Author's Notes: Thanks, as always, to moshpit, Jonathan Avery, regdc, Chreechree, and Sherylyn.
Harry and Ginny's shadows shrank to almost nothing as noon approached and passed on their first day trimming the paddock. Finally, Mrs. Weasley appeared at the back door of The Burrow and called them inside. Over time, they had sagged until they were crawling along the ground, and they climbed to their feet with a weary sort of excitement. The two occasions Ginny's mother had visited them with jugs of cool water had been welcome, but they were quite ready to be finished for the day.
Across the paddock, Ron also struggled to his feet. Ron had clearly cut the most grass and Harry the least, though Ginny already knew that Harry's grass was all cut to precisely the same length. Her own swatch of the paddock was longer than Harry's but not as neat.
"Lunchtime!" her mother called. Ginny and Harry both walked towards The Burrow at an angle so that they met at the edge of the paddock. Harry took both sets of scissors in one hand and loosely held Ginny's battered right hand in the other.
For not really doing much, that was exhausting, she said.
We'll get used to it. At least there weren't any nettles. He had fared a bit better than she, having spent many hours of his life in the Dursleys' garden, but his knees and hands ached.
When they reached the back door, a few yards behind Ron, Mrs. Weasley stopped them and put their scissors into a pocket of her apron. "Hold out your hands."
Hesitantly but obediently, they each held out their hands. With gentle fingers, Mrs. Weasley turned their palms up and tapped each of them with her wand. The blisters forming on their skin vanished, and the pain faded to a dull stiffness.
With a relieved sigh, Ginny rubbed her hands together. "Thanks, Mum," she said.
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley."
"You're welcome. Go on inside, now."
After a lunch of cool sandwiches and juice, Harry had a few minutes to spend with Ron and the twins before leaving for his daily visit to Privet Drive. He arrived an inch above the worn carpet, as he and Ginny had learned to do, and bent his knees to land smoothly. Then he looked down at the list of tasks on Dudley's old desk and shrugged.
I'm already grubby, so I suppose I'll do their garden, too.
Within a few minutes, he was back on his hands and knees, pulling weeds from Petunia's garden.
At The Burrow, Ginny sat at the kitchen table sipping pumpkin juice and listening to the twins tease her and Ron amicably about their time in the paddock. Mrs. Weasley cleared away the dishes from lunch and put away the remaining food. Then she went upstairs and returned carrying her purse and wearing a light shawl.
"I'm off to the village to get a few things," she said. "Percy's in charge while I'm gone, and I expect you all to behave. If there's an emergency, Floo your father's office or the Lovegoods'. I'll be back in an hour or so."
After the four youngest Weasley children nodded, their mother stepped out through the back door and disappeared with a crack.
"Percy's in charge, is he?" Fred asked. "Brilliant job he's doing of it. The only time I've seen him today is when he came to get a sandwich and take it back to his ivory tower."
"Can't imagine what he's doing," George said. "Took his O.W.L.s, didn't he?"
"He said he was reading ahead for next year," Ginny said. She and Harry were unconcerned about Percy acting like Percy.
The twins snorted in unison. "Yeah, right," Fred said.
"He's already sent and received two owls since we got back from school, you know. How do you suppose that fits with his 'reading ahead'?" George asked.
"Oh." Ginny shrugged. "He's probably writing to Penelope, then."
George smacked the table with his palm. "Of course! Why didn't we think of that?"
"Prefect-ish love-letters! Can't you imagine?" Fred's eyes widened and he blinked hugely as he spoke in a high, fatuous voice. "'Oh, Percy, you have sooo many O.W.L.s!'"
"Ugh." Ron grimaced in disgust. "Spare me."
"I think it's rather sweet, actually," Ginny said. Her brothers all turned to her with incredulous expressions, and Harry's thoughts mirrored their looks. "Well, I mean, for Percy. At least somebody likes him, right?"
"True, sister dear. A girl, even. Still… the thought's a bit nauseating, wouldn't you say?"
Ginny wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, it is, now that you mention it."
The twins disappeared, whispering intently to each other, and Ginny and Ron went back to his room to continue their chess games.
A while later, they heard Mrs. Weasley call up from the kitchen. "I'm back!"
Ginny's head snapped up in excitement. "Ron, can we finish later? I want to swim, and Mum should have my costume."
She scrambled downstairs and found her mother enlarging several shopping bags on the kitchen table. Ginny stopped, pressing herself against the back of a chair, and peered over the items as they appeared.
"Here it is, dear," Mrs. Weasley said. Ginny looked up from the table to find her mother smiling down at her fondly and holding a paper-wrapped parcel. "Blue, this year."
"Thanks, Mum!" Ginny said, beaming. "Did you get Harry's swimming trunks, too?"
The older woman nodded, her eyes darting away to the bag she still held. "Green for him. I'll put them in his trunk for you."
"Thanks!" Ginny Shifted into her room and closed the door.
"Walk, Ginny!" her mother shouted from below.
Within moments, she was wearing her new bathing costume and looking into the small mirror on her wall. The material was royal blue, with no patterns or decorations, and was cut with a high neck and back.
Not a bad colour, and it fits well enough, she decided.
That's all that matters, isn't it? Harry asked, looking up from the Dursleys' garden and wiping sweat from his brow.
Pretty much. It's a bit frumpy, I suppose, but at least it hasn't got flowers or rainbows on it. And swimming costumes are always new, too… Mum won't buy second-hand costumes, underwear, socks, or shoes.
Harry shrugged. Looks okay to me, then.
Yep, good enough.Ginny looked down at her legs and grimaced. That won't do, though. I haven't charmed my legs in ages.
She picked her wand out of the pile of clothes she had removed. "Depilatus," she said clearly. The last two inches of her wand glowed red, and she began running it up and down her legs in a slow, deliberate pattern.
That's… odd, Harry said. You'd expect to feel something, but you don't. Weird. The Hair Removal Charm eliminated any visible hair, but other than the few times her wand touched her legs, they felt nothing. The excess hair simply vanished, leaving perfectly smooth skin behind.
I'll have to get used to it again, Ginny said. I only talked Mum into letting me start doing it after my last birthday, and there wasn't much point at Hogwarts, with the heavy stockings and long socks.
Why do you do it at all?
She shrugged. I like the way it looks. Reading his thought, she giggled. No, Harry, you don't have to charm your legs. Only girls do it, even in the wizarding world.
That's a relief.
I'll have to practice more this summer. Mum said it doesn't take long at all once you've got the hang of it.
Do you think I could slip into Dudley's room at night and use that on his head?
Ginny giggled again. We can't do magic there, remember? We can do spells here as long as Mum and Dad say it's okay, but if we do anything there, the Ministry will send us a warning.
I know. What a shame.
Yeah. Seeing Dudley without hair or eyebrows would almost be worth it.
When she was satisfied with her legs, Ginny pulled a loose white sundress over her head and tucked her wand into its pocket. Then she slipped on a pair of old sandals and bounced down the stairs towards the back door. She briefly considered Shifting directly to the pond, in spite of her mother's instructions. Getting there on foot, however, was fun in its own right, and she could not be completely sure that there were no animals or fallen limbs near the pond to interfere with her arrival.
"Ginny!" her mother called as she pulled open the back door.
"Yes, Mum?" she asked impatiently.
