Two days later, the Weasleys returned to the Burrow, and Harry moved into Ron's room under the attic. Ginny felt the change as a great relief at first, but found out soon that Harry would not relax as easily. The Burrow gave them more space to breathe and the whole atmosphere was much less oppressive than Headquarters'; they could go outside, but Harry took the opportunity to shut himself off as much as he could, which infuriated Ginny. The ungrateful git should be glad to have some company!
A week later, Ginny received an invitation for a birthday party of a muggle friend in the nearby village of Ottery St. Catchpole, and she was looking forward to a nice afternoon away from the Burrow and away from Harry-the-Dunce-Potter. But the invitation led to an additional conflict with her mother, because Mrs Weasley insisted that Ginny take Harry to the party with her. She had the best intentions, of course. An occasion to informally socialise might dissolve some of the tension between the children, she thought. Ginny had to write to her friend, Sarah, and ask for permission to bring a friend. Permission was granted gladly, of course, and thus Ginny's hopes to be rid of Harry at least for a few hours were shattered.
Harry was not told about this, of course, but he had the distinct feeling that Ginny did not like his coming at all. He tried to refuse the invitation, but Mrs Weasley would hear nothing of it, saying he could do with a little distraction. This led to another behind-the-scenes row between mother and daughter, and Ginny was torn between rage, because Harry was finally forced upon her, and indignation that he would deny an invitation to go to a party with her.
They were to leave at half past two and walk to the village. They took the long-disused driveway from the Burrow in silence. Harry tried to start a conversation, but failed miserably, and Ginny was too deep in thought to actually pay attention. She was extremely worried that they would have a falling out in public, something she hated immensely.
* * * *
It was a small party.
"I hate having my birthday during the summer holidays," Sarah complained. "There are hardly any people around."
Harry looked dismal. "That's a problem, I know."
Ginny, meanwhile, watched the girls in the room observe Harry, and she knew what was going on. She had seen that gaze in the eyes of many girls at Hogwarts and even in Sarah's when she had opened the door for them. It was the effect Harry had on many girls. Most of them melted the moment he turned his brilliant green eyes on them. Ginny winced at the idea that he could respond to any of the girls there. Unfortunately, Harry was more or less abducted by two of Sarah's friends, Jessica and Belinda, who made him sit between them at the table, where they began to put him through an inquisition and to feed him sweets in between questions.
Sarah had drawn Ginny into a corner and started to go crazy over Harry. "Oh, my God, Ginny!" She was almost breathless. "He is ... wow!"
Ginny drew a sour face. "He's a pain in my .…"
Sarah's eyes widened. "Ginny! You come to my party with a dish of a boy and you have the nerve to tell me that you do not ...."
Ginny let her breath out in an angry hiss. "No, I certainly do not."
"I mean, his clothes are nothing to boast of, but he is so ... mysterious, and those eyes, Ginny, those eyes ... Oh my God, did you see that?"
Ginny turned round she could see Harry just sitting at the table, but the girls on either side of him seemed to be very fascinated. "What?"
"Oh, he ran his hand through his hair, making it all stand, and ... awww, he's cute!"
"He does that when he's nervous." Ginny knew exactly what it looked like. Even hearing about it made her knees turn to jelly. "And the best thing is that he doesn't have a clue what he's doing to girls."
"You mean he doesn't know?"
"Doesn't have the faintest!"
"Why're you so angry with him?"
Because, said a little voice in the back of her head that sounded remarkably like herself, he acts as if his pain was all that mattered. What about the pain of others, what about mine?
"He's a git. He never thinks about others." Reason told her this was not true, that Harry was in pain because he cared so much about others, but it felt good to let her frustration out.
Sarah cast a doubtful glance at Harry, who was politely trying to change the subject of conversation with the two girls. "Is he? He doesn't really strike me as the insufferable type."
That was not too far away from the truth, of course, but Ginny was ready to blame Harry for just about everything at the moment. She had hardly talked to him, but now that she saw him engaged in complaisant conversation with two other girls she felt deeply neglected. After all, he had come with her. A little attention to her wouldn't be amiss.
Luckily, the opportunity to exact a revenge for Harry's ignorance presented itself in the person of Thomas Norton. Thomas was going out with Jessica, one of the girls who was talking to Harry just then. He was not very bright, but quite good-looking and more than willing to make that Potter guy pay for absorbing his girl's attention.
Obviously, the girls had been trying hard to find out if Ginny and Harry were an item, and after his simply telling them that they were not, they set to work. Belinda was making eyes at him, while Jessica tried to make it obvious that Ginny was not the right girl for him, anyway. Harry felt little inclination to listen to their gibbering, but as it was a small party indeed there was no escape. There were just a few more people there, nobody he knew, anyway, and Ginny was no help either. She and Thomas had sat down opposite and they were flirting outrageously.
From the puzzled expression on Sarah's face even Harry could tell that it was just a show, but it hurt him nevertheless. Thomas was a terrible prat who was very proud of his -- admittedly -- good looks, his triumphant career in school sports, and his success with the ladies. Harry thought he was making himself more intolerable by the minute, but Ginny's pretension to find him entertaining provoked him into even more obnoxiousness. His loud voice drew everybody's attention to him.
"You know," Thomas droned on, "I really got into a fight with my parents about that the other night. They said I was irresponsible with girls."
Jessica and Ginny giggled.
"They are so stupid, really." He grinned. "They say they're only concerned with my future and all that, but it's all so dull. They're a real pain, you know?"
Harry listened with growing irritation. He knew that parents and their children were not always getting along too well, but from his experience with the Weasleys there had never been a single doubt in his mind that they loved each other. He was not so sure about Thomas. The callous air he had assumed made Harry angry.
