomsticks.

He rushed in the back door and leaned on a counter to catch his breath. Glancing at the clock, he saw that he had about a minute to spare. So, he washed his face and hands in the small bathroom and shook out his muscles. He hadn't run like that since before the last fight with Voldemort. It was a good feeling. There was a certain freeing quality to running full speed down an empty road. It wasn't as good as flying, but it was close.

Still panting slightly, Harry walked out and met Madam Rosmerta in front of the bar.

She smiled with her greeting, "Hello, Harry. Did you run all the way here?" she asked with some concern and amusement.

He nodded sheepishly. "Yes, I wasn't watching the clock very carefully, so I had to run to get here on time."

"Why didn't you just Floo, dear?"

"Oh, er, my fireplace is restricted to most places. I wasn't at my house anyway, though. I was at the new children's home at the edge of town. Honestly, I didn't even think of asking if they had a Floo I could use. Quite a brilliant hero I am," he grimaced. She was aware of what he thought about his hero status and just laughed at him and walked over to a table in the corner where three witches sat sipping their drinks.

She threw a rag over her shoulder at Harry and said, "Polish the bar, then wash up and work on some drinks, chapter three."

Harry set to work right away and listened to the cackles coming from the corner. He saw the book on the counter and put it underneath while he cleaned. He wasn't sure who wrote the book, but he guessed it was Madam Rosmerta herself. It had seven chapters of drinks. Harry didn't know how the drinks were separated or what the chapters were based upon, but he'd been learning out of the book since he started, and he found that he enjoyed the work. Rosie always tried the drinks and told him if they were off. When they were right, she made him taste them too. She had told him that he couldn't serve a drink if he didn't know how it was supposed to taste. Naturally, they couldn't just get drunk while working, so he sloshed the liquid around his mouth a few times and spit it out.

By the time his supper break rolled around, Harry was feeling rather queasy, so he had a small chunk of bread with some water, hoping it would calm the churning some. He washed his face in the bathroom and felt a little better afterwards. He still felt somewhat unwell, but he was healthy enough to keep working. He wasn't allowed to stop working when he was younger and wasn't feeling well, so he didn't even think to ask if he could stop for the night.

It wasn't until late in the evening, around eleven thirty, that Harry felt a wave of tiredness wash over him. He was in the back of the building, taking the trash out, when his world started spinning around him. He held onto the dustbin to try and fight the feeling of vertigo. His stomach, which had calmed down in the last few hours, protested the perceived movement, and he shortly purged the bread he'd had for supper. He could feel the icy fingers of unconsciousness grabbing at him as he searched his robe pockets for his potion.

With relief, he uncorked the vial and downed its contents. He knew he had to go home quickly or he might not make it all the way back before the potion would stop working.

He found Madam Rosmerta on the serving floor chatting with one of the regular patrons. He pulled her aside with polite apologies and asked, "Would it be alright if I took off for the night?" He was nervous; he hadn't asked for any time off yet, and he hoped she wouldn't be upset.

She smiled reassuringly at him, "Of course, Harry. I was thinking of closing up soon anyhow. Are you feeling alright?"

Harry gave her a tired grin, "Yeah, I'm fine, just a bit tired."

"Did you overdo it today with the children's home and here?" she asked.

"A bit, I guess. I'm sorry, Rosie. I'll have to be sure not to go to the home when I work both Honeydukes and here, I suppose," he said off-handedly.

Rosie looked shocked. "You've been working since six this morning, non-stop?" He nodded sheepishly at her stern look. "You go home this instant and go to bed."

"Yes, ma – I mean Rosie."

"If you're feeling down at all tomorrow, just send me a note. You can have the day off if you need it."

"Thanks, but it's not necessary. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Harry."

"Night, Rosie."

Harry left the pub at a brisk walk. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible. He was one street down from his house when his vision started to get fuzzy again. He tried to ignore it and pushed on.

A soft object passed by his hand, startling Harry. He looked down and found Simon jogging along beside him. Harry smiled at his new friend. His steps faltered, and he put a hand on the large dog's back. Harry's awareness was leaving him, and before he knew it, he was home. He crawled into bed without even removing his shoes and thanked Simon for his help. Harry wasn't sure if he would have made it home without his aid.