"You need your charms, dear," Mrs. Weasley reminded her. Ginny ran back to her mother's side and stood still for a moment. The older woman re-cast the Sunscreen Charm and then added an Injury Alarm Charm. "Don't stay out too long, now."
"I won't," Ginny said. "I'll be back before Harry is."
She ran out the door and across the garden, passing the small, frog-filled pond there. On the far side of the paddock, she crested a shallow rise and half-ran, half-jumped down into a narrow, steep-sided combe. At the bottom of the small valley was a lively stream, and when she reached it, she turned left and followed the water. The brook widened gradually at first, but then it gathered into a small mere just before it squeezed between two large rocks and started rushing downhill again. The resulting pool was only about ten yards across and fifteen yards long, but the water was kept fresh by the flowing stream, and it was deep enough in the middle for swimming and jumping. Over the generations, the Weasleys had moved mostly-flat boulders to the perimeter of the pool, giving it a definite edge and convenient places to sit and take the sun.
Ginny gauged her approach perfectly, having done this hundreds of times in the past. A few yards from the pond, she kicked off her sandals, pulled her dress off over her head, and let it fall to the ground. Four steps later, she leapt off of a large, overhanging rock towards the middle of the pool. She stretched out in the air and hit the water more-or-less smoothly. Her jump was not quite a perfect dive but was far from a belly-flop, and it avoided the sting of impacting water.
Underwater, she straightened out above the rocky bottom and then surfaced before she reached the shallower part of the pool. She tilted her head back as she emerged, allowing the water to pull her hair out of the way for her, and then she paused for a moment, treading water.
That was brilliant! Harry said, his own excitement matching hers. As soon as Ginny had jumped, he had sat back on the grass, and now he rested for a few moments and ignored Surrey's heat. It's like… I dunno. It's almost like flying, except it's kind of… slower. The water is harder to move through.
Yep! You get used to it, though, and you can have all sorts of fun in the water. You don't need a broom or anything. She submerged and did a quick back-flip before levelling out and floating on her back. From the corners of her eyes, she could see her hair spreading along the surface of the water around her.
Harry was amazed. While he shared Ginny's memories of swimming and had taken baths, he had never really appreciated the sensation of being surrounded and supported by water. It was rather cool, but not uncomfortably so, and slipping through the liquid felt surprisingly good, especially in contrast to the weather at Privet Drive.
He returned to his task, and Ginny spent the rest of the afternoon in the pond. She swam back and forth across its surface, using every stroke she could remember. She glided along the bottom with her eyes open, looking around and up at the sky through the almost-clear water or chasing the minnows around the edges. She got out and sat on a broad, warm rock for a rest, and then she dived in again for the sheer fun of it. When she flipped in the water or changed her depth quickly, Harry's stomach lurched in a moment of vertigo. However, he always knew when she was about to do such things, so for the most part he was able to enjoy the sensations without worrying about their effects.
Where did you learn all of that? Harry asked in wonder. He had not even known that there were different ways to swim. As soon as he asked, Ginny's memories provided the answer. Muggle lessons? I never would have guessed.
Images and conversations flickered through their minds as she narrated. Yeah. After I fell off my broom that first time, Mum decided that I should be interested in something other than flying. For the next year, she took me to all of these Muggle classes down in the village. Swimming, dancing, gymnastics… I even tried playing piano. I'm pretty sure that Mum was paying the piano teacher in pies, but neither of them seemed to mind.
Harry chuckled at the memory of seven-year-old Ginny's frustration with the piano. Her tutor had never quite convinced her that her hands were large enough to play the huge expanse of black and white keys.
I did them all for a while, but I didn't stick with any of the classes for more than a year. I liked swimming a lot, but I wasn't interested in races or crossing the Channel or anything. I just like being in the water.
At five thirty, by Harry's watch, Ginny climbed back onto the boulder and dried out for a few minutes in the pleasant warmth of the sunlight. Then she found her wand in the pocket of her sundress, pointed it at herself, and muttered, "Aridus." A moment later, she was completely dry except for her hair, which she preferred to dry with a towel. She pulled her dress back on, retrieved her sandals, and started walking up the valley towards The Burrow.
Harry had just finished his daily tasks and was sitting in the smallest bedroom, waiting for six o'clock. I can't wait to learn to do that, he said.
Mum won't let us swim after dinner, Ginny said, following his thoughts. But we could go on Saturday. She said we wouldn't have to cut the grass on weekends.
Can we? Harry knew that he was nearly bubbling with excitement, but he did not care. Ginny was excited for him, too.
Of course! You'll learn how to swim in no time, and then we can play.
That day set the pattern for the rest of the week. After breakfast, Harry, Ginny, and Ron spent the morning cutting the grass of the paddock. Then, after lunch, Harry did his work at Privet Drive while Ginny swam or relaxed in the sun, practiced chess with Ron, or simply traded thoughts about the students and staff they had met at Hogwarts. Their evenings were spent indoors, usually with Ron or the twins. By the end of their first week, they felt some semblance of comfort with the arrangements, and their minds were finally able to focus on things other than ensuring their own safety and relative happiness.
On Friday afternoon, Ginny was once again floating on her back, enjoying the peace of the outdoors and letting the contentment of her situation balance out Harry's unpleasant tasks.
We need to invite Luna over, she decided. She used to swim here with me, sometimes, and I haven't seen her in forever. Ever since we went to Hogwarts.
Ginny's feelings for Luna were familiar and clear to Harry. She was your best friend until you met me, wasn't she?
She was my only friend, really, Ginny said, though she was not bothered by the idea. Don't you start feeling guilty, though. There are friends, like Luna, and then there's you.
I know. Harry had long ago become accustomed to the notion that what they were was not easily described in normal terms. Do you suppose Luna will be bothered that you went to Hogwarts early and got a new best friend, though?
She chortled. Not much bothers Luna. You know, I didn't get to even tell her I was going, but she said she was planning to travel a lot anyway. I can't imagine that she'd be upset about anyone having another friend.
Harry had seen and heard many of Ginny's memories of her off-beat friend, and now that he knew she would not be upset by his presence, Harry was interested to meet her. When can we see her, then?
Dunno, but not tomorrow, Ginny said quickly, knowing how much Harry was looking forward to his swimming lesson. I do miss her, but we'll send her a letter first.
She left the pond early and, after drying her hair and changing into jeans and a shirt, sat down at the tiny desk in her room.
19 June 1992
How are you? I'm sorry I haven't written sooner. It's been a crazy year. I know Mum told you I'd gone to Hogwarts early. It was fun!
I'm back home for the summer, and it would be great to see you. Can you come to The Burrow sometime? You can meet my friend Harry, who's staying with us. I think you'll like him.
Write back soon,
P.S. This is Hedwig, Harry's owl. She'll wait for your response if you ask her to.
The snowy owl, who habitually perched atop the wardrobe, looked down and cocked her head. Ginny held up her letter, and Hedwig made the short jump down to the edge of the desk.
"Would you mind carrying this for us, Hedwig? It's going to my friend, Luna Lovegood. She lives just on the other side of the village."
Hedwig clucked softly and held out her leg for the letter. Ginny rolled the scrap of parchment and tied it carefully to the owl's leg with a bit of ribbon. After a final nudge against Ginny's fingers, Hedwig flew out the open window and disappeared into the sky.
The following morning, Harry and Ginny woke up in time for breakfast without any help from her parents. They put on their bathing costumes along with a t-shirt for Harry and the same white dress for Ginny.
