“So,” Harry said, glancing down at Fabian Prewett’s watch for a moment before staring across Professor Slughorn’s crowded room at Ginny, “I’m sorry Dean couldn’t be here.”
“Hmmm,” hummed Luna. It was difficult to guess what she was staring at, though she was staring at something. “I’m sorry that Hermione and Ronald couldn’t be here.”
“Oh,” said Harry, watching Ginny listen to a very animated Gwenog Jones, “that’s okay.” Ron wasn’t a huge fan of Professor Slughorn’s anyway; as it was, he’d injured his back during a Stealth and Concealment drill that day, and Hermione had stayed back at the Shrieking Shack to nurse him. Harry hoped that whatever nursing went on didn’t injure Ron any further. “Did Dean do anything for St. Valentine’s?”
“No,” said Luna, with no apparent concern. “When is St. Valentine’s?”
“Um. Today?” Harry looked back at his friend; he knew that she was capable of joking, but she was usually fairly obvious about it. She seemed perfectly serious, insofar as Luna was ever serious. He gestured at the red and pink streamers floating in heart shapes around the room. “That’s why Slughorn threw the party?”
“Oh,” Luna stared up at one of the hearts, which was hovering directly above them. “Well, at least we don’t need to worry about Nargles.”
“Yeah,” agreed Harry with a laugh.
Sanguini the vampire pushed between them, carrying a goblet of what Harry hoped was wine. Though he looked as bored as he had the last time that Harry had seen him, he had a large red heart pinned festively to his lapel.
“So,” Luna said, peering at Harry with a look of wide-eyed curiosity, “did you do anything for Ginny?”
A tremor of anticipation thrilled through Harry’s chest. He looked down at his watch once more. “Not yet. Stick around, and you’ll see.”
“Oh. How nice. It must not be anything sexual then, because I know you are very shy about that.” As Harry struggled to answer, Luna gazed over at where Ginny was standing, looking as stunned as Harry was feeling while Gwenog Jones talked on, gesturing with her hands. On Ginny the astonishment looked adorable; Harry simply felt an idiot. “Ginny played very well today,” Luna continued. “It looks as if Gwenog Jones must have watched the game.”
Harry recognized the motion of Gwenog’s hands; she was demonstrating one of Ginny’s maneuvers from the game. “Yeah. She and Hestia sat just behind us cadets.” It was odd watching the match from the stands set up for guests and teachers—adults. Susan Bones had been even more uncomfortable, since Gryffindor had trounced her Hufflepuffs.
“Ginny executed the Yarmouth Yoyo to perfection several times,” Luna sighed.
Harry blinked. She had perfectly identified the very challenging evasive maneuver that Gwenog was demonstrating with her hands. “How…? Since when were you such a fan of Quidditch?”
“Oh, my father and I haven’t missed a Harpies match since I was—”
Neville bustled up, holding two glasses. “Hey, guys. Um. Have you seen Hannah?”
“No,” Harry said. “I thought you came with—?”
“Susan, yeah.” Neville ducked his head. “But, erm, see, Hannah asked me too, so…”
“You came with both?”
“Oh, how lovely,” sighed Luna.
Harry laughed. “Are they aware that you’re here with both of them?”
“Um, well,” Neville answered, looking more and more sheepish, “not exactly.”
“Look, Neville,” said Luna, “there they are. Oh, they’re waving.” She wiggled her fingers vaguely towards the door that led to the back of the flat, to the little sitting room where Ron had once almost died; Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones were standing together, glaring at Neville, their hands raised in a manner that could barely be considered a greeting.
“Erm… See you guys,” Neville spluttered as he stumbled towards the two friends.
Luna waved at Neville’s retreating back and smiled.
A mixed group of younger students—mostly girls—swarmed around Neville and his two dates, obscuring them from view.
“That’s not going to end well,” Harry muttered.
Luna cocked her head and stared at Harry.
“Well, going with two girls to a party…”
Her thin eyebrows twisting, Luna said, “You brought me and Ginny.”
“But that’s different!” Harry muttered. “You’re… Professor Slughorn invited you. And then Dean couldn’t come and Ginny and I just thought you wouldn’t have as much fun coming alone, so we brought you—”
“—as friends, yes.” Luna smiled brilliantly, and Harry couldn’t help smiling himself.
“So,” he said, “missing Dean’s sternum?”
Luna’s smile faded away. “A little, yes.”
