“So what do you want to do for your birthday tomorrow, Harry?” Ginny asked from her seat across the Weasleys’ kitchen table.
Harry thought a moment, then a sly smile lit up his haggard features. “I’d like to go to the London Zoo,” he said, his green eyes taking on a glint of enthusiasm the others in the room hadn’t seen in several months.
“The ZOO?” three Weasleys and a Granger exclaimed in unison.
“The Zoo. Where else could I hide in public without a whole contingent of reporters following my every move?” Harry responded.
“But you’ll be eighteen tomorrow!” Ginny protested.
Hermione beamed. “Ginny, it’s the perfect place to go. No Muggle teenager would be caught dead in a place like that unless they were minding someone else’s children.”
“I agree,” Mrs. Weasley concurred from the sink where she was supervising the washing up. “The Muggle zoo is also an enclosed open space so that if there’s any trouble extra security can easily Apparate in.”
“How come you want to go there?” Ginny asked.
“I haven’t been there since right before I received my Hogwarts letter. I only saw part of it, though. After I freed the boa constrictor, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia hustled me, Dudley and Piers out of the zoo so fast it wasn’t funny. I, erm, kinda ruined Dudley’s birthday outing. Look, I really want to go back and see the entire zoo. I’d go by myself, but it would be much more fun with the rest of you with me,” Harry told her.
Mr. Weasley smiled. “Then it’s settled. I’ll alert Professor Flitwick of your plans and see if he suggests someone for a chaperone just in case.”
Ron’s eyebrows shot upwards as Ginny groaned, “Chaperones? We’re too old to need cha—”
Her father cut her off. “All four of you are too famous to go completely alone. Would you approve of George, Fred, Angelina and the baby coming with you?”
“Little Melody should be the perfect excuse, everyone,” Hermione smiled, “although at eight months I’m not sure she’d understand much of what’s happening around her.”
“Well, it’s a change of scenery and there’s a lot of movement to watch,” Mrs. Weasley commented. “Sometimes new parents just need an excuse to get out of the house and I’m sure Angelina will be grateful for the opportunity to escape Diagon Alley.”
Harry, who had been thoughtfully silent during this exchange, now spoke up. “Do you think you two are up to a three hour walk?” he asked, looking pointedly at Ron and Hermione.
Hermione glanced at Ron who was nodding vigorously. “Even if we get tired, I’m sure there are plenty of benches where we can rest,” she said.
Harry smiled sadly at his two best friends. How he wished they were completely whole. The two of them and Ginny had been brilliant in the final battle against Voldemort. Unfortunately, Ron had been hit with several Bludgeoning hexes which had put him in St. Mungo’s for a month. The most baffling curse to hit him, though, had been a Silencing spell so powerful that nothing the Healers did had given him back his voice. Ron’s silence sat very heavily on Harry’s conscience and he forced the guilt to the back of his mind. As for Hermione, she had broken her left arm and suffered internal injuries when she had fallen down some stairs while trying to keep Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange from entering into Harry’s battle with their master.
That he had succeeded in ridding the Wizarding world of its greatest menace was gratifying, but Harry was happiest that all those who meant the most to him had survived.
Mr. Weasley folded his newspaper and stood up. “I’ll pop by the shop and see if Fred and George are available. Then, I’ll exchange enough galleons to cover your expenses for the day.”
“Thanks, Mr. Weasley,” Harry said. “Please take the funds from my account. I intend to enjoy myself tomorrow and that could be expensive.”
Mr. Weasley smiled. “Of course, Harry.” With that, he Disapparated.
The next morning at the appointed time, five Weasleys and Hermione tumbled from the fireplace in Harry’s Regency Park flat.
“Wotcher, Harry,” Fred greeted him as he took his daughter from Angelina and deposited the baby in her pram. “I never thought we’d be taking Melody into Muggle London at this age.”
“Never too early to start,” his wife said as she patted her husband on the back. “So, Harry. How are we getting there?”
