An early October wind rattled the common room windows and Ginny Weasley pulled her robes about her shoulders more securely. It never ceased to amaze her that it was this time of year that she felt coldest in the castle. She supposed that she was still fighting the realization that summer was gone and winter would soon be upon the school. Not that she really minded; this was ideal Quidditch weather and with Ron in his second year as Keeper and the reinstatement of Harry as Seeker this season, Gryffindor had a better chance of winning the Quidditch Cup than last year. She had been rather pleased earlier that day when she had watched the team's final practice. Then, as now, she had just wished it was warmer.
Looking up, she gazed around the familiar room for the one she'd been waiting for since the end of dinner. He was nowhere in sight and she had not seen him come through the portrait hole or enter the boy's staircase. Something about the way Harry had been acting after practice made her just a tad bit concerned about him. She couldn't put her finger on it; she just knew something wasn't right with him. To tell the truth, nothing had seemed right since the end of the Third Task sixteen months ago. And even if she didn't know all the details, after participating in last year's fight at the Ministry of Magic, something about Harry's demeanor then and now haunted her.
Glancing back at her Charms homework, Ginny realized that what she wanted most was to find Harry and assure herself that he wasn't alone. She knew that Ron and Hermione had made a pledge to always be within hollering distance if Harry needed them. She also knew that they had not included her in their pact. Silently, she fumed about being the baby of the Weasley family and the need her brothers and their friends felt to shield her from 'evil.' Well, if that's the way they feel, I'll just take it upon myself to add my presence to Harry's circle of guardians, she thought. I'm not as fragile as they think I am. He needs me just as much as they think he needs them.
With that, she gathered up her books and stuffed them into her bag. It took only a moment to dash upstairs, deposit the bag next to her bed and grab her cloak from her trunk. Thus unencumbered, she made her way back down the stairs, through the common room and out the portrait hole.
Once in the corridor, she paused to consider her options. Where to begin looking? That was the question. Where would Harry find a private place where he didn't feel he had to hide his true feelings or put on a brave face? She searched her mental map of the castle and came up with nothing. Then it hit her. Ron had said once that when Harry needed to forget he flew. She was sure of it; Harry had not left the Quidditch pitch that afternoon. Come to think of it, Ginny didn't think he'd been at dinner.
Making up her mind, she dashed down several staircases and found herself at a side door to the castle. It would be only a few hundred yards to the field house, but she paused anyway to cast a quick warming charm on her cloak because of the wind. Once at the field house she went straight to the broom shed and took off on her old Comet 260, a hand-me-down from her brothers. There was just enough light left to fly safely for about twenty minutes. She would know if her hunch had paid off by the time she needed to land.
She flew over the pitch scanning the tiers of stands. No Harry. She then searched each viewing tower looking for his familiar face. Still, no Harry, and no sign of either Ron or Hermione. Then, as she looked toward the last fading rays of the sunset, she spotted his Firebolt bobbing on the wind just above one of the goal hoops. Harry's back was to her, his head bowed and shoulders hunched, not seeming to mind the buffeting. It was not a happy sight and her heart went out to him. All Ginny wanted to do was take him in her arms and smooth away his cares. She flew to the closest tower and found a seat where she was slightly sheltered from the wind but still had an unobstructed view of Harry.
The sky gradually faded into blackness; Ginny didn't know how long she sat there gazing around the pitch. For her, it was a peaceful experience listening to the wind and watching Harry. She hoped she was sending some of the peace she felt to him for she wanted him to know she was there if he needed her. As it was, he continued to hover until it was completely dark and Ginny knew they needed to get back to Gryffindor Tower before it was noticed they were missing. She sighed, mounted her broom and flew back to the shed hoping Harry would follow her soon.
So it was that Ginny spent the next two weeks watching over Harry every evening. She had no idea whether her presence was even noticed. He gave no indication that he knew she flew to the same tower after dinner and spent at least a half hour near him: he was either oblivious to anything but his own inner turmoil or chose to ignore Ginny's presence in the stadium. Either way, Ginny didn't care. She was dedicated to being available to Harry if he wanted someone to help him; she thought she understood a little of what he was going through more than any of his other friends.