Harry put his hand on Luna’s shoulder. “I figured.”
“Actually,” she said, thoughtfully, her eyes becoming even more unfocused than usual, “his sternum has got rather hard lately. Much less pleasant. Not that I’ve had much opportunity to check it lately.”
“Oh,” Harry muttered, “yeah. Well, he’s been so busy down at the Ministry with the whole Muggle-born Rights thing…”
“Hmmm,” Luna agreed. She was smiling but looked quite sad in spite of it.
Blaise Zabini and Zacharias Smith pushed between them, sidling furtively toward the front door.
Harry glanced at his watch. Half nine.
“Dean seems to have become rather obsessed with the commission, which makes perfect sense,” sighed Luna. “But he doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in anything else. Not sex or Snorkacks even.”
Harry was about to try to say something even vaguely comforting when a head of hair like wild straw appeared above Luna’s. “Sex and Snorkacks?” piped a high, wobbly voice. “Two of my favorite subjects!”
Luna stepped back and turned, revealing a gangly, tall man with a face that seemed to have been made from odds and ends, like a scarecrow’s. For the first time that Harry could remember, Luna looked utterly taken aback. “They’re… oviparous.”
“Yes!” crowed the man. “There aren’t many people who know a thing about Snorkacks at all, let alone that they’re egg-layers! Goodness, how wonderful to meet someone so well-informed!”
Luna’s eye’s got very wide—a remarkable sight indeed. As the gangly man grinned down at her, she held out a trembling hand. “I’m Luna Lovegood. I’ve got a boyfriend.”
“Lucky for him!” laughed the man, whose varicolored eyes sparkled with either good humor or madness. He took her hand and shook it. “Are you related to old Xeno Lovegood?”
“He’s my father,” said Luna, so breathily that Harry could barely believe that she had managed to produce any sound.
“Of course!” said the man. “A lot prettier than the old man, luckily! Utterly lost when it comes to cryptozoology, begging your pardon, but one of the expedition’s most valued patrons, nonetheless!”
Harry cleared his throat and Luna and her new companion looked at him, startled. “Expedition?” he asked.
The man shook his wild mop of hair and laughed. “I’m sorry, of course, shouldn’t presume. The Scamander Arctic Thaumazoological Survey. My father and I, we’ve worked our way from Lapland to Svaalbard over the past few years, tracking Snorkacks and Bildicoots—all part of preparing a new edition of The Book, you know.”
“The book?” asked Harry, feeling a bit lost.
Luna’s voice was still barely there, but seemed to go up a full octave. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
“Yes! Bit of a family tradition,” said the man, and held his hand out to Harry. “Rolf Scamander.”
Harry took the proffered hand happily. Loony as he seemed, it was still hard not to like him. “Harry Potter.”
The man blinked. “Harry…?” He looked to Luna and back. “I’m sorry. That sounds very familiar, and I know, this is one of Slughorn’s do’s, so I probably should know, but…”
“Harry is the one who defeated Voldemort,” said Luna, her voice returning to something more like its usual airy tone. She smiled that same brilliant smile at Harry. “Several times.”
The man’s eyes widened and he shook Harry’s hand. “Oh. Oh! Of course, I am so sorry—we have been out of the country for the past few years, only just got back… Well, it is lovely to meet you. You are, I suppose, this lovely lady’s lucky boyfriend?”
“No, his girlfriend is Ginny Weasley,” said Luna.
“Weasley? Related to Charlie? One of my very best friends! May I ask—?”
“I’m thirsty,” Luna said. “Mr. Scamander, perhaps you would escort me to the punch?” She turned back to Harry. “I am certain that we won’t miss whatever it is you have planned for Ginny.”
Turning back to her newfound friend, Luna said, “Now, tell me, were you able to find Crumple-horned Snorkacks on Svaalbard?”
“Alas, no!” laughed Rolf. “Crumple-horned Snorkacks seem to be a myth. But the Great-horned variety…”
As they were swallowed by the crowd, Harry turned back to find Ginny and the Joneses pushing towards him through the throng. Ginny was marble-faced.
“Sorry to keep you two lovebirds apart on St. Valentine’s,” chuckled Hestia, “but once you get my sister here talking Quidditch, you can’t get her to shut up!”
Gwenog laughed, showing off her famously missing teeth. “Hard not to get excited when you’ve had a chance to watch a young talent like this one!”