At breakfast, they ate lightly, excited to get to the pond as quickly as possible. Mrs. Weasley looked between her sons as they all ate. "Are you boys planning to go swimming, too? It's a lovely day."
Harry had no desire whatsoever to have his swimming lesson witnessed by any of the brothers. Ginny was confident that he would learn quickly, but he still feared that he would make a fool of himself.
Ginny knew from experience that moving her head was as good as waving a red flag, so Harry looked across the table and caught George's eye. He shook his head slightly, trying to convey his request with his eyes.
"Perhaps later, Mum," George said without acknowledging Harry. "Fred and I left off in the middle of a Quidditch game to a hundred, and Ron's Keeping for us."
Ron looked puzzled for a moment, but then he nodded. "Yeah. Gotta finish."
"And you, Percy?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
When she had turned to face her third son, Mr. Weasley looked up and quirked his eyebrow at Harry questioningly. Harry flushed, embarrassed to have been caught, but Ginny's father just smiled slightly and nodded his head.
"No, thank you," Percy said primly.
Don't worry, Harry. Dad understands.
That's good. I'm glad your Mum didn't notice, though. I'm not sure she'd understand so well.
You're probably right.
Ginny and Harry waited as patiently as they could for a full hour. "They say you can get in serious trouble if you swim right after eating," Mr. Weasley said. "I don't know if it's true, but I'd rather be safe than sorry, you two." It was an old mantra, and Ginny knew to expect it even if she wished it did not restrict their plans.
Finally, her father nodded his approval and cast the Sunscreen and Alarm Charms on the pair. Harry and Ginny took off along the familiar trail to the pond. When they arrived at a run, Ginny performed her usual entrance to the pool, but Harry slowed to a stop at the edge and waited for her.
Sorry, she said as she surfaced. It's just…
He grinned. Loads of fun, I know. Don't be sorry.
Harry rounded the pool to a point where it deepened gradually. Taking off his trainers, shirt, and glasses, he slowly waded into the cool water. As the water came up over his legs, he marvelled at the odd sensation of resistance to his movements. He had experienced it through Ginny many times, but the water somehow felt different to his body than to hers.
It takes more effort than just walking does, Ginny explained. I'm sure your body will get used to it just like mine did.
As the water reached his waist, Harry paused. He knew everything he was supposed to do from Ginny's memory, but he was hesitant about actually doing it. The Muggle world was full of stories about children who had drowned in swimming pools and even bathtubs.
It's okay, Harry, Ginny reassured him. I'm here with you, andI'll show you how it all works. First, we float.
Following her instructions, he stepped into slightly deeper water and gingerly laid back. She kept a hand under his back at first, but within a few minutes he had learned to match the sensations coming from his own body with those he knew to expect from Ginny's.
See? Easy. Now we go underwater.
Ginny taught him to hold himself underwater, and he became accustomed to keeping his eyes open. They moved around under the surface, and she showed him when to breathe out a bit to avoid accidentally inhaling water. His vision was blurry unless he was looking through Ginny's eyes, but he still enjoyed being able to see, and watching Ginny's huge mass of hair wave around her head was amusing enough to be entirely worth the effort. Then they moved on to swimming, starting with the easy back-stroke and working their way through the others she had been taught.
Harry was able to do everything Ginny showed him, but his motions were not as fluid as hers, and he tired more quickly than she did. Whenever he started to feel too strained, they stopped and floated sedately in the middle of the pool.
It's a good thing you remember how you were taught, he said after she finished showing him everything she knew.
We already knew everything you needed to know, I think, Ginny replied. You just had to get used to doing it with your muscles, not mine.
Their quiet thoughts were interrupted by a long, loud yell that reached them even through the water around their ears. They straightened and saw Ron, Fred, and George all running towards them along the stream. Fred had already shed his shirt and shoes, and as they watched he pulled ahead of his brothers, sprinting towards the same rock Ginny used to jump into the pool as he gave voice to a wordless war-cry.
Quickly, Harry and Ginny swam off to one side. A moment later, Fred leaped into the air, tucked himself into a ball, and landed in the pond amid a massive eruption of water. George and Ron stepped in more casually, and as the water settled Fred surfaced at one side.
"Ow!" he said. "George, we're too big for that stunt, I think. I hit the bottom."
"You alright, Fred?" Ginny asked.
"Yeah, no worries, just a bit of a bump. Lesson learned." He turned in a circle to find his youngest brother. "Ron, since you've done such a good job outgrowing us, you'd better skip the jump, too."
"I wasn't planning to try it," Ron said. "Figured out how to swim yet, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "Not too hard, really. Just different."
"Good!" Fred said. "That means you can move on to the important stuff."
"Splash fight!" Fred, George, and Ron cried together.
Harry was already underwater and moving away when a huge wall of water landed where he had been.
The five of them spent much of the rest of the morning attempting to empty the pond. The Weasley brothers' greater height and longer arms gave them leverage to move a lot more water, but none of them were as adept at swimming as Ginny or even Harry. The smaller children manoeuvred around underwater, and occasionally one of them would let themselves be seen just below the surface to attract one or more of the brothers' attention. Then, the other of them would emerge from the water behind the boys and splash them in the back before they both scurried away to start over. At last, the three brothers managed to corner Harry and Ginny near the rocks at the far end of the pool, and the smaller pair only managed to escape a constant cascade of water by Shifting out of the pond completely.
The two of them appeared, dripping and sputtering, on the rock where she usually sat to dry. They watched the three boys splash the empty corner of the pool until Ginny called out to them. "You win!"
The brothers had been covering their faces against retaliatory splashing as they pushed water at the younger pair's last position, and at Ginny's call they stopped and looked around in confusion.
"Oi, that's cheating," George said when he spotted them.
"We know," Harry replied. "That's why you win."
Fred shrugged. "Fair enough." He shared a look with his twin, and within moments they were both chasing Ron around the pond.
They always win. No one else has that kind of enthusiasm.
Do they ever just swim like you do? You know, the relaxing way?
Yeah, eventually, she said as they lowered themselves to sit on the warm stone.
After a bit more splashing, the brothers settled down. Harry and Ginny got back into the water and swam in slow, easy laps up and down the pool. Fred and George were sitting in the shallows at one side, and Ron had climbed out to sit at the edge.
"Say, Fred, wouldn't it be nice if this pool were heated?" George asked.
"Sure would, George. I hear the prefects' baths are like that… heated, and big enough to lounge in."
"Sounds really nice. Say, Ron, piss off the bookends for us, will you? Try about ten degrees' worth."
Ron snorted as Ginny and Harry stopped to tread water. "Ha ha," she drawled. "That's pretty sub-par for you, George."
Her brother shrugged easily. "It'd work, though."
A few minutes later, all five children looked up at the sound of a slow, distant clapping.
Harry glanced down at his watch.
Yep, time for lunch.
They all got dressed, but Ginny was the only one who bothered to dry herself with magic. The boys carried their shoes as they walked carefully back towards the house. When they crested the hill, they spotted Mr. Weasley standing outside The Burrow, and Fred waved. His father waved back and then disappeared inside.
By the time they reached the house, the boys' clothes were reasonably dry, but their feet were filthy. Mrs. Weasley had set out a bucket of water and a stack of towels near the back door. Ron was slightly ahead of the others, and he dipped each of his muddy feet into the water before picking up a rough towel. He scrubbed away the dirt, and then he put his feet in the bucket again to rinse them before scrubbing a bit more. Harry and the others waited their turns, knowing that more than one person could not use the bucket at the same time.
