A/N: This was co-written withAthea. Thanks to Chreechree and Sherry.
Knowing she would be locked out of the bathroom for the next thirty minutes or so, Ginny decided to go downstairs for breakfast before her morning shower. She had hoped to scrub away the after-effects of her aunt and uncle’s inspection but would have to settle for burying her embarrassment beneath a mountain of pancakes instead.
She took a moment before heading downstairs to remind herself that today promised to be a great day. She forced herself to take a deep, calming breath and was happy to feel her smile reappear on her sixteen-year old, though still-freckled, face. She refused to let an unexpected visit from distant relatives dampen her spirits. In fact, maybe it would not be so bad having Uncle Bertie and Aunt Tessie here for her birthday. After all, they were as good as grandparents to her and her brothers, and Ginny could not deny that grandparents were good at birthdays.
As she slowly descended the stairs, she allowed herself to indulge in her private birthday ritual. Since she knew her family could not afford lavish gifts, one of her annual presents to herself was to permit herself to dream about what they might purchase for her if money was no object. She always made herself wait until the morning of her birthday to make her official dream-wish, but she had a lot of fun in the days leading up to her birthday deciding what that wish would be. Some people would think she was setting herself up for disappointment, but she always made her wishes so over-the-top that she could never feel let down when her gift failed to materialize
The first year she remembered making an outlandish birthday wish was the summer she’d turned five. She had wished for a pony, complete with stable and a riding outfit that she had seen in one of the Muggle magazines that her father so dearly loved. That was the year before she had first sneaked into the broom shed. Every year since that glorious day when she had discovered flying, her official birthday wish had been essentially the same. Ginny Weasley had used each and every one of her private wishes to wish for a racing broom of her very own. She had dreamed of a Comet Excel when she was seven, had ached for a Shooting Star Elite when she was ten, and had lusted after a Firebolt the year she turned twelve.
She smiled slightly as a daydream burst into view. She envisioned herself soaring high above The Burrow. She heard the rush of the wind in her ears. She felt her stomach drop as she performed any number of high-altitude acrobatics. She gazed upon the faces of her brothers as they watched her in slack-jawed amazement during one of their Weasley family Quidditch games.
Then, without warning, her vision changed to a different kind of fantasy. She was racing Harry for the Snitch. They were neck and neck. She stretched. So did he, but she was a little quicker. After all, she was riding the Stratosphere, the fastest racing broom ever made. She felt the Snitch fluttering wildly in her hand just as Harry’s larger hand closed over hers. Ginny’s breathing quickened as they gazed into each other’s eyes, her heart beating just as madly as the wings of the Snitch in her hand. Harry whispered her name, he leaned in to kiss her and…
The sheer volume of the voices coming from the kitchen was enough to shatter her beautiful reverie. Ginny sighed heavily. Not that it really mattered. She could never seem to make her dream Harry kiss her no matter how often she tried. And she had definitely tried…and tried…and tried.
Ginny Weasley was no quitter.
In fact, for the past several years, well, ever since Harry had saved her from the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny’s dearest wish had not been for a broomstick. Sure, she told herself that to help her keep her sanity, but in reality she wanted nothing more than for Harry to look at her as more than Ron’s little sister, for him to take her in his arms, gaze longingly into her eyes, and kiss her.
She shook her head, clearing the vestiges of the dream, opened the kitchen door, and stepped into the chaos that was The Burrow’s kitchen. Ginny was accustomed to seeing a lot of faces around the breakfast table, but the sight of an overly-crowded, and magically enlarged, kitchen table filled with faces that did not belong solely to her brothers was a little disconcerting.
She quickly pulled her dressing gown closed as she scanned the faces at the table. Remus and Tonks were engaged in a lively conversation with Fred and George. The twins had apparently given Remus something that made his hair turn different colours at a rate even Tonks was finding hard to match. She was certainly trying to keep up, however. The rapidly whirling hues were dizzying yet comical. Ginny found herself smiling in spite of herself, as the twins roared with laughter.
Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Professor McGonagall were huddled at the end of the table. Ginny could not hear their words, but their hushed exchange betrayed an obvious agitation.
Uncle Bertie and Aunt Tessie were sitting along one side of the table talking loudly to their birds that were arrayed behind them. They were either unaware or unconcerned that half of the Order of the Phoenix was gathered in the Weasleys’ kitchen. The birds were responsible for most of the noise in the kitchen. The budgies were chirping while Dodo squawked loudly, all four begging for food. Ginny was shocked as she watched Uncle Bertie put a piece of bacon in his teeth, turn to the birds, and let them snatch it from his mouth.
“Oh, Ginny, I’m so glad you’re awake,” a bedraggled Mrs. Weasley said as she noticed that her daughter had entered the kitchen.
Ginny smiled, turned away from the table, and prepared herself for her first birthday greeting. She was surprised when, instead of the kiss she had been expecting, her mum thrust a heaping platter of pancakes into her hands.
