Harry waited for Ginny on the magical side of Platform Twelve and Three-quarters. He was a little early, but there was only one train a day to Fairbeck and he wanted to make sure they were on it. He looked at his watch. Ginny was usually punctual, but she had played a match last night and the newspaper said it was over just before mid-night. The Harpies had won and Ginny had been the top scorer, so he didn't think Ginny could have gone to sleep right away after all of that excitement.
"Look, Mummy! It's Harry Potter!" said an excited voice. "He's just like his picture on my Chocolate Frog card!"
Harry cringed and pretended not to hear. Short of wearing a Camouflage Charm at all times, there wasn't much he could do to prevent being recognized. Usually he wasn't recognized because his daily routine didn't consist of standing around in public places making himself an easy target for the paparazzi.
"I want to give him my balloon!"
"Ramesh!" The witch's voice was scathing. "He doesn't want your silly balloon. Now come along."
Now Harry felt churlish. "Er — hullo," he said, turning around to smile at a small, dark-eyed boy clutching a red balloon.
The little boy smiled shyly and held out the balloon. "For you."
"Uh — thanks." Harry took it. Then, to cover up his awkwardness, he crouched down and read the scrolling message on the balloon. "Reading is Magic. Celebrating Six Hundred Years of Literacy from Flourish and Blotts." He looked over the balloon at Ramesh. "That's very important — er — reading."
"Sorry to bother you," the witch said, tugging at Ramesh's hand.
"No bother," Harry assured her, standing up. He wanted to give the balloon back, but he couldn't think of a graceful way to do that and not hurt Ramesh's feelings. He watched the two disappear into the cheerful crowd which, on this summer morning, consisted of families on holiday, groups of Witch Guides and Wizard Scouts, and a Rambler's Club of hikers wearing lederhosen.
As the moments ticked away, he was acutely aware that he was a grown wizard holding a red balloon and that he hadn't confirmed with Ginny that they were actually meeting here. This was their usual spot to meet, but he hoped his message, sent through Ron, had reached her.
To his immense relief, he saw Ginny's red head bobbing toward him through a group of chattering Witch Guides in their green uniforms. As always, the sight of her bright smile lifted his spirits. Even if the paparazzi did spot them now, he didn't care. He would have another photo of Ginny.
"Hullo." She laughed. "I think I might have recognized you without the balloon, but it's a nice touch." She lifted her face for a kiss.
"Long story." He quickly kissed her on the mouth and then steered her to the Fairbeck train. "It's open seating, so let's find a compartment away from the Witch Guides."
They had to walk the length of the carriage before they found a compartment that wasn't filled with the green rucksacks of the Witch Guides.
"Do you think we're supposed to be in here?" Ginny asked doubtfully when they entered a compartment that only had one bench. The rest of the space seemed to be taken up with overflow from the campers — tents and camping stoves and collapsible cauldrons.
"The door wasn't locked and there's no sign," Harry replied. He tied the red balloon to a tent pole and then contentedly sprawled on the seat next to the window. At last. They would have all kinds of privacy and all kinds of time.
Ginny thumped her rucksack on the floor and sat next to him.
Harry smiled up at her lazily. Four hours on the train without any interruptions.
Harry sat up straight and pulled out his wand. "What was that?"
It was coming from Ginny's rucksack.
"That's my new Tweeter Twig!" Ginny said happily as she dove into her bag and came up with what looked like a miniature wand. She tapped it and a small slip of paper came out of the end.
"From Percy. He reminds us that the portrait should know Mum's nickname."
"Mollywobbles?" Harry asked without thinking.
Ginny gasped. "How did you know? I never knew Dad used to call her that until I started going out with Michael."
"Why would going out with Michael Corner make you suddenly find out your mum's nickname? Did he call you Ginnywobbles or something?" Harry asked grumpily. Three years after Hogwarts, and he still hated to be reminded of Ginny's other boyfriends.
"No!" Ginny's cheeks turned pink. "Michael didn't have any pet names for me, okay?" She tossed her hair. "That was the year Mum gave me the talk. But she was too embarrassed to actually include any details in her talk, so she ended up telling me all about going out with Dad at Hogwarts."
"You mean the story about the groundskeeper who caught them and your dad still has the scars?"
Ginny gaped at him "How?" Then she giggled. "Never mind — you Aurors know everything."
Harry was about to tell her how he came to know those few details about Molly and Arthur's relationship, but he was interrupted yet again.
"Don't answer it," he growled.
"Have to," Ginny said, tapping the Twig. "Once it starts, it will Tweet all day until you take out the new message."
"Brilliant," Harry muttered.
"It's from Luna." She giggled. "Your destination is within you. A thousand journeys done."
"What the hell does that mean?" Harry shook his head. He didn't want to know what it meant. "Look, is there a way to shut that thing up or mute it or something?"