There has to be a better way to do this, Ginny said. Other than getting more buckets.
Why not use the water spell McGonagall taught us?
"Dad!" Ginny called into the house. "Is it alright if we use the Water Charm to clean our feet?"
They heard the scrape of a chair, and a moment later Mr. Weasley appeared in the doorway. "Do you know the Water Charm?" he asked. "That's fifth or sixth year, if I remember right."
"Professor McGonagall taught it to Harry and me," Ginny said. Then she suddenly felt somewhat bashful. "After… you know… what happened to the kitchen table."
The memory of McGonagall's office flooded with blue fire flashed through their minds, but they determinedly pushed it away. They did not want to share that experience with anyone who did not already know about it.
"I see," Mr. Weasley said. "That makes sense. Let's see you give it a go, then."
Ginny pulled Harry's wand out of the pocket of her dress, where she had been carrying it for him. Harry sat down on the step and put his feet out ahead of him, and she waved his wand with a careful motion. "Aguamenti."
They had not had any opportunity to practice the spell, so the stream of water Ginny produced was erratic, but the stronger spurts were helpful in removing the mud from Harry's feet.
"Oi, good show, Ginny," George said.
Fred grinned wickedly. "Let's make sure Percy sees you doing that spell."
Ron, who had seen them cast the spell before, merely abandoned the bucket and waited for his turn.
After a few moments of twisting and turning, Harry's feet were completely clean. Ginny stopped the spell, and he grabbed a towel and began rubbing himself dry.
When he was finished, Ginny handed him his wand, and he rinsed her feet in the same way, even though her sandals had kept them from getting very dirty.
"Excellent!" Mr. Weasley said, applauding lightly. "I'm very proud of you both. Line up, boys. The Weasley-Potter Foot-Washing Fountain is open for business, unless you prefer the bucket."
"Must be nice to have a career lined up at age ten," Fred said, smirking.
"Hush and stick out your feet," Ginny commanded.
Within a few minutes, everyone's feet were clean and dry. Ginny wrapped her hair in one of the last clean towels, and then they all went inside for lunch.
As the family started to eat their sandwiches, Mr. Weasley looked down the table at Harry. "Well, Harry, how'd the swimming go?"
"It was great," he replied.
"He's already better at it than us or Ron," George said somewhat peevishly. "Ginny couldn't have been teaching him for more than an hour and a half."
Mr. Weasley grinned jovially. "Fast learner, eh?"
Harry shrugged. "We remembered all of her lessons, and, since she's done it loads, I just had to get my body used to doing it."
Ginny watched her mother shift uneasily in her seat, but her father's expression did not change. "Glad to hear it," he said. "Swimming's good for you, you know."
Mrs. Weasley coughed slightly. "Hedwig's been waiting for you, Harry. She won't let anyone else near her."
Harry and Ginny looked up and spotted Hedwig in a corner atop the cabinets. "Hedwig!" Ginny said, excited. "Did you get a reply?"
The white owl swept across the kitchen and perched on the back of Ginny's chair. As Harry scratched her head, Ginny quickly untied a small sheet of parchment from Hedwig's leg.
"Who have you been writing to, Ginny?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Luna. I haven't talked to her in ages." She and Harry read the short note together.
It's nice to hear from you again. It has been so long that I cannot remember the last time we spoke. I hope you did not miss me too much, though of course I missed you. Dad and I have been chasing the desert. For something that moves slowly, it's very hard to catch.
I would enjoy seeing your house again and meeting your friend. Have I met your friend before? I think I would remember that, but I suppose it depends on what sort of friend he is. I will ask my father to contact your parents so they can arrange a date and time.
P.S. Hedwig is very polite.
Ginny smiled at the bizarre familiarity of her friend's letter. That's Luna, she said with a touch of pride.
She sounds, err, odd, Harry said, indirectly recalling some of Luna's previous letters to Ginny.
You can't deny that she's interesting, though.
There are all kinds of interesting, aren't there?
"Ginny, what did Luna say?" Mrs. Weasley asked with a slight edge in her voice.
"Oh, yes, sorry. I wrote and asked if she wanted to visit, and she said yes. I'd really like to see her. Can she come over, please?"
"Of course she can," Mrs. Weasley said quite cheerfully. Ginny held out Luna's note, and her mother scanned it. "Oh, such a dear girl," she muttered with a smile. Then she looked up and spoke normally. "There's no need to be as formal as all this. I'll just Floo Xeno myself. Would you like Luna to visit one afternoon to keep you company? What about tomorrow?"
"She wants to meet Harry," Ginny said, slightly confused. "Can she come some time when he's here, too?"
"Of course, of course." Mrs. Weasley's expression fell slightly. "Perhaps next weekend."
Mrs. Weasley handed the letter back to Ginny and crossed to the fireplace. After a short Floo-call, she straightened and brushed the ash from her shoulders. "Xeno's going to bring Luna by for the whole day, one week from today. It will be lovely to see her again." She moved back to the counter, talking mostly to herself. "The poor girl's so sweet, but she could use a few good meals."
"Could use a pair of glasses, if you ask me," Fred said, shooting a look at Ron.
Ron reddened slightly, but he did not respond.
"Now, boys, be polite," Mr. Weasley said. "Luna's a very nice girl, regardless of her… ahh… peculiar views."
George nodded. "She's dead entertaining, too."
"Luna's not a spectacle," Ginny said heatedly. "She's my friend."
Her father looked up at the clock. "Harry, it's almost that time again," he said, derailing the impending argument.
Harry looked at his watch and sighed.
The older man grinned sadly. "Sorry, lad."
Shrugging, Harry rose from the table. "I suppose going there makes coming back here even better." He went up the stairs and into Ginny's room, where he changed into the ragged clothes he usually wore to the Dursleys'.
Sitting at the table, Ginny could not help but smile brightly at her father, who winked in reply.
Even if it could be better, I'm glad you like it here, Harry.
He shrugged again as he laced his trainers. Mostly, it's because this is where you are, but I do like your family. Even your mum is alright sometimes.
Once dressed, Harry went back to the kitchen. After a brief hug from Ginny, he Shifted to Privet Drive.
Ginny looked up from the space Harry had occupied and found her mother scowling slightly. Her mood flashed to exasperation. This is not one of those times.
Giving up on understanding her mother, she excused herself to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. She sat in the garden for the requisite hour, and then she Shifted back to the pond. Somehow, she did not feel quite exuberant enough to take her usual running dive, but the gentle rocking of the water and the bright sunshine soothed them both. Harry finished his work for the day, and he had already completed all of the weekly tasks, so he lay on the bed in his room at Privet Drive. He ignored his surroundings as much as possible, and they focused on Ginny's senses as they relaxed in the pond.
Sunday morning, as her mother had silently promised, Ginny was not asked to help with breakfast, and she and Harry slept until shortly before ten, when her father woke them.
The pattern of their days continued, and they still had no idea when they might be released from their meaningless task in the paddock. They had all become accustomed to the trimming, but it was hot and tedious work, even with the short breaks and refreshments Mrs. Weasley provided them.