Hestia laughed and clouted her sister on the shoulder. The Joneses headed off in the same direction as Luna and Rolf Scamander, though Harry felt sure they were thirsty for something harder than punch.
Harry slipped his arm around Ginny’s waist and pulled her closer. Though she didn’t resist, she didn’t exactly play along.
“Thank you, Harry. That was very nice.”
Her face remained expressionless. “Getting Gwenog to compliment me. To… ask me to try out for the Harpies. That was a very lovely present for St. Valentine’s. Thank you.”
Harry gaped down at her. “Gwenog asked you to try out? That’s great!”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed. “Come on, Harry. Don’t try one on with a Weasley. It’s not like anyone in the family would think to do that. It’s not like anyone else we know has an in with Gwenog bloody Jones.”
He hadn’t seen her like this—talk like this—since that day at the Burrow the previous summer. She’d used the word bloody more times in one breath that afternoon than Harry thought he’d heard in the rest of his life.
Her pupils vibrated. “Come off it, Harry. It was very sweet. If that wasn’t your bloody present… I mean, come on, even you can’t have totally bloody forgotten, please! I knew something was up—no flowers, no card, no—”
“F-five minutes,” Harry stammered, holding up his battered watch.
“What?” She blinked.
“Your p-present will be here in five minutes.”
“So… You didn’t put her up to that?” He shook his head, and her skin began to color, her eyes to widen. “You didn’t ask her tell me I was… g-good? That I should try out for the Harpies?”
“Nope.” He pulled her closer; she was much less resistant. “You made that happen all on your own.”
She stared up at him, her mouth very small and her eyes very, very large. “Harry?”
“I think I might need to sit down.”
Before he could find her a chair, however, Harry felt a tug at his elbow. Twisting his head around, he saw a dwarf dressed extravagantly (if unconvincingly) as a cupid smirking up at him. “This her, boss?” the little man croaked.
“Looks familiar, at least!” The dwarf cleared his throat loudly and twanged his harp. The entire room fell silent, and suddenly what had seemed like a marvelous idea seemed… less so. “I got a musical message for…” He scowled, first at his paper, then at Harry, then at the paper again. “For Gin-EEV-ra Weasley.” Plucking his harp atonally once more for good measure, he launched wobblingly into the song that Harry had written:
Your eyes are as bright as a thousand wand spell,
As a Chaser you are the best, easily.
You're simply divine,
Oh, will you be mine
Now and forever, Ginny Weasley?
Harry, who had been staring up at the ceiling, finally ventured to peer down at Ginny, who was staring up at him with her mouth hanging open. He smiled feebly. “Happy St. Valentine’s?”
And suddenly she launched herself up at him, kissing him so hard that she seemed to be removing all of the air from his lungs, but he didn’t care. He was vaguely aware of the crowd cheering, but his consciousness was entirely monopolized by her lips, her hands, her body…
Eventually, they broke from the kiss, gasping, and the others all laughed, clapped some more, and began to crowd around the couple. Harry felt as if he had drunk a whole bottle of firewhisky, and he would have been happy to go back for more. He began to lean into Ginny once again, but she was looking down. “Thanks, Tim,” she said.
“No problem,” grunted the dwarf. “He pays well, even if he don’t write any better, but at least this time I didn’t have to tackle no one!”
“Yeah,” Harry burbled. “Sorry about that.”
Tim smirked up at him. “No problem. Think they got any firewhisky back there? Singin’s dry work, it is.”
Ginny giggled against Harry’s chest.
Professor Slughorn clapped the dwarf on the back. “I am certain that the house elves have opened some of my finest whisky, my good fellow. Come with me!” The Slytherin head winked hugely at Harry and walked off with Tim towards the drinks.
“That was quite lovely!” called Luna from somewhere at the back of the crowd. Hannah and Susan pushed closer, dragging a chastened-looking Neville between them, and giggled briefly with Ginny.
“Well done, Harry!” Neville said, before the two girls dragged him away again—no doubt to continue telling him just how well he himself had not done.
As the party dissolved again into laughter and chatter, Harry felt Ginny lift up on her toes and turned just in time to find her mouth reaching his.
“Thank you, Harry,” Ginny said. “That was just perfect.”
“It wasn’t too… silly?”
“Just silly enough, I think,” she said, and they both snorted. “But Harry?”
“Yeah?” Well-being coursed through his body like flame.
“If you’re going to start throwing around words like forever,” she whispered, and she didn’t seem to be laughing any more, “you had better bloody well mean them.”