It was Twelfth Night and the Burrow was teaming with people, happily celebrating Bill Weasley's engagement. Harry was having quite a lot of trouble remembering who was who, but the fact that a good half of the guests had red hair meant it was easy to pick out the Weasley relatives. Unfortunately, the small matter of his scar meant he was just as easily recognisable, and Harry longed for some anonymity.
It seemed being the Boy Who Lived meant he was ripe for picking – not to mention pinching. His abused posterior had been tweaked and pinched by virtually every single-woman at the party, with the exception of Hermione. And she barely counted as single, considering she and Ron were still dancing their weird courtship ballet of arguments and insults.
The older women, meanwhile, had been pinching his cheek, or clasping him to their impressive bosoms, and thanking him for saving them from You Know Who. A couple had even offered to thank him further…in private.
It didn't help that someone – probably Fred or George, or maybe even Charlie – had be-spelled a leftover piece of mistletoe from Christmas to follow him around like his own personal rain-cloud, and he'd had to put up with being kissed, smooched, and all out snogged (this last, luckily, was Ginny) by every female who came across his path. Thankfully Ginny had taken pity on him and incinerated the mistletoe with a quick flick of her wand and a muttered bit of Latin – but only after she'd snogged him almost senseless in front of her smirking brothers.
Harry was used to being the focus of attention, but this type of attention had him puzzled, and not a little frightened. Deciding a strategic retreat was in order, Harry sneaked off towards the kitchen. Perhaps he could help out Mrs Weasley by doing some dishes, or making cups of tea, or something; anything to get him away from the witches with claws.
Unfortunately the kitchen was inhabited by a group of Weasley aunts, sitting around the table, which was centred with a steaming teapot. They resembled somewhat the witches from Shakespeare's Scottish Play, which was unsurprising considering witches were what they were. One of them thrust a cup of weak tea into his hands - laced with too little milk and far too much sugar - as she continued to gush about what robes she and her legion of children would be wearing to Bill and Fleur's wedding.
Heading out the back door with only a few more bruises to show for his kitchen foray, Harry continued to ponder his problem. Maybe it was due to a phase of the moon? He leaned against a tree and looked up at the stars, twinkling in the clear blackness of the winter's night. Harry wished his astronomy books were not back at Hogwarts, but perhaps he could nip up to Ginny and Hermione's room? Undoubtedly, Hermione had brought masses of schoolbooks with her, for a little light reading over the Christmas break.
"What are you doing skulking out here?" Ginny asked, handing him one of the goblets she was carrying.
"Escaping," Harry replied succinctly. "I don't think my ar-" He looked sideways at Ginny and changed what he was going to say, slightly, "- rear end has one spot left un-pinched!"
Ginny giggled. "Well, it's your own fault, silly."
"My fault?" Harry's jaw dropped open, and he did an interesting fly-catching impression for a few seconds. "How can it be my fault that all these women think it's 'open season on Harry'?"
"It's those green eyes of yours, mate," said Ron, moving into the garden followed by Hermione. "Women take one look and want to take you home."
"You're making me sound like a lost puppy!"
Ron grinned and lay down on the picnic rug Hermione had efficiently spread out, gazing up at the sky as Harry had been doing only minutes before. "Look, there's a shooting star. Hmmm, in the house of…what was that constellation called again? I think that means dark-haired men should beware of…"
Harry grabbed a nearby leaf and flung it at him. It proved singularly ineffective at stopping Ron's teasing, as he kept pointing out silly predictions from random star movements. Harry decided Ron could almost write predictions for the Quibbler - if people didn't mind reading about doom and gloom every second sentence.
"So how is it Harry's fault?" Ron continued, addressing his sister. "I doubt he instigated that whole mistletoe business."
"Well it wasn't his green eyes!" Ginny replied tartly. "Honestly, are you two totally clueless? It's his jumper!"
Harry blinked his eyes in shock and wondered if this was some sort of female code he should know and understand. He looked at Ron, only to find his best mate was equally mystified. "My jumper?" He looked down at the hand-knitted jumper he'd received from Mrs Weasley the previous Christmas. "It still fits. And I like green. What's wrong with it?"
"The problem is it's green," Ginny said significantly.
"Erm-" Harry paused. He really didn't have any idea what Ginny was getting at. "Hermione, I think I'm in the Muggle loop here – what is this about my poor jumper?" he asked plaintively, deciding to try asking the fountain of all knowledge.
"It's all about signals, Harry," Hermione giggled. "You've been giving off 'available' signals all evening."
"I have not!" Harry was offended. "All these women have been coming up to me without me doing anything!"
"You started it the minute you got dressed this evening. You should have worn your new jumper Mrs Weasley made you – the red one."
"What's the diff-" Harry began.
"What's the colour of his jumper got to do with anything? I thought Mum usually made him a green one because of the colour of his eyes," Ron interrupted. He glared down at his own jumper, lovingly knitted by his mother. "Though why on earth she keeps making me maroon beats me."
"Harry," Hermione put a wealth of long-suffering into her voice. "Have you not heard of 'traffic lights'?"
Harry frowned. What did Muggle traffic signals have to do with the price of fish? "Erm – of course?"
"What does 'red' mean?"
"Stop, of course." Harry still didn't see where this random question-and-answer session about traffic rules was going.
"It also means 'taken'. At least at engagement parties - even in the Wizarding World."
"'Taken'?" questioned both Ron and Harry together. The girls nodded.
"You two are so thick!" exclaimed Ginny.
Harry ignored that; he was afraid Ginny might have a point – at least on this issue. It seemed that for every sentence Hermione uttered, he was feeling even more confused. "So… if red means, er, taken, what does… um…green mean?"
Harry mind was still scrambling around in the dark. "Uh-"
"Those women certainly have jumbled your brains tonight, Harry." Ginny grinned affectionately. "'Available' is the word you're searching for, and is what those women thought you were."
"You've got to be joking!" Harry leapt to his feet, looking around frantically as if he expected women with pincher-type fingers to appear out of the shrubbery.
Hermione dropped her face into her hands, and her shoulders began to shake. Looking up at him he could see tears of mirth streaming down her face. "Oh, Harry!" she said through her laughter.
"I better go and get changed," he decided, pointedly ignoring his best friend who was currently having hysterics at his expense.
"Don't worry, I can fix it." Ginny pulled out her wand. A few murmured words later and his jumper was a pleasing shade of red. "Perfect!" she said, taking Harry by the arm and pulling him towards the house. "Come on, let's get some eggnog; I think the twins spiked it."
"Not with anything too unsafe, I hope," said Harry as they went into the house, little realising the youngest Weasley had stamped her claim upon him for all to see.
The last Ron saw of them as they went through the kitchen door was 'Property of Ginny Weasley' emblazoned across the back of Harry's jumper.
"So, Hermione," Ron said, taking her hand and pulling her close. "What does maroon mean?"
"'Hot'," she replied, leaning into his kiss.
"I'll agree with that," he said, and proceeded to show just how hot he could be.
Author's note: I pinched the idea of the mistletoe following Harry from Regann's 'Heart Over Mind' fanfiction. I hope she doesn't mind.
Thanks to Sib and Sherry! Also, hugs to RG - we could never meet in real life without matching paper bags over our faces. Thanks for all the discussions about everything, no matter how bizarre and random.