On Tuesday, their morning monotony was broken for a few minutes. Harry's neat swath of trimmed grass had progressed towards the middle of the paddock, while Ron and Ginny had worked closer to the edges. Harry had just crawled forward to begin cutting another rough row of grass when he was startled by a voice.
"Why are you doing that?"
He looked around quickly, but other than the three of them, the field was empty. Ginny did not see anyone from her distant viewpoint, either, and she wondered if Fred and George were having a go at them.
Could they have found my Cloak somehow?
Possible, I suppose, Ginny said. Say something, and see if you can tell where the voice is coming from.
"Err… hello?" he whispered.
"I don't underssstand you. Why are you doing that?"
This time, the voice spoke long enough for him to locate its source. Curled in the soil ahead of him was a small grass snake, no more than a foot long and as big around as his index finger.
Well, it's not Fred or George.
Across the paddock, Ginny started and lost the rhythm of her work. I don't mind snakes, but I'd forgotten you can talk to them, she said in response to his silent concern.
He knew that the ability was not common in the wizarding world and that some magical people frowned upon it. For himself, however, he could not see the problem. The two snakes he had spoken with thus far had both been quite polite.
Have you ever tried it? Harry asked.
Turning back to the snake, he said, "I'm sorry. Err…" He tried to think of how to explain punishment to a snake. "The adults are making us cut the grass here."
"Why?" the snake asked.
"It's a long story."
"I do not like long ssstoriess. Will you ssstop?"
Ginny leaned up and looked back at The Burrow. Her mother was not visible at the window or in the garden, so she Shifted to a spot beside and a few feet behind Harry. The grass snake coiled itself more tightly and hissed wordlessly.
"This is my friend," Harry said, not breaking his eye contact with the small reptile. "She won't hurt you."
You don't sound any different to me, Ginny said.
"Can ssshe sspeak?"
Ginny fell back from her crouched position onto her bum. I can understand it! It sounded just the same to both of our ears!
Say hello, then.
Her eyes darted nervously around the area. "Err… hello?" The snake did not respond.
You have to look at the snake for it to understand you, I think.
Determinedly, she focused on the small creature. "Hello."
"Greetingsss," the snake hissed. "Two thingsss that can ssspeak. Mossst unusssual." It swivelled its head back to Harry. "Will you ssstop breaking the grassss?"
Merlin! Ginny said. I've seen snakes before, but I've definitely never understood them.
Err… you're welcome?
"We have to keep cutting the grass for a while, but it will grow back fairly quickly," he said to the snake. "If you'd like, I could cut in a different part of the field."
"My family livesss here. If you mussst break the grassss, ssstay near the treesss."
"Alright," Harry said. "I'll go all the way back by the trees, and none of us will come near here again."
The snake turned back to Ginny. "Greetingsss." Without waiting for a reply, it turned on itself and slithered away into the uncut grass.
Recovering from her shock, Ginny shook her head and Shifted back to her strip of trimmed grass. Harry stood up and walked back to the tree-line, where he began cutting along the edge of the paddock.
That was… wow, Ginny said, barely going through the motions with her scissors.
I hope it doesn't bother you.
I suppose it doesn't. People always make snakes sound mean or evil, but that doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? They're just creatures like the rest. She thought for a moment. If anything, that one was a lot nicer than I would have been if someone were 'breaking' my home.
If you were his size and you didn't have any teeth, how would you respond to something as big as we are?
Very politely. Good point.
On Friday, instead of Mrs. Weasley calling them back to The Burrow at lunchtime, Mr. Weasley walked out to the paddock. He stood at the end of Harry's trimmed area and waved Ron and Ginny over.
"Dad!" Ginny said happily, running over to hug her father. "Did you come home for lunch?"
He grinned, and Ginny knew that he was going to tease her for asking such an obvious question. "No, I finally realised that I'd forgotten my trousers. I thought I should come home and get them before anyone noticed." His expression grew serious as he looked out over the field, and then he spoke in a soft voice. "Do you know why your mother wanted you to do this?"
"'Cause we went after Quirrell," Ron said.
"Yes, that's right," his father said. "But why this?"
Harry was not sure if he was included in the conversation, so Ginny spoke for them. "Like she said, it was to give us plenty of time to think."
"And did you?"
They nodded. There had been little else to do in the mornings for the last two weeks, even with Harry and Ginny's ability to keep each other company.
"Good. Now, if you had done some of this thinking beforehand, would you still have gone after Quirrell the way you did?"
Ginny desperately wanted to be able to tell her father the truth, and his words allowed her to. "No," she said. Harry merely shook his head.
Ron looked over at them quizzically, but he also shook his head.
"What else might you have done?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"Locked the door and blocked it off with something, so that Quirrell couldn't get out again," Ron said.
"Persuaded Professor McGonagall to go and see that the trapdoor was already open," Harry offered.
Mr. Weasley nodded at the two boys and turned to Ginny with an expectant look.
She shrugged. "I could have come home and told you about it." She had a flash of inspiration and added, "Or told Hagrid. He'd have wanted to check on Fluffy, at least."
Her father smiled and patted her shoulder. "We already used that first one, Firefly, but it's one of the best ideas, so that's okay." He looked up and scanned the paddock again. "I think you've got this cut just the way I wanted it. Three lines, and the middle one a bit shorter than the others. Almost makes a 'W', doesn't it?"
Ginny giggled, and Ron and Harry both grinned slightly. "We did it that way just for you, Daddy," she said.
"I'm honoured," he said in a dry voice. "Come on inside. Your mother has lunch ready, and then Harry and I have places we have to be."
As they walked back to The Burrow, Harry and Ginny's thoughts turned back to their adventure from a few weeks earlier.
I think we might still have had to go down there, Harry said, but we could have tried other things, first.
Yeah, I know. But that's all because of Voldemort, and if Mum and Dad knew about that…
We'd never get to leave the house again.
The next morning, Harry and Ginny finished their breakfasts and then waited eagerly for Luna to arrive via Floo. A few minutes after nine, the fireplace flashed green, and a jumble of limbs and hair tumbled out into the parlour. Though he had not yet officially met Ginny's friend, Harry felt a sudden kinship with her.
"Hi, Luna," Ginny said brightly. "Rough trip?"
"Yes," the other girl said as she came to a stop on the floor. "I enjoy it, though. I imagine that I'll never get to ride inside a real tornado, so that's the closest I'll get."
As Luna stood up and straightened her clothing, Harry got his first personal look at Ginny's oldest friend. She was a few inches taller than Harry, but he quietly agreed with Mrs. Weasley that Luna was almost unnaturally thin. Large, clear blue eyes looked out from behind dark-blonde hair, which she seemed content to let hang unkempt around her face and shoulders. A bright yellow tank top fell, un-tucked, over a pair of denim shorts.
Prompted by Ginny's memory, Harry was able to spot a pair of bright red earrings in the shape of radishes hanging from the girl's ears. He remembered Luna telling Ginny that she liked the peculiar earrings because they were such excellent representations of actual radishes.
When Luna had brushed herself off and looked up, Ginny stepped forward and leaned up as far as she could to hug her friend. Luna, looking vaguely surprised to Harry, folded her arms and returned the hug.
"I've missed you, Luna," Ginny said happily.
"Oh, hello, Ginny," Luna said as they separated. "It's quite nice to see you again."
Mrs. Weasley bustled into the room with all four of her sons in tow. "Luna, dear, I'm so glad you could come. Are you hungry? We have plenty of bangers and toast left, or I could make you something."