“Please, dear, could you take these to the table? I don’t want the bacon to burn.” With that, Mrs. Weasley turned back to the stove.
Ginny stood frozen in shock and stared at her mother. Sure, there were a lot of people here and her mum had probably spent half of the night worried about her relatives, but that wasn’t it, was it? It was her sixteenth birthday. Her mum had talked about virtually nothing else for the past two weeks. Was it possible that she had actually forgotten? Ginny pivoted and brought the pancakes to the table.
“Well, at least I got the flapjacks,” she muttered under her breath. She dropped the platter on the table in front of her relatives and walked back to the stove.
“Is there anything else you need, Mum?” she asked. When her mum seemed perplexed, Ginny added, “Maybe something you forgot?” She looked at her mother expectantly, willing her to remember.
“I don’t think so, Ginny dear.” Mrs. Weasley patted her absentmindedly on the shoulder, before turning her attention back to the enormous amount of rashers she was frying. “You go ahead and eat your breakfast.”
Ginny sighed and went back to the table, flopped down next to Tonks, and dropped her head on her arms.
“Fred, whatever could be the matter with our favourite sister?” George asked.
“She certainly doesn’t seem her fiery self this morning,” Fred replied.
“Not perky at all.”
Ginny raised her head to see Fred and George grinning at her, their eyes twinkling. She did not know how they knew about her ‘appraisal’, but their choice of words had clearly been intentional. Then again, Ginny had long given up on wondering how the twins knew about almost everything that happened to almost everyone. She scowled. “Shut it, you two.”
The twins shared a look that let Ginny know the teasing was far from over. Fred continued, “I’m not sure perky is the right adjective, though.”
“Oh no? What descriptive term would you choose instead, Fred?”
“Well, I don’t feel up to the challenge of describing our sister’s attitude. I’m sure we could find someone to give us a second opinion, however.”
“What about you, Professor Lupin?” George asked innocently. Ginny thought she would die of mortification.
Lupin, who had been busy watching Tonks’ changing hair colour with a look of bemused admiration on his face, coughed slightly and turned his attention to the youngest Weasley. “Well, I think Ginny’s attitude is usually very pleasant,” he said uncertainly. He looked confused when Fred, George, and Tonks burst out laughing. Ginny’s scowl deepened, but she had decided that her best chance of escaping this conversation with anything resembling her dignity was to keep her mouth shut.
“So,” George said, “that’s one vote for perky and one for pleasant. Not bad at all, Ginny my dear.”
“Let’s make sure to get Harry’s opinion when he gets here,” Fred added with a wink.
Ginny meant to yell at the twins for their teasing. She meant to hex them into next week for making her birthday breakfast into what was, quite possibly, the most embarrassing meal of her life. She meant to threaten them for even bringing up the idea of asking Harry about her physical attributes – or lack thereof.
So she was quite disgusted with herself when the only thing that came out of her mouth was a rather breathless “Harry’s coming today?”
“Yeah,” George said, smirking at her knowingly. “Dad went to free him from the Muggles about ten minutes ago.”
Ginny tried to keep the smile off her face and the blush from her cheeks lest she invite more of her brothers’ ridicule, and decided to attack her pancakes with renewed enthusiasm.
At that moment, Ron walked into the kitchen and gazed around expectantly. Ginny saw Fred elbow George and nod in Ron’s direction. The twins had clearly found a new target.
Fred called out, “Ron! You’re looking absolutely smashing this morning, old bean!”
Ron’s ears flushed immediately and he looked at the floor as he shuffled over to the table and sat down next to Ginny.
“Hermione’s not here yet,” George said, “so you might as well eat.” He handed Ron a plate of pancakes.
“A manly man like you, just fresh from the shower, needs a suitable breakfast before his lady love arrives,” Fred continued as he smothered Ron’s pancakes with butter.
Ron’s blush extended into his hairline as he looked to Ginny for help. Ginny just shrugged and took a drink of juice to hide her smile. So that’s why Ron was up so early.
“Ahh…young love,” George sighed. He sprinkled lemon juice and some sugar over Ron’s pancakes, put his hand over his heart, and batted his eyelashes flirtatiously.
Ron tried to ignore them. He took a drink of his pumpkin juice, and looked to the door as if willing Hermione to walk through it. The minute he swallowed his first bite of pancakes, Ginny knew what had happened to Professor Lupin’s hair. Ron’s hair began cycling through every colour of the rainbow.
George, struggling to keep his face impassive, told Ron, “I’m sure Hermione will love what you’ve done with your hair this morning.”
Ron blushed a deeper shade of crimson that, oddly, complemented the current blue shade of his hair.
Ginny smiled at her brothers and rose to take her turn in the shower. She felt her smile widen as she thought of seeing Harry and Hermione for the first time that summer. This birthday was definitely starting to perk – argh – no, look up.
As she reached the kitchen door, her mum said, “Ginny dear, Uncle Heathcliff and Aunt Beth should be arriving shortly. When you’re dressed, would you help me get Bill’s old room ready for them?”