“Walking, strolling, perambulating…take your pick. Regent’s Park’s just a few blocks from here,” he answered with a grin.
“Well, let’s get going, then,” George said heading for the door.
It was a lovely morning for a brisk walk to the park. Harry and Ginny led the way through the busy streets and soon the group reached the Broad Walk. The wide tree-lined avenue stretched before them leading toward the Outer Circle and the entrance to the zoo.
Harry slowed down and reached for Ginny’s hand which he tucked under his elbow. “I’ve thought a lot about strolling here with you ever since I bought my flat,” he told her smiling.
Ginny beamed at him and glanced behind her. “Don’t look now, but Ron and Hermione are walking the same way we are,” she murmured. “So are Fred and Angelina.”
“Good. This was meant to be an enjoyable day for everyone.”
“I think Uncle George is even enjoying pushing Melody,” Ginny observed with a giggle. “Oh, Harry, he positively dotes on that little girl!” She paused, then said, “I think she’s helping him get over Alicia’s passing. He was so sad after the battle…”
“I know, Ginny. We all lost so much,” Harry said quietly and steered her onto one of the side streets in the Avenue Gardens.
Twenty minutes later as they crossed Chester Road that led to Queen Mary’s Gardens, Harry found what he was looking for, the refreshment lodge. He steered Ginny toward it.
“I’ll order for everyone,” he told her as the others came up.
Several minutes later, he came back with seven paper-wrapped packages. “Lemon ice lolly,” he said handing them out. “Uncle Vernon bought me one of these only because Dudley and Piers got ice creams and the vendor asked me what I wanted before we could walk away.”
Angelina looked askance and commented, “You weren’t going to get a treat?”
“Nope. This was the cheapest item on the menu, but at the time I thought it was heavenly,” Harry said taking a bite and savouring the frosty sourness. “Still is.”
The group strolled down the Broad Walk until they reached the Outer Circle and turned left toward the Zoo’s entrance. Harry paid their fees and handed out the zoo maps the attendant had given him. Hermione and Ginny immediately opened theirs and began reading about the exhibits as the group strolled further into the zoo.
“Hold on, everyone,” Fred called as they approached a bench. Ron sank onto it and reached for Hermione’s map as his brother passed out what Harry recognized as Muggle walkie-talkies. “Dad said to give these out. He didn’t think we’d need them, but you never know. Just press and hold the call button to talk. We’ll all come running if there’s trouble.”
“Sounds good,” Ginny said. She turned to Angelina. “Melody might like the Snowdon Aviary. With all the birds flying around she’s bound to see something.”
“Good idea. Where are you four headed?”
Ron pointed to the Aquarium as Hermione, Harry and Ginny said, “Gorillas,” “Reptiles,” and “Mappin Terraces” all at once. They all began chuckling at the stunned expressions of their “chaperones”. Harry finally commented, “Let’s meet at the clock tower at noon. Agreed? All right, Hermione…let’s go see your gorillas!”
They split into two groups with Hermione leading the way to the Ape and Monkey pavilion. As they walked, Harry saw Ginny studying her map. He slowed down to peer over her shoulder to see what she was reading.
“Listen to this,” Ginny said pointing to the paragraph about the buildings. “The Sobel Pavilion was built in 1970 to replace the 1926 Monkey House which was originally on this site. It consists of five enclosed buildings and thirteen outdoor enclosures. Its main attractions are the gorillas and several of the larger primates such as the orangutan and the chimpanzees. There’s even a building for the smaller monkeys.”
Hermione began looking at the same pamphlet. “Hey, the Giant Pandas are here, too! It says here that the animals are allowed to climb in the rafters holding up the roofs of their enclosures. I wonder if the Pandas will be active this morning,” she mused. “The last time I was here they had gone to sleep inside their sleeping boxes.”
“You mean you’ve been here before?” Ginny asked her incredulously.