"Hello, Molly," Luna said. "I'm not hungry right now, thank you, but if I think I might be, I'll be sure to let you know."
Harry was shocked at this display of informality, and he struggled to keep his face impassive.
Oh, yeah, Ginny said. Luna doesn't believe in using last names, I suppose, and my parents let her get away with it. Surprises me every time.
Mrs. Weasley smiled easily, and Harry knew that she had long ago grown accustomed to Luna's oddities. "You do that. Boys, you remember Luna."
"Hello, Luna, it's a pleasure to see you again," Percy said promptly.
He wants to get it out of the way so he can go back to ignoring everything but his letters, Ginny guessed.
"Is it?" Luna asked. Her voice had a soft, melodic quality that was slightly mesmerising, and yet she still sounded genuinely interested in everything she heard and said. "How nice for you."
Percy shrugged as the twins laughed behind their hands. "Yes, well, I must be off." Without further farewell, he turned and climbed the stairs towards his room.
"Hiya, Luna," Fred said.
"Met any good beetles lately?" George finished.
"Beetles? No, no beetles. I did see a very interesting dragonfly, but it seemed to be in quite a hurry, so I didn't bother it."
The twins looked at each other and blinked for a moment. "Right, well… good to see you, then."
They left, too, and Luna nodded. "Yes, like that." Her gaze shifted to Ron, and she reached up and pushed her hair behind her ears. "Hello, Ronald."
Ron was more than half a foot taller than Luna, but he cringed when she addressed him. "Err… hi, Luna."
"I'll leave you four to entertain yourselves," Mrs. Weasley said, smiling, as she went back into the kitchen.
"I'm going to… uhh… go," Ron stammered. "I have to… there's this… right. See you later, then."
"Alright," Luna said easily, smiling.
After a moment's pause, as though he were expecting her to say something else, Ron turned on his heel and practically leapt up the stairs.
What on earth was that about? Harry asked, amused and totally baffled by his friend's behaviour.
Ginny's mirth bubbled through their minds. Ron's afraid that Luna has a crush on him.
Last time I asked, she said no. I still think she might, but she might just enjoy teasing him. Either way, it's great fun.
Ginny recovered from her fit of internal giggles and looked up to find Luna staring at her unblinkingly. "Luna, this is my friend, Harry."
The blonde girl turned to Harry and leaned down to his eye level. She tilted her head back and forth slowly, twisting her torso slightly to look at him from either side. Then, without turning her body, she swivelled her head to peer at Ginny.
After a moment, she backed away several paces and stopped to watch them again, still tilting her head from side to side.
Is this normal? Harry could not remember Luna ever behaving precisely this way before.
Well, yes and no, Ginny replied, similarly confused. It's normal for her to be a bit odd, but she's never done anything specifically like this.
Is it me?
For all I know, it's the weather, she said cheerfully.
At last, Luna straightened and smiled brightly. "You look really happy. I shall call you Alex. It's lovely to meet you." Still beaming, she walked back to them in two long strides and hugged them together, pressing them until they were back-to-back.
"Alex?" Ginny wondered aloud. When Luna stepped away, Harry unconsciously reached out and took Ginny's hand, seeking and providing familiarity in the odd situation.
The girl's smile did not fade. "It's just as accurate, you know, and much shorter."
Ginny did not quite follow the thought. "Ahh… for which of us?"
"For you together. Do you count in twenties?"
Ginny was thoroughly confused until a terrifying thought occurred to her, and her heart rate suddenly increased. Harry…
How could she possibly?
Dunno, but… look, she's staring right between us as she talks.
Ginny swallowed heavily. "Luna, how… how did you know? About us?"
"Know?" Luna repeated, cocking her head to one side again. "That helped, but I don't know. I don't know anything. No, there's no know." Suddenly she flashed them a brilliant smile, even if it was rather lopsided. "But it's great fun to speculate."
I suppose I don't mind her knowing or… or speculating or whatever, Harry said.
It's awfully surprising and a bit scary, though.
"Luna, do you think anyone else could, err, speculate the way you did?" Ginny asked.
"Well, of course, anyone could, but very few people seem to bother with more than one idea, so I suppose the chances are quite slim."
"Could you not tell anyone, then, without asking us first?"
"Of course not!" Luna looked affronted. "That would be terribly rude."
The tall girl frowned again and then shrugged. "You're welcome, Alex. I suppose I shouldn't tell Dad, should I?"
"We'd really rather you didn't," Ginny said. They had no idea what Luna's father might do if he learned of their situation, but some of the possibilities were chilling.
"Oh well. He's having fun anyway." Without warning, Luna bent her knees and settled onto the floor, cross-legged. "What's Hogwarts like?" she asked intently. "Which houses are you in? Did you find the portrait of an Egyptian Singing Penguin that's supposed to be there?"
Ginny took her friend's abrupt change of subject in stride. She saw it as one of the things that made talking to Luna so much fun, even when she jumped from obscurity to concrete topics. Besides, Ginny knew that her friend's rapid shifts were part of her sharp, unconventional intelligence. For the same reason, Luna's barrage of questions was also unsurprising.
"It was great, for the most part," Ginny said before launching into the subject. For the next half hour, she sat on the floor next to Harry and told Luna about their classes, Gryffindor Tower, and many of the strange things they had found in the castle. Harry was surprised, at first, that Luna laughed at the things they found funny and seemed suitably awed by their descriptions of the Great Hall.
She's really not crazy, Ginny reflected in a momentary lull. There are some things she's quite strange about, but for the most part you just have to learn to listen to her. From the right angle, I suppose she'd say.
"What about you, Luna?" Harry asked. "What did you do last year?"
She looked over at him with a gentle smile. "You don't have to speak if you don't want to."
Trying to follow Ginny's advice, they made a guess. "Err… I don't mind. It's, uhh… habit, I suppose," he replied.
Luna nodded sagely. "Oh, yes, that makes sense."
"Luna," Ginny asked hesitantly, "would you mind calling us Harry and Ginny when we're around other people?"
"Of course not. Habit, like you said. I should have thought of that myself. You can't have been yourself for more than a year, after all."
Luna shifted backwards and leaned against the sofa, stretching her legs out in front of her. "Dad took me to Persia. The Muggles call it other things, and they're all really quite odd." Luna abruptly pointed a thin finger at Ginny. "You still want to be Ginny and she, right?" Her aim shifted to Harry. "And you're Harry and he?"
"Err, yes, please, if that's no problem for you," Harry said.
"Okay. The wizards have their own cities, and they still call themselves Persians. Did you know that sand dunes move? We wanted to see if it was some form of communication."
Harry had sat through enough educational programs at primary school to know what a sand dune was, even though neither of them had ever left the British Isles. "What did you decide?" he asked.
She shook her head, sending a few wisps of hair waving in front of her face. "Nothing, really. We didn't want to decide anything. The desert could be saying something, but we haven't guessed its language yet."
"Maybe you need to learn Dirtish," Ginny said, grinning.
Luna smiled and laughed softly. "That's really good. If we work it out, we'll call it that. Unless the sand doesn't have D's, of course."
She continued without pause. "Once we were finished with Persia, we went down to Africa. Dad's been campaigning to have nundus named an endangered species. If he can get the people there to understand, then maybe they will stop hunting the poor creatures. He hopes that someday there might even be breeding grounds, so that we can replenish the natural population."