Besides, the peace and quiet of the stadium helped Ginny, too; she was taking time to calm herself after a hectic day, something she could not do in the crazy atmosphere of the Gryffindor common room. Her study time was even benefiting from calmly organizing her priorities. And she no longer dragged herself up to bed dreading falling asleep just to wake up to tangled covers from the disturbing nightmares that sometimes still haunted her nearly four years after her rescue from the Chamber of Secrets.
It was at the beginning of the third week that Hermione approached her after dinner as she made her way upstairs to get her cloak.
"Ginny, wait," Hermione called.
Ginny turned around. "What's up?" she inquired as Hermione fell into step beside her.
"Great news. I've just had an owl from your mother."
"That's right. I owled her sometime last week," Hermione began. "My parents want me to come home next weekend for a family party and they said I could invite a friend. Naturally, I thought of you."
"How come you didn't ask me first?"
"Ginny, don't get mad at me, but I knew you'd refuse to come."
"Why? It sounds like fun."
"Well, the party is going to be a rather fancy Muggle affair and I know you're self-conscious about your wardrobe. And I also know you don't like to miss lessons either. So I owled your parents and your mother wrote back to say that they were delighted with the idea and included a note of permission for you to miss school next Friday and the following Monday. They will even be making arrangements with George to meet us at the Leaky Cauldron next Thursday evening."
Ginny was thunderstruck. "George? How come?"
"Well, we need to go to Gringotts to exchange gold for Muggle money. I have nothing to wear to the party and I want to take you to my favorite Muggle dress shops on Friday. Make it a girl's day out sort of. George is going to be there to be sure the goblins give us a fair exchange rate."
"Good old George. It sounds like you have everything planned. And you're right, I would have refused just as you said. You know me too well, Hermione. I'm glad you asked Mum and Dad first, though I shudder to think of what a raid on the family vault will do their savings. There never seems to be enough to warrant an extravagant day like the one you've got planned in Muggle London," Ginny said thoughtfully. "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'd love to go to the party."
A smile lit up Hermione's face as she embraced her friend. "We're going to have such a splendid time," she said. "Let's go send an owl to Mum and Dad telling them that everything's arranged and to meet us at the Leaky Cauldron next Thursday. Oh, I can't wait to go shopping with you. It'll be such fun!"
With that, the girls headed for the owlery cheerfully discussing their plans. All thoughts of Harry slipped Ginny's mind as she contemplated her good fortune.
The week passed quickly and before she knew it, it was Wednesday evening and Ginny sat on her bed making a list of things to throw into a small bag to take to Hermione's. Suddenly, she looked at her watch and gasped. How could she have forgotten? She quickly folded the parchment, capped her ink bottle and put them and her quill in her cloak pocket; she could finish at the stadium, she decided. Seconds later she was crossing the common room toward the portrait hole when she felt someone watching her. She turned and waved to Hermione as she exited.
Ginny paused to look up at the goal hoops before mounting her broom. Harry was in his usual spot bobbing in the breeze facing the sunset. There wasn't much light left, so Ginny flew quickly to her own usual perch and pulled out her list. It was done in no time and she used the remaining time to silently apologize to Harry for being too busy the last few days to not keep him company. I'm going to Hermione's for the weekend and wanted to get my assignments completed before I left, she thought. If you need me Tuesday evening after practice, I'll be here. The light faded completely and Ginny mounted her broom and took off for the shed.
George met Ginny and Hermione at the Leaky Cauldron punctually at five o'clock the next afternoon. He was excited to see Ginny, engulfing her in a big brotherly hug as she exited the fireplace, and escorted the girls to Gringotts Wizarding Bank and back again in time to meet Mr. and Mrs. Granger for dinner. Ginny was glad it was George who had met her because she knew she'd never have been able to stop her father from pestering Mr. Granger about all his fascinating 'eklectic' gadgets and his mode of transport.