“Of course, silly,” she answered. “My parents brought me here when I was little. They’ve got pictures of me petting the animals and trying not to get stepped on in the Children’s Zoo when I was two.”
The others laughed as they entered the primate complex and began looking at the animals.
Ron was hugely entertained by the antics of the smaller monkeys. He grinned as they watched a Spider Monkey wrap its tail around the artificial branch it was playing on.
“A monkey tail like that would come in handy during Quidditch. You might stay on your broom a little better, Ron!” Ginny teased.
Ron threw his sister a dirty look and went to find where Hermione had wandered off to. Harry and Ginny followed him, hanging back a little to look at some of the other exhibits. They found her gazing rapturously at the Giant Pandas. The black and white animals were outside this morning, eagerly stripping the leaves from a giant pile of bamboo.
“Oh, aren’t they cute? I just want to squeeze them, they look so cuddly!” she exclaimed as they joined her at the railing. “I wish I could take one home!”
“I’d like to, too. But do you think Crookshanks would like having something that big as competition for your affections?” Ginny asked her.
Hermione sighed. “I suppose not. He’s rather possessive of me, really. Maybe I’ll stop in one of the shops and price a plush panda, though.”
They continued wandering around the exhibit and eventually found themselves at the gorilla cage. The huge animals were sitting quietly amid their morning meal of lettuce, carrots, celery, and other vegetables. Ron poked Harry in the side with his elbow and mouthed, “Dudley.”
Harry burst out laughing. “That’s what I thought the last time I was here,” he said, grinning.
Hermione and Ginny came over to them. “What’s so funny?” Hermione asked.
Ron jerked his thumb at the gorillas and repeated his comment.
Ginny giggled, “I’ve never seen Dudley up close, but I get the picture.”
Shaking her head, Hermione commented, “You haven’t missed anything,” which sent the four into renewed giggles.
“I’m thirsty,” Hermione admitted when she could talk again. “I saw a kiosk selling Coca-Cola as we walked in. Have you ever had one? It’s a drink from America.”
When Ron and Ginny shook their heads Harry commented, “Dudley would drink a dozen a day if he could.”
They found the kiosk and Harry went in to purchase drinks for everyone. As he stood in line, he glanced at the small display of chocolate bars next to the register. He quickly added four Mars Bars to the bill.
“My favorite Muggle sweet,” he told everyone happily as they made their way toward the Aquarium under the Mappin Terraces. “I haven’t had one of these in ages! You know, I was rather disappointed when the Hogwarts Express didn’t have them until Ron introduced me to Chocolate Frogs.”
“I felt the same way about Cadbury’s Picnic bars,” Hermione said.
Ginny giggled as the fizz from her drink tickled her nose. Ron took a huge bite of his Mars bar and then pantomimed “Good” as they reached the Aquarium. He finished it quickly, leaving a small smudge of chocolate on his upper lip, since food wasn’t allowed in the exhibit and looked inquiringly at the others.
Harry shook his head. “You two go on in. Ginny and I are going to the Reptile House.”
“You’re sure, Harry?” Hermione asked looking pointedly at him. “Some of those animals give me the willies.”
“I’m sure, Hermione. You two go have fun with the fish,” he said and reaching for Ginny’s hand began strolling toward the Reptile House. They found a place to finish their snack before going in.
“How come you wanted to come here alone so badly?” Ginny inquired as she threw her empty cup into a bin.
Harry walked into the building before answering. “I want to talk with the boa constrictor again,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m hoping it’s the same one I spoke to last time.”
The quickly found the display and Harry stood where he could see the snake’s eye. “Erm...can you hear me?” he hissed in Parseltongue.
The giant snake raised its head. “What did you say?” it asked, surprised. “Humans generally don’t talk to me. They just rap on the glass trying to wake me up.”
“Were you here seven years ago?” Harry asked.