Ginny had known what a nundu was by the time she was five, just like everyone else in the wizarding world. "Nundus? Seriously? If there were more of them, wouldn't they hurt loads of people?"
Her friend nodded calmly. "Possibly. But don't we hurt an awful lot of chickens?"
Harry could not begin to count the number of times he had eaten chicken in his lifetime. "I suppose that's a good point," he said.
"We want to come up with some sort of tracking system, anyway, so that people can avoid them," Luna replied. Then her face brightened. "Do you suppose Ronald would like to play chess with me?"
Ginny grinned. "We can ask."
They climbed the stairs to Ron's room, and Ginny was grateful, for once, that there were not locks on the doors. Her brother had already set up his chess board and was apparently playing himself, which made it easy to prod him into playing against Luna.
Harry and Ginny sat on Ron's bed and watched, highly entertained, as Ron and Luna played. Luna talked continuously, telling stories from her travels and explaining more extensively what she and her father had attempted to accomplish in Persia and Africa. Even Scabbers, who was lying almost unmoving in the bottom of his cage, seemed to be paying attention to Luna's tales.
Ron was silent and kept his head down, but Luna continued talking and smiled almost constantly. Harry and Ginny did not follow quite everything the blonde girl said, but her stories were always entertaining. The more she spoke, the more they felt that they understood her.
The chess games themselves were quite a show in their own right. Ron played as usual, though he seemed to lack focus. Luna, on the other hand, apparently had a selection of very obvious strategies that she chose from on a game-by-game basis. For the first match, she mirrored every move Ron made. He eventually made a move she could not duplicate, but she continued the effort as much as she could, and it clearly flummoxed the red-haired boy until he was finally able to manipulate Luna's moves into a victory.
When she started the second game, Luna moved her pieces completely at random, as far as Ginny and Harry could tell. She ignored threats from Ron's pieces and scattered her own across the board at any given opportunity. Harry thought, for a moment, that she was trying to make a pattern of the black and white pieces, but he could not quite identify the intended result because it seemed to change with each move. Ron won that game quickly, as Luna had made no effort to defend her forces.
The third game was, by far, the longest. This time, Luna limited herself to defence only. Whatever move Ron made, she countered by moving her pieces out of harm's way. She actually captured a few of his pieces simply by attempting to avoid his attacks, but he gradually managed to gain an advantage over her. As more pieces were eliminated, however, she had more room to move the remainder.
As they played, Ron's face finally fell into the familiar mask of concentration he wore when he was playing or reading about serious chess. The chatter in the room stopped, and both players seemed intent on the game, though Luna still looked quite pleased. Harry and Ginny, sitting to one side, marvelled that Luna had somehow engaged Ron for longer than either or both of them had ever managed to.
When the game was down to only eight pieces, Mrs. Weasley's voice drifted up from the kitchen. "Percy-Fred-George-Ron-Ginny!" she called in a single, practiced stream of syllables. "Harry, Luna! Lunch is ready!"
Immediately, Luna stood up from the chess board and stretched. "Oh, yes, lunch. I was forgetting. Are you hungry, Ronald? I am." Before anyone else could react, she turned and left the room.
Harry watched as Ron looked back and forth between the doorway and the chessboard. "That… that was infuriating!" the older boy said. "It certainly wasn't chess!"
Ginny smirked broadly. "You were enjoying it, there at the end, whatever it was."
"No way," Ron scoffed. Ginny stared at him for a few more moments before he gave up and dropped his gaze. "If you tell her, I'll kill you."
"Wouldn't want that," Ginny said, still grinning. "Your secret is safe with us."
Ron turned to look at Harry. "Is it really? She might tell for the fun of it, but I bet you wouldn't."
"Ron!" Ginny cried hotly. "That's not fair!"
"We won't say anything," Harry said. "We never intended to."
He is infuriating!
Which doesn't mean he's not right, Harry teased.
Ginny huffed, jumped to her feet, and stormed out of the room. C'mon, Harry, let's get lunch. She was not nearly as upset as she looked, but the charade was part of the game she had been playing with her brothers for longer than she could remember.
Harry grinned at Ron, and then the two boys followed her down the stairs.
They found Luna sitting in Harry's usual place, and as they entered Ron reluctantly dropped into his chair next to her. The only remaining open seats were Ginny's traditional chair and a spare that had been added on the other side of the table.
Ginny and Harry stopped in the doorway and looked confusedly at the arrangement.
Oh, well, Ginny said. I suppose -
She was interrupted when Luna turned around and spotted them. "Oh, how careless," she said. "You were first." Then, without any other comment, she walked around the table and sat in the extra chair that had been added for her.
Ginny smiled at her friend in gratitude, and Luna smiled back in her slightly-distant fashion. Harry and Ginny sat in their usual places, and after serving themselves, they began to eat. It had become a habit for them to touch while eating, with Ginny's right hand tucked under Harry's left as they rested on the edge of the table.
You're getting good with your left hand, Harry said. He had offered, more than once, to switch places with her. Ginny had refused, saying that she thought it would be fun to learn to use her left hand.
Yeah, it's getting easier. Maybe someday I'll be able to write with it. That'd be neat.
"Luna, how has your father been doing?" Mr. Weasley asked when the first frenzy of feeding had passed.
"Very well, thank you," she said. "More people are buying the Quibbler, especially in the Americas."
The twins snickered behind their hands while Percy ignored Luna and Ron made absolutely sure never to look at her. At the opposite end of the table from her husband, Mrs. Weasley smiled indulgently at her guest.
"Have another sandwich, Luna, dear. Just one will get lonely."
"That's an excellent observation. Don't you agree, Ronald?" Luna said, scooping another sandwich onto her plate as she finished her first.
Just before one o'clock, when the Weasleys had finished their meal and were listening to another of Luna's fantastic stories about Africa, Harry stood up. At her inquisitive look, he said, "I spend the afternoons with my Muggle relatives. Will you still be around for dinner?"
"I certainly hope so, Harry," she replied.
Harry grinned. "Me, too. See you then." After a wave to the Weasleys and a quick squeeze of Ginny's shoulder, he went into the garden and Shifted to the Dursleys'.
"Does Harry learn much maths when he's away?" Luna asked the table. "I enjoy maths, and it seems like visiting those relatives of his would be a good way to learn."
"No, no maths, unfortunately," Ginny said. "Mostly he just cleans things."
I suppose I could count the dishes and multiply that by the number of times I wash them each week.
Ginny stifled a giggle. She'd probably find that interesting.
Harry started working, and Ginny led Luna up to her room for the afternoon. Even without Harry there in person, Ginny was thrilled to spend time with Luna again. They talked and laughed together in a way that was unique to two girls who had known each other for their entire lives.
I like her, Harry decided. Even more, I like the way she makes you feel.
She's a great friend, Ginny agreed happily.
She and Luna exchanged more stories of their adventures, though Ginny was careful not to provide too many details about the more dramatic events at Hogwarts. She could not see any harm in telling Luna about the troll, however, after swearing the blonde girl to secrecy.
"That sounds very interesting," Luna said. "Trolls like to lick humans' hair, you know, but they have a very hard time getting us to stay still. They get rather frustrated. I can see how they'd be really attracted to you."
Ginny found herself nodding before she really absorbed what her friend had said. Then, almost unconsciously, she pulled her hair in front of her shoulder and held it in her hands.