That night, he had no dreams that he could remember. It was a relief not to suffer the nightmares, but Harry missed the time with Ginny he only had in the dream world. His inner voice told him it could be the waking world too if he wasn't such a coward. The inner voice was successfully smothered by the rest of Harry's mind. It was better not to risk their friendship and Harry's pseudo-adoptive status in the Weasley family. She wouldn't want him anyway. He was a used up hero with some mysterious freak illness from the last battle. She wouldn't want to deal with that, and he wouldn't place it upon her. He loved her, and he knew she loved him, except it was a friendly, brotherly sort of love. He needed to let it go and move on with his life. Everyone else had.

These thoughts were swirling around his mind the next morning before he even knew he was awake. Sighing, he stretched and got up for the day. He gave Simon some bacon and eggs, along with the usual dog food Hagrid sent him, as a thank you for the night before. He wrote letters to his friends, and sent Hedwig off, promising he would spend some time talking to her later. Harry wondered if other wizards had such emotional owls. Hedwig was definitely not happy if she was ignored for any length of time. He didn't mind though. He enjoyed talking to his owl. She was one of his first friends, and had always been with him when he needed someone to confide in.

At a quarter to eleven, Harry and Simon started out for the children's home. Harry had given Simon a talk about behavior and manners, then stopped himself when he realized he was giving directions to a dog. Although, to his credit, Simon seemed to understand him.

The kids were taken with Simon from the moment his lolling tongue was seen on his smiling face. Harry worried a bit about the younger kids who were pulling the dog's hair and squealing loudly, but Simon just rolled over and let the children scratch his stomach.

Harry and Grace spent the better part of an hour laughing at the youngsters as they played games with the dog. Max joined them in the shade of a tall oak tree after a while, watching and laughing at his little sister. Harry was happy to see some brightness in the boy's eyes. He decided that he would continue to bring Simon with him. Harry wondered if Hagrid seemed so jolly all the time because of all the time he spent with animals. They were very calming, when they weren't trying to bite, stab, or crush.

Harry left for the pub feeling much better than he had the day before. Work that night passed without incident, for which Harry was extremely grateful. Madam Rosmerta had been shooting him worried looks most of the night, but seemed to relax as the night wore on and Harry kept a smile on his face.

He heard someone say the word 'werewolf' and headed for their table, hoping to hear more. He busied himself by wiping the table next to a few locals.

"…moved in today," said an older witch.

"Which one's the werewolf?" asked an old man gruffly.

"The boy. Why must those creatures insist on living near good, decent folk? Destroy the whole village, he will. I'll never understand why the huntings were stopped."

"Excuse me," said Harry after he'd heard more than enough. They turned to him with smiles on their prejudiced faces, not noticing his cold look. "How can you condemn a child for something he has no control over and didn't ask for?"

That caught their attention. Some of their faces turned to disgust.

"Don't tell me you like their kind, laddy?" asked the old man in disbelief.

"As a matter of fact, one of my closest friends is a werewolf. He was like a father to me, and I would trust him with my life. Hell, I have trusted him with my life! He was lost in the war fighting against Voldemort. He was a hero, a true hero, because he was fighting for the freedom of people like you who would shun him without so much as a second glance. I still can't understand how he cared so much for a world that gave him nothing but grief, but he did and he was a good man. Do you have any idea what it's like to be cursed?"

Harry was breathing hard as he got going. Some part of his brain was telling him he shouldn't be yelling at the customers like this, but he couldn't seem to stop. They had crossed a line that he couldn't just stand by and allow.

"I can only imagine the pain, and I'm sure it's nothing compared to the real thing. I've been with a werewolf while he transformed. Every bone in the body breaks and heals in a matter of seconds. The muscles and tendons are stretched and torn, then reformed. Without the Wolfsbane potion, the person's mind is savagely ripped from their control and given over to the wolf. They have to live with the fact that if the wolf gains control, they may kill or pass on the curse. Despite what you may think, this isn't enjoyable. They don't want to kill while in their human form, and the guilt if they did in wolf form would probably kill them. At least some of them. I won't argue that some haven't turned dark, but so have plenty of witches and wizards. Perhaps werewolves wouldn't feel the need to go over to the darkness if 'decent people' tried to help them instead of throwing them aside. And remember, you are talking about a child. An eight year old boy that goes through this every full moon."

Harry turned and walked away into the kitchen before anyone could say anything. He sat at the small staff table in the back trembling from head to toe. How dare they say such things about people who don't have a choice? How could they think hunting them was ok? He couldn't understand, and he was sure he never would.