“No, I wasn’t. I’m on loan from the zoo at Chessington's World of Adventure in Surrey. Have been for several years.”
Harry felt suddenly dejected. He had no idea how much he had wanted to converse with the reptile so much. “Well, thanks for your time,” he said and turned toward another exhibit.
“Hold on!” the snake cried. “I remember talking to a boy a long time ago! He set me free!”
Harry spun around to face the snake again.
“What’s the matter, Harry?” Ginny asked, confused.
“I’ve found it. I found my snake!” he told her excitedly. He turned to the reptile. “What do you remember?”
“The boy I talked with was with two others: one was really fat and thought I was boring because I wouldn’t move. The boy who spoke my language was skinny and wore round glasses almost like yours,” the snake said with a nod of its head. “He made the glass vanish so I could go to Brazil.”
Harry could hardly contain himself. “I’m the boy you talked to!” he exclaimed excitedly.
“Well, I’ll be! Good to speak with you again!” The snake slithered closer to the glass.
“How long were you free?” Harry inquired.
“Two months. It was wonderful.”
“Did you get to Brazil?”
The snake sighed. “Alas, the RSPCA caught me before I could find a boat going south.”
“I’m sorry about that. I always hoped you’d get to see your homeland.”
“I can’t miss a place I’ve never been, so don’t be too disappointed. Besides, this zoo is much nicer than the other place.”
“Better food, warmer rocks, live plants. I have a mate now, too.”
Harry studied the enclosure. “I don’t see her.”
“She’s in the back with our eggs,” the snake said proudly. “I’m going to get to see my offspring rather soon, I think.”
“Sounds like you’ve got it pretty good.”
“I do. Hey, will you come back and talk with me again some time?”
Harry smiled. “I promise,” he said as his walkie-talkie beeped. Ginny jumped at the unexpected sound.
“Come to the Aquarium, quick!” it squawked.
“It’s Hermione. I wonder what’s happened,” Ginny said worriedly as they bade the boa constrictor good-bye and hastened toward the door.
“She doesn’t sound at all upset,” Harry commented, “so it can’t be anything too awful. In fact, she sounded rather excited.” They skirted a group of families gathered just outside the exhibit and began sprinting toward to Aquarium.
When they reached the entrance a teary but glowing Hermione greeted them. “We’ve gathered over here,” she said, leading them to a nearby bench where Ron and his family were waiting.
Harry looked from one face to the other; they were all smiling as though they could hardly contain themselves or their mirth.
Hermione sat next to Ron and took his hand. “It’s a miracle!” she exclaimed, blushing. “Ron and I—we were kissing the chocolate off each other’s mouths and –”
“My voice came back!” Ron croaked, grinning.
Harry and Ginny gaped at him; the next moment Ginny launched herself at Ron, and pulling him to his feet, encircled him in a hug worthy of their mum.
“Oh, Ron, this is such good news! I’m so happy for you!” she exclaimed, voicing the pleasure that Harry was experiencing himself.
After Ginny had disentangled herself from her brother, Harry stuck out his hand for Ron to shake. “Hey, mate. Congratulations...to both of you,” he said sincerely including Hermione in his comment. “It’s about time, too!”
Ron scowled. “What do you mean?” he demanded huskily.
Before Harry could explain himself, Fred suddenly produced a long, loud wolf whistle.
“Finally,” George teased, “there will be peace in the Gryffindor common room!”
“No more spats.” Fred joined in.
“No more bickering!” added Harry.
“Peace will reign!” quipped Ginny.
“Un-for-tun-ate-ly—” drawled George.
“—it’s Harry’s birthday—” supplied Fred.
“—and little Ronniekins—”
“—seems to have stolen the show by—”
“—getting his voice back—”
“—with the help of his—“
“—true love’s kiss!” they finished together. “Aww, isn’t that romantic?”
Ron grinned and gave Hermione a quick kiss before asking no one in particular, “Who would have thought getting together would be so sweet?”