Well, we can't say for sure that she's wrong, can we? Harry said.
"What's wrong, Alex?" Luna asked.
"Would you like to have a troll lick your head, Luna?"
"No, probably not, but I suppose I'd have to try it to be sure."
They continued exchanging stories, and Luna let Ginny brush her hair after examining Ginny's hairbrush closely.
"You have really pretty hair, Luna," Ginny said when she was finished. Luna's tresses were still a rather unremarkable shade of blonde, but they had brushed out quite nicely. "Hang on, I think I have a hair-band that would look wonderful on you."
She opened the top drawer of her bureau and rummaged around until she found a hair-band that was almost the colour of Luna's shirt. Ginny placed it carefully in her friend's hair and then stepped back to admire the effect. Harry had to agree with Ginny that simply brushing Luna's hair and adding the hair-band made the blonde girl look much more put-together.
"Lovely, Luna. Really," Ginny said fondly. "Want to go show Ron?"
That's cruel, Gin.
She grinned. I know.
"Do you think he'll like it?" Luna asked.
"He'd be stupid not to," Ginny said.
This is Ron we're talking about.
Luna's smile brightened her face even more. "Well, alright, then."
The two girls climbed to Ron's room, but he was not there. Assuming that he was either eating or flying, Ginny led Luna back downstairs towards the kitchen. As they approached the doorway, her parents' voices drifted to them.
"- all the time?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"It's not -"
Ginny heard what sounded like a dish breaking in the kitchen, and Mr. Weasley's reply stopped abruptly. Curious and concerned, she pulled Luna along and stepped into the room. There, she found her parents peering past the refrigerator at them.
"Did you drop something on the stairs, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"No, Mum. I thought you'd broken a dish."
Her mother shook her head. "It must have been the ghoul. You know how he gets restless when it's warm out."
"Poor Leonard," Ginny said. "I wish he could tell us what he wants."
"He's out in the paddock with the twins," her mother said.
Leonard? Harry asked, amused. Has he met Snuggles?
And what would you have called him? she retorted. 'Ghou-ghou?' I think I saw him once, or at least his reflection, and he looks like a Leonard.
The girls reached the edge of the paddock, and Luna looked around curiously. "Did your father finally get a lawn trimmer?" she asked. "He needs to work on his patterns. This E is missing pieces."
"What?" Ginny followed her friend's gaze to the three strips of trimmed grass. "Oh, no. Harry and Ron and I got in trouble, and Mum made us cut the grass with scissors."
"Please don't tease Ronald about me too much, Alex," Luna said, apparently no longer interested in the grass, but now looking genuinely concerned. "It's not his fault that he doesn't see things the way we do."
Ginny's eyes widened, and she was instantly contrite. Grabbing the other girl's hand in both of hers, she said, "I'm sorry, Luna. I didn't mean it that way, but it's not very nice to you. We don't have to talk to him if you don't want to."
"Oh, no, I'd like to," Luna said. "He's very entertaining. I just don't want to drive him away. If we couldn't be friends, who knows what he'd miss?"
"Right. We'll just say hi, then."
Ginny shouted and waved to her brothers, and within moments the three of them had landed in front of her and Luna.
"Hi, Ginny," Fred said. "Who's your pretty friend?" He flicked his eyes at Ron and then looked back at Ginny with a trace of a grin.
"Fred! It's Luna, you know that."
"Oh, right," George added. "How silly of us. It isn't as though you have lots of friends around here who can see over countertops, is it?"
"Maybe it's the countertops that need lowering, then," Ginny said.
"Quiet, George," Fred whispered loudly. "She might do it."
"Hmm. Point." George shook his head slightly. "Say, want to fly with us for a minute or two?"
Stifling a grin, Ginny looked over at Luna, who assented with a tiny, shy smile. "Sure," Ginny said. "But I don't want to leave Luna just standing here."
"Oh, well, not for long, then," Fred agreed. "Only a minute. Why don't you borrow Ron's broom and let him keep her company? That'll save you having to fetch your broom, anyway."
"Do you mind, Ron?" Ginny asked, struggling to maintain a neutral expression.
Ron himself was glaring at the twins, clearly trying to convey his disapproval without saying something unforgivably impolite.
"Smashing!" George said. He pulled Ron's broom out of his hands and handed it to Ginny, and then the twins took off into the air. A moment later, Ginny followed them, leaving a frustrated Ron and a seemingly unperturbed Luna behind.
Ginny and the twins flew in a group up and down the length of the paddock, tossing the Quaffle back and forth between them. "That's why you two came out here, right?" Fred said.
Ginny grinned. "Yep. She doesn't mind, so long as we don't go too far with it."
George swung closer to them after tossing the ball to Ginny. "What do you think, three minutes?"
"Should be about right," she agreed.
After a few more passes, Ginny returned to the ground. As soon as she held out Ron's broom, he snatched it out of her hand and took off. His expression was still exasperated and now quite confused, but he did not appear angry.
"So, did you find something to talk about?" Ginny asked Luna, grinning slyly.
"Yes," she said as her eyes followed the fliers above. "It seems that we both like your Harry."
Ginny giggled as Harry shook his head in embarrassment. "I like him, too."
Luna's pale blue gaze moved to Ginny, and an incongruous look of incredulity passed over her features. "What a ridiculous thing to say. May I use your loo?"
After returning to the house, the two girls spent the rest of the afternoon in the parlour as Ginny tried to explain how to get from place to place in Hogwarts Castle. Luna listened raptly and asked countless questions, eventually forcing Ginny to admit that she did not know where all of the doors and corridors in the castle led. She also did not know the names of all of the people in the portraits, which disappointed her curious friend.
Just after Harry returned, they all had dinner together, though Ginny and Harry carried most of the conversation with Luna.
"I'll go home, now," Luna said when they had all finished eating. "Dad and I are going to work on brewing a new batch of ink this evening."
"That sounds very exciting," Mrs. Weasley said.
"No, it's quite quiet, but we enjoy it." She turned to face Ginny and reached up to remove the hair-band she wore.
Ginny caught her friend's wrist. "Keep it, Luna. It suits you much better than it does me."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," Ginny said, nodding firmly. "I like to wear my hair loose or in a pony-tail, anyway."
"Oh, well, thank you, then." Luna stepped forward to hug Ginny, and then she quickly embraced Harry. "It was nice to see you, Harry. If you want the hair-band back, just say so. Good luck with your maths."
Harry found himself focusing on only part of what Luna had said. "Thanks. I enjoyed meeting you, too."
"Oh, good. I'm so glad for you." Swivelling to Ron and smiling, she said, "Goodbye, Ronald. Don't let them make you boring."
"Err… no… okay. 'Bye."
"I hope you can come again soon, Luna," Ginny said, somewhat wistfully.
"I'd like that. Goodbye, Ginny."
Luna waved at the rest of the Weasleys and, after throwing more powder into the fire than was necessary, she disappeared in an oversized flash of green flame.
The kitchen of The Burrow was silent for a few long moments. "Bit like coming home from holiday, isn't it?" Mr. Weasley finally said. "You've had a lot of fun, but you're a bit overwhelmed and awfully tired."
"I think she's great," Ginny said with a touch of defensiveness.
Ron snorted. "I think she's mental."
I can't wait for her to meet Hermione, Harry suddenly thought.
Six puzzled faces watched as Harry and Ginny collapsed into their chairs, laughing uncontrollably.