“Uncle Heathcliff and Aunt Beth are coming?” Ginny asked in alarm.
“Well, they live in Gloucestershire, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, “and there have been reports of Death Eater activity there too. They needed somewhere to go, so…”
‘Uncle’ Heathcliff was Mrs. Weasley’s cousin. They had been inseparable as children, and it was obvious that he still thought the world of Molly Weasley. He had even named his second daughter “Little Molly” in her honour. Uncle Heathcliff had regaled the Weasley children with countless stories of their mother’s exploits, each more far-fetched than the last. Uncle Heathcliff’s stories always began the same way, “And then there was the time,” and ended with some risqué, but strangely believable, story of their mother’s antics. “And then there was the time that Molly charmed Grandma’s dentures to nibble on Grandpa’s ear at the dinner table.” “And then there was the time that Molly convinced me to hide in the broom shed when her brother brought a lady friend in to show her his broom, if you get my meaning.”
Molly’s response was always the same. “Oh, Heathcliff,” accompanied by a tsk of her tongue and a wave of her hand. To her credit, and to the twins’ great pride, she never blushed or showed any signs of guilt. She also neither denied nor confirmed any of the stories.
Ginny swallowed. “So, does that mean…?”
Molly sighed. “Of course the girls, and Sherman, are coming too. Now go on, go have your shower.” She shooed Ginny from the room.
“This just keeps on getting better and better,” Ginny grumbled to herself.
While Uncle Heathcliff and Aunt Beth were the favourite relatives of all the Weasley children, their children were a different story, at least where Ginny was concerned. Sherman had been adopted when his mother (Aunt Beth’s sister) and her Muggle husband had disappeared in an unfortunate accident involving a freak electrical storm, a wonky self-stirring cauldron and some exploding haggis. Now thirteen, Sherman had somehow latched on to the idea that he was Merlin’s gift to witches, never mind the fact that he was skinnier than a Bowtruckle, and his voice was higher pitched than a Fwooper bird. Little Molly was tolerable; after all, she was only a baby.
But it was Cleotilde, Ginny’s fourteen-year-old cousin, who had been the bane of Ginny’s existence at all Prewett gatherings for as long as she could remember.
When they were younger, Cleotilde had taken great pleasure in ordering Ginny around. Ginny’s mother had incessantly reminded Ginny that “Cleo is your guest” and “It’s hard to be the youngest” so Ginny had allowed herself to be bossed about. They had always played whatever Cleo wanted to play and did whatever Cleo wanted to do. That, in and of itself, was not so bad. As the youngest of seven, Ginny was used to doing what others wanted. What really bothered Ginny was that playdates with Cleo always ended badly – something broke, someone was hurt, something caught fire – and Ginny invariably found herself being blamed for everything that had gone wrong, since she was supposed to be watching out for the younger girl.
Now that they were older, Cleo had a different method of getting under Ginny’s skin. As they matured, Ginny found that Cleo possessed every physical attribute Ginny lacked. Cleo was tall and shapely. Her long, chestnut brown hair always lay in perfectly behaved waves that gently framed her delicate oval face. Her strikingly blue eyes peered charmingly from beneath her long, dark lashes. Worst of all, her complexion was flawless. Not one blasted freckle.
Ginny grabbed her clothes and darted into the bathroom. She shut the door harder than necessary.
“All right, Ginny,” she said to her reflection, “Just take a long, hot shower and start this day over. You’ll be fine…Cleo or no Cleo.”
It took longer than Ginny anticipated to wash away her disappointment with her birthday so far. After fifteen minutes under the scalding hot spray from the shower, she felt like she was ready to be a positive, hopeful – if forgotten – birthday girl. She stepped from the shower and slipped into her dressing gown. She grabbed a faded yellow towel from the linen cabinet and rubbed her hair more vigorously than perhaps was necessary. She found a strange pleasure in seeing it standing up at every imaginable angle as it framed her face, which was still slightly pink from the hot water of the shower.
She left the bathroom feeling decidedly more cheerful. Her new-found energy vanished quickly as she walked into the hallway and saw her beautiful younger cousin clearly flirting with none other than Harry Potter.
Ginny closed her eyes and sighed, wishing she could go back in time ten seconds and comb her dishevelled hair before leaving the bathroom.
She opened her eyes and looked at her cousin. “Hi, Cleo,” she said, trying desperately to keep her voice from cracking as tears threatened. Her cousin wore a supercilious smile that was somehow worse than if she had laughed outright at Ginny’s appearance.
Ginny forced herself to look at Harry. His eyes were wide, his jaw unhinged as he stared openly at Ginny. She felt the first stirrings of anger at the injustice of it all. Well, she refused to let Harry add to her embarrassment.
She gathered what was left of her pride, cleared her throat, and simply said, “Hi, Harry.”
Harry snapped his mouth shut, shook his head slightly, and mumbled a greeting before Ginny brushed past him and into her room. Ginny failed to notice that his face was just as red as her own.