"We're so glad your parents gave Ginny permission to join Hermione this weekend," Mrs. Granger told him as the girls loaded their bags into the boot.
"It's an opportunity we wouldn't want her to miss," George said with a smile.
He gave Ginny a quick hug saying softly to her, "Have fun and take notes on everything Muggle for Dad. I'm sure he'll bombard you with questions next time you're home."
Ginny giggled and waved as the car sped away.
The Grangers lived in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of London. Their home was an elegant Tudor style set back from the street behind a shoulder-height hedge. To Ginny, the twelve-room house looked like a mansion compared with The Burrow's rambling hodge-podge of tottering rooms.
Hermione led the way upstairs to her bedroom and casually flipped on the overhead light. Ginny stood in the doorway of the large room marveling at how quickly her friend switched between worlds. She watched as Hermione headed straight to what looked like a glass-front cupboard filled with black boxes and pushed a few buttons. Suddenly, the room was filled with orchestral music and a rich male voice singing a beautiful song.
"As much as I love Hogwarts, I can't help missing my sound system," Hermione said flopping onto her large bed. "I tried bringing my personal CD player first year, but the thing didn't work with all the magic in the castle. It took me a while to get used to studying without something to listen to."
Ginny put her things in a pile on the floor and joined Hermione on the bed. "My Dad would kill to examine all those boxes you've got plugged into the wall. But enough about him. Your room is simply elegant!" It was done up in pastel blue, purple and green with matching upholstery and curtains. A thick blue carpet covered the floor while the walls shimmered a soothing green hue.
"Thanks, Mum and I redecorated it last summer. Unfortunately, we won't be spending much time here this weekend," Hermione said. "Tomorrow we're going to have to shop for two outfits. Mum told me downstairs that we have to go to a Christening on Sunday afternoon as well as Saturday's party. I know your birthday is coming up soon and my gift to you is your outfit for Sunday. Don't look at me like that; we're going to have such fun tomorrow shopping and I don't want to feel guilty because I want to be nice to you!"
"I don't know what to say except, thanks," Ginny said hugging her friend. "May I see the rest of the house?"
The girls made a quick tour, then got ready for bed. Mrs. Granger stuck her head in the door to wish them a good night, then left her daughter and Ginny to gab the night away.
The next day was a whirlwind of shopping. Hermione and her mother took Ginny straight to their favorite boutique on Oxford Street and within an hour, both girls had suitable dresses for Saturday's partyy and Ginny had picked out an olive green business suit for Sunday's Christening. After saying good-bye to Mrs. Granger, the girls went off to explore Hermione's other favorite shops for accessories and Christmas gifts. They visited a jewelry store, a shoe shop, a Muggle book store, several gift and casual clothing establishments, and a large department store (so that Ginny could see what one looked like). Ginny found that she had enough Muggle money for some very nice presents for all of her family as well as Hermione, Harry and even a small gift for her potions partner, Colin Creevy, who was constantly supplying her with copies of his pictures. The girls met Mrs. Granger at the end of the day loaded down with bags of every size and shape, happy and tired from all their walking.
Later that evening Ginny sat on the floor of Hermione's bedroom surrounded by her purchases. Hermione had taken over the bed and was hanging up the new clothes she'd bought. They had been discussing boys and teachers and school for quite a while when Ginny changed the subject.
"I need to ask you something," she said turning serious. "It concerns Harry."
Hermione looked up curiously. "What about him?"
"Has he seemed overly tired to you lately?"
The older girl thought for a moment. "Yes. You noticed it, too? He must not be sleeping well again. Ron would know. Why do you ask?"
"I know it's none of my business, but I'm a little concerned about him," Ginny said. "He just doesn't seem to be himself this year, that's all." She deliberately kept her voice casual. Ginny realized her feelings for Harry ran much deeper now and she needed to make sure she sounded only like a concerned friend instead of a silly little girl. It wouldn't do to have Hermione think her crush from first year was back in full force.