Thoughts of Remus were persistent in his mind, and he was shaking with the effort to hold back tears for his lost friend, father, brother. Remus had been so many things to him. Harry didn't know how to go on without him. He kept avoiding the issue, even within his own head, because he wasn't sure if he would be able to crawl out of the darkness of his mind if he let himself think about losing Remus forever.

Harry jumped when someone put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Rosie observing him worriedly. She always had such a jovial look, he hated to ruin that.

"Quite a speech you gave, Harry," she said quietly as she sat down.

Harry looked down at the table. "I'm sorry. I'll pay for whatever they had… I understand if you need to, erm, let me go or something."

She laughed, startling Harry. "Child, I wouldn't fire you over a little thing like that. You were right to put them in their place. They're pretty quiet now, thinking over what you said." Harry kept staring at a knot of wood on the table. Rosie put her arm around his shoulders. "How are you doing, Harry? Really?"

Harry forced a smile, but it refused to hold long. "I-I'm ok if I keep doing something. If I don't let myself think about… that's part of the reason I work so much. Yesterday was probably too much, but I went the whole day hardly thinking about him… That sounds awful. I mean, I went without thinking about the possibility of him not coming back. I'm sorry, Rosie."

She hugged him for a few minutes, and he let her. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Harry." They broke apart and she gave him a sly smile. "So, what else do you think about? I've seen you with a dreamy look, then a blush as red as your Gryffindor colors. Is there a girl I should know about?" she teased. Harry felt himself blush under her knowing gaze, and she chuckled. "Tell me about her."

"I-I can't. She's not my girlfriend or anything, just a friend."

"Oh, come on, you can tell me something. Ask her out on a date," she suggested.

"I couldn't do that. She'd hate me, and we're too good of friends… but, Merlin, she's the most gorgeous girl I've ever met," he admitted with a small smile, picturing Ginny.

Rosie grinned, "Why don't you invite her in some night? I could have some girl-talk with her and find out if she would really hate you," she giggled like Harry had heard the younger girls at school do. "Honestly, Harry, I can't see how anyone could ever hate you. You're almost annoyingly good," she snorted.

"Hey!" Harry cried indignantly. "I'm not always good. I was quite the troublemaker in school, just talk to Professor Snape. He'll tell you anything bad you ever need know about me."

"Of course, Harry, you're a bad boy," she said patronizingly.

Harry snorted, "Well, alright, but what's wrong with being a good guy? Is it true that girls always go for the 'bad boys'?"

Rosie smiled kindly at him. "Nah, girls might like to play around with the 'bad boys' but they really want the sweeties. Like you, Mr. Potter."

Harry rolled his eyes. "We better get back to work, Rosie. Who knows what they're doing out there," he jerked his thumb towards the serving area.

She gave a quick salute and said, "Yes, sir."

He rolled his eyes again, but smiled fondly at her. In the short time he'd been working with Rosie, she had become very close, not quite like an older sister, but something like a favorite aunt, which was a completely new concept for him.

Harry apologized to the table he had ranted at earlier, but they conceded that he might have had a point and they'd think about the issue with more open minds. He smiled and thanked them, glad that he'd possibly done something to change their one-sided views on 'dark creatures'.

The rest of the week was rather unremarkable, something that Harry relished after having so much drama in his short life. The children's home was having a day trip to London on Saturday, so Harry decided to introduce himself to his new neighbors, the family with the lycanthropic child, before going to work.


A/N: Sorry about the lack of Harry/Ginny in this chapter. His courage will come soon… that's all I can say about that. But I did give you a little cheesy dream sequence at the beginning. : ) I just get the feeling that Harry's so innocent and clueless about romance that even his dreams would be fairly innocent, although that one got a little more, er, something that I intended. Oh well.

Question: The first sentence of the chapter, "Harry sat in the clearing in the forest with the pond," feels very awkward to me, too many phrases. My question is this – is 'ponded' a word? If not, can I make it one? Then the sentence would be, "Harry sat in the ponded clearing in the forest." See, it flows so much nicer that way, but I'm not sure exactly who is in charge of creating new words. I'll have to call Webster. Do you ever wish you were around when people started naming stuff? What word (noun/verb/adjective/adverb/anything else I forgot) would you change if you could? Tell me in a review and maybe you'll show up in the pub one night! : )