"Sometimes, I could kill them. I think I'd be much better off without them, anyway. Don't you ever feel that way, Harry?"
Harry's face darkened. Very quietly he said, "I don't have parents."
Thomas smiled, showing all his teeth. "To lose one parent, Mr Potter, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both," he lingered dramatically, "looks like carelessness."
The little voice in Ginny's head giggled, while Harry stiffened, and the voice said, Oh, dear. Here we go again with Mr The-World's-so-Unfair-to-Me. Ginny squealed with ostentatious delight.
Thomas leaned towards her. "Oscar Wilde," he said with a casual, silky voice and wriggled his eyebrows.
As Harry remained silent, Thomas continued, "Well, you're lucky, anyway. Wish I had as little trouble with my parents as you do."
Thomas had no idea who he was dealing with. Harry had a hard time concentrating to control his powers. His anger produced more energy by the second, and one could even hear thunder roll somewhere far away, and one or two of the guests looked to the windows with irritation. It was, after all, a bright summer's afternoon.
Ginny, however, knew exactly what was going on, she could feel that Harry was just about to burst and eyed him coldly. What a show-off.
"Keep your pants up, Potter," she said in an aloof tone.
* * * *
It had been the worst party ever, and when Ginny and Harry were on their way back to the Burrow both were bristling with anger.
Harry had withdrawn to the background like a black cloud of bad mood, and Ginny had been left with the rest of the party. Thomas had nearly chewed off her ear with his insufferable bragging, while Harry's retreat had left her at the mercy of Jessica and Belinda who had made it clear without a doubt that they considered her dress out-of-fashion and her company unwanted.
Ginny felt torn to pieces. After all, she had taken Harry to the party, a little attention to her would have been appropriate. But he had preferred to either let himself be adored by those two harpies or to sulk in the background and depress Sarah and everybody else. As atHogwarts, he had commanded everybody's attention. He had a way of doing that. Wherever he went, he just did not go unnoticed, whether it was with muggles or wizards. The problem was that he really was adorable, especially because his appearance displayed his inner torment. Girls felt encouraged to protect him, while he was really being insufferable. Had he paid Ginny the least attention, those girls would not have dared talking to her like they had, but he would not be the hero for her, of course. Not for stupid, little Ginny, the tiny voice said.
Harry, too, was frustrated beyond belief. He had not been to many parties, but even according to his low standards this one had been lousy. He understood that Ginny was angry at him, and therefore she had pretended to find Thomas amusing. That she would laugh at his cruel joke about his parents, however, was beyond him. And yet ... he felt guilty. How much must he have hurt her to make her that angry? But if he was honest, it was not anger, it was more: she hated him. Ginny was a nice person, generally, and she was very pretty, no ... she was lovely, but somehow he had ruined all prospects of ever being friends with her. On the other hand, she could exasperate him like no one else, and his temper made it almost impossible for him to keep his wits around her.
When they turned from the street into the lane that led to the Burrow, Ginny could not stand what seemed to be an accusatory silence anymore. He had been the one to ruin her day and her summer in the first place.
"Thank you for the nice afternoon," she said with obvious sarcasm.
"I didn't start the fun," he replied, his temper rising. "That was your pal, Tommy."
"Thomas is an idiot."
"Oh." Harry's eyebrows nearly disappeared under his hair. "Is that so? Well, I'd never have thought so by the way you worshipped the bull he was gibbering about."
"I did not."
"And what about 'to lose both looks like carelessness'?"
She winced a little. That had been terrible, but Harry had had to make it worse by taking up on it. "Oh, that was just some witty quote."
"Now he's witty, is he?"
"What's your problem, Potter?" she yelled, facing him.
"My problem?" hesnarled, unable to contain his fury. "I'll tell you what my problem is: we're in a war, people die, and this struttin' idiot finds it funny to fantasise about killing his parents, and you think that's witty? If that's your idea of wit, you should consider a resorting as soon as you're back at Hogwarts. Does Dean know he's going out with a Slytherin in disguise?" He lashed out at her without thinking.
How dare he? "I’m not dating Dean, but I'm quite certain that he would be much better company at a party than you. And my family have always been Gryffindors."
"And I suppose that they would find your conversation with Thomas as funny as you did."
"Are you trying to blackmail me?"
He snorted. "No, that's not the way we do it in Gryffindor."
Now she really wanted to hurt him. Let him hurt as much as you have, the silent voice told her reasonably.
"How would you know? You're not a Weasley, anyway, whatever my mum may say. You don't have it in you."
"If that means I can't be like you, that's quite ok with me."
"How very grateful of you, Mr High-and-Mighty-Potter." The colour of her face was indistinguishable from that of her hair now. "I wish we had never met you. You know." He has always been so stubborn, never listening to reason. And look what it cost him. His own godfather dead, the voice said. "Thomas was right after all."
He cringed, and she took her aim carefully.
"You've lost all your family. You practically killed Sirius with your arrogance. Ron and Hermione went away rather than to spend their summer here with you, because they were afraid to be with you." She let her words sink in and added for good measure, "You're alone."
From the way his eyes widened she knew she had dealt him the blow she had wanted to.
(A/N: Look at my profile for a disclaimer. - Thank you to my pre-beta, Wolf’s Scream, and my beta, Jenadamson. – I know, canon has moved beyond this fantasy, but I find it surprisingly easy to ignore. After reading so many variants of Book VI in fanfiction I manage to pretend that HBP is just another speculation. So I’m adding this for what it’s worth and would like to know what you think about it. If you can bear to read more about HBP, take a look at my notes at LJ. - The quote of Oscar Wilde's was adapted from "The Importance of Being Earnest".)