"You have a point," Hermione said thoughtfully. "It's as though he lost all interest in living after Sirius died last Spring..." She paused as if remembering, then said, "I was trying to interest your brother and Harry in studying for our Potions quiz a couple of nights ago and Harry just seemed to be miles away. He's usually quicker than Ron with the answers, but that night he didn't get one question right. I wondered if something was bothering him and put it up to too much History of Magic homework."
Ginny nodded knowingly. She had one last observation. "I've only noticed Harry coming down to the Great Hall for breakfast and maybe lunch. Does he ever join you and Ron for dinner? I haven't seen him lately."
"No, not in the past three or four weeks. He begs off because of Quidditch practice. But that doesn't make sense. Ron always is the first of the team to find the dinner table after practice, so I usually know when practice ends," Hermione mused with a slight smile. "He's even faster than Fred and George were at filling and emptying his plate." At this, Ginny giggled softly knowing Hermione was right. They'd both seen how the ravenous Ron could tuck into a plate of food and make several helpings disappear in the time it took the rest of them to consume just one.
Hermione paused, thinking. "Ginny, you may be right about Harry not eating. Your mum charged me with seeing that both he and Ron ate regularly. It's not hard to do with your brother around. But Harry, now he's a challenge. I'll have to be more observant. I'll let you know."
"Thanks. If you want me to help you remind Harry to come to meals let me know. I'd like to help," Ginny volunteered. "I sometimes see him just before dinner and could encourage him to join you."
Hermione nodded. "Good idea, Ginny. Maybe between the two of us we can get Harry down to the Great Hall for the evening meal more often."
Ginny nodded and changed the subject again. "Which necklace do you like better with this dress for tomorrow? I can't make up my mind." She held two crystal necklaces against the material of the floral print linen dress in cream, yellow and orange she'd purchased for the party.
"The green one. It makes me think of Harry," Hermione said with a sly smile. "You'll knock the socks off some of my uncles tomorrow."
The party turned out to be a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration for Hermione's great aunt and uncle. Ginny was fascinated to discover that muggles celebrated in much the same way as the Wizarding population did with a large gathering of family and friends in a large hall. There were tables piled high with food, lots of gifts, and stories galore about the celebrated couple. Ginny and Hermione both became rather teary as the elderly couple renewed their wedding vows; there was something beautiful and romantic about pledging once again to stand side by side until death did them part. I hope I'll be doing this with my husband someday, Ginny thought and knew Hermione was probably thinking the same thing.
"What are you smiling about?" Hermione inquired after the ceremony.
"Oh, I was just thinking that fifty-odd years from now my brother and a certain brown-eyed girl might be doing this same thing," Ginny replied with a wicked grin. "I'm just hoping that he isn't so thick as to wait ten years to start the process."
Hermione's eyes grew wide as she stifled a small gasp of comprehension. "Ginny! Shame on you!" was all she managed to say before her parents ushered them in the direction of the receiving line.
After dinner, a DJ began playing music for dancing. It soon became apparent that Hermione and Ginny were the only teenaged girls present and both were besieged with dance partners almost as soon as Hermione's aunt and uncle finished their dance together. Ginny had great fun whirling about the floor with one partner after another until the party ended around midnight. Mr. and Mrs. Granger collected the two girls and ushered them back to the car and eventually to bed.
It seemed no time before Mrs. Granger was knocking on Hermione's bedroom door with a cheery, "Good morning, girls. It's time to get up."
Hermione groaned and pulled a pillow over her head. Ginny giggled and climbed reluctantly out of her cot. After a quick shower and breakfast, the four piled into Mr. Granger's BMW for the ride to the quaint, old cathedral where the Grangers attended services. The Christening was to be held in a small chapel following the service. Hermione pointed out the baby and several of the couples who had attended last evening's party and Ginny began making mental notes about the service for her father.
After the ceremony Hermione introduced Ginny to the baby and his parents. To Ginny's delight, the young mother let her hold the sleeping infant and was pleasantly surprised when he opened his eyes to discover that they were almost the same shade of green as Harry's. She held him close and began humming a lullaby Mrs. Weasley had sung to her and Ron when they were little. As the baby gurgled contentedly his mother commented, "You must have the magic touch. Roger never lets anyone other than his father and me hold him for more than a minute." Ginny smiled and handed Roger back to his mum.
When they got back to the Grangers' house Hermione insisted that she needed to get some studying done and the two girls soon had their books spread before the massive fireplace in Mr. Granger's study. The room was slightly chilly, so Hermione turned on the gas log in the grate.
Hermione shook her head as she settled onto the hearthrug next to Ginny. "I can't believe Dad hasn't reconverted this fire place yet," she said with a sigh. "He's such a hold-out from the sixties it's ridiculous. His parents were the first on their street to convert to a gas fire when they first came out and now he insists on keeping this one like that. I don't know what he was thinking when he insisted that the smaller living room fireplace be the one to be converted back to a conventional hearth. He's seen how little room there is the times I've Flooed to The Burrow. Heaven knows he was in for a shock the first time your Dad and Ron slid out of it the summer after second year. It would be so much more convenient if this fireplace became conventional, too."
"I don't mind," Ginny insisted. "It's rather nice not having the embers fly at me like they occasionally do in the common room. Besides, if you show me how it works, I can tell my Dad!" Hermione giggled.
A few minutes later, Ginny looked up from the book she was reading and asked, "What are our plans for tomorrow? Your mum said we didn't have to be back at school until dinner."
"Sleeping in," Hermione answered with a grin. "Then I suppose we should pack our things and get ready to go back to school. If there's time I could help you study for your O.W.L.s if you'd like. Why?"
"Well, I was hoping to do a little shopping in Diagon Alley," Ginny said. "I haven't seen Weasley's Wizard Wheezes since August and from what Fred writes, business is even better than it was last June. They seem to be making money hand over fist."
"I'd like to see the shop, too. Come to think of it, I need some more quills and parchment. That last essay Snape had us do on herbs for medicinal potions had to be six feet long. I ran out of parchment half way through and had to use the back. Snape wasn't too thrilled about that," Hermione commented. "I'll see if Mum will take us to The Leaky Cauldron around one. That will give us plenty of time to shop and enjoy the sights." She closed her book and stood up to leave the room.
"It's all settled," she said a few minutes later. "We'll leave here promptly at one and leave our bags at the Leaky Cauldron. Tom has always been really nice about letting me store my purchases in his office the few times I've asked."
"I appreciate it, Hermione," Ginny said with a smile. "I've had such a good time this week end. Thanks for inviting me."
The girls bade Mr. and Mrs. Granger good-bye outside The Leaky Cauldron the next afternoon. As he turned to leave, Mr. Granger pulled a small package out of his pocket and handed it to Ginny with a smile.
"Give this to your Dad next time you see him," he said. "I had to replace an outlet in the kitchen a few months ago and saved the broken one for him."
Ginny accepted the package with a laugh, saying, "Dad will be delighted. He's always pleased when he can add to his collection."
With that, the two girls walked through the pub and into Diagon Alley. After making stops at Gringotts, to exchange their Muggle money for Wizard currency, Flourish and Blotts, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, and the Magical Menagerie, for special treats for Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon, Ginny stepped into a wood carver's shop.
"I'll just be a few minutes," she told Hermione who gave her a quizzical look. "I have one more gift to get and this is the only place I can have it made."
"No problem, Ginny. I'll meet you outside the Quidditch shop in fifteen minutes. I thought I'd get an extra gift for Ron there," Hermione said with a smile and closed the door.
Ginny pulled a piece of parchment out of her bag and approached the counter. The proprietor greeted her cordially and the two conferred for several minutes before Ginny paid for her gift. The man asked if she would be coming to pick it up and Ginny told him to send it directly to her at Hogwarts by owl post as soon as it was ready. The man made a note on the order form and bade her a pleasant afternoon.
Their shopping done, Hermione and Ginny walked back to The Leaky Cauldron where they enjoyed a quiet dinner before going back to Hogwarts.