"I can Silence it," Ginny said, her expression dimming. "But when you read the Tweeters later it's not as much fun."
"But they don't make any sense, anyway."
"They make sense!" Her brown eyes flashed. "Honestly, Harry, I didn't realize what a stick-in-the mud you are about new inventions."
"At least I'm not a Twig-in-the-mud," Harry grumped.
Once Ginny Silenced her Twig, Harry began to enjoy the journey. They were going north to one of the prettiest parts of Magical England — the Restricted District. It was full of lakes and hills and benign magical creatures. It was Restricted, not Forbidden, because there were no Dark Creatures. Over the years, the Ministry had gone to great lengths to keep this area secret from the Muggles. They had installed Misting Rocks that spewed dense fog as soon as a Muggle hiker wandered too close. There were Panorama Panels that made the Muggles think they were standing on the edge of a spectacular cliff watching the sun set or rise when they were really looking through the back window of a witch or wizard's house. In order to protect some of the valuable magical plants and animals, the Ministry had cast, at great expense, Anti-Apparition Charms. Just like Hogwarts, no one could Apparate or Disapparate within the Restricted District.
"It's a beautiful day," Harry said as the train blurred the green and gold mid-summer landscape. "Do you wish we had flown?"
"Oh, I don't know," Ginny said, snuggling up to him. "That match last night was intense and we play again tomorrow tonight. I don't mind a day off from a broom."
"You were top scorer. Well done." Harry cast a few Cushioning Charms so she could be comfortable.
"Thanks," she said settling in. "Their Keeper was from the Reserve Team. Bit rusty at first and then he lost his confidence."
"Modest as well as talented." He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. She smiled, but didn't close her eyes. Harry hoped she would rest. Once they disembarked at Fairbeck, they would have to walk to Mrs. Pawn's cottage. Hopefully, Bill's information was correct and Mrs. Pawn did indeed have Molly and Arthur's wedding portrait. Returning the picture with the original frame was to be their anniversary gift from the whole family.
"Not tired?" He absently started to play with her hair.
"So, how did it happen that your mum and dad lost their wedding portrait? I never got the full story — just that we were recruited to collect it."
"Any one of us could have collected it, but what convinced Mrs. Pawn to actually sell it was the chance to meet you."
"Oh." Harry's enthusiasm for this errand dimmed.
"I'm sure she'll be horrible," Ginny said, turning her head to smile sympathetically at him. "Bill said she was a pill to bargain with — but that's how she earned her gold all of these years. Her shop bought and sold all kinds of things until she retired a few years ago."
"So your mum and dad sold her their portrait because they needed the gold?"
"No." Ginny sat up. "It was the artist who sold the painting. Mum was paying it off in installments, but the artist needed the money right away." Ginny shook her head. "Poor Mum. She never bought anything by installment again."
"I thought you said you had Silenced it."
Ginny shrugged. "It must have worn off."
Harry scowled as Ginny read yet another scroll. "Well?" he asked when she didn't say anything.
Oddly enough, she blushed. "It's from Regan."
"Yes — er — she remembered the name of the little hotel in Fairbeck." Her giggle sounded suspiciously nervous. "It's called The Lovelace Inn."
"Lovelace?" It sounded awful.
"But I don't suppose we need to know that," Ginny said slowly, "since we're coming back on the six o'clock train."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Do you want to stay overnight somewhere?" They had never really gone away together — the few times they had tried to make plans something had always come up.
"I do. But it would hardly be worth it," Ginny said, the color deepening in her cheeks. "I have to be in Scotland by tomorrow night for an exhibition match and you're working, too."
He grabbed the annoying Twig before Ginny could look at the scroll. It was another message from Ginny's teammate, Regan. "If you don't take the time, the time will be taken." He shook his head. "Now she sounds like Luna."
"You can only write so much on Tweeter Scroll," Ginny defended. "And if you're going to make fun, then give it back." She tried to grab the Twig out of his hand, but he held it out of her reach.
Harry swore. These interruptions were getting annoying — especially when he was trying to understand what Ginny really wanted. The message was from Hermione. "A swim in Silk Lake at sunset — the ancient Britons swore by —"
Harry saw that Hermione had continued on to another scroll. "Its aphrodisiac properties." He looked at Ginny who was now blushing guiltily. "What's going on?"
"Er —" She raised her chin. "Maybe we should miss the six o'clock train."
"But what about your match?"
"There's a train tomorrow afternoon from Fairbeck to Merlin's Gate at Hadrian's Wall. I checked."
"From Marlin's Gate I can Apparate to my match."
"Why didn't tell me you wanted to do this? We could have planned —"
"Oh for —" Harry looked at the latest scroll. It was from Hermione again. "The Cupid Chariot ride around Fairweather Lake sounds romantic." He looked at accusingly at Ginny. "That's the second suggestion from Hermione. Why didn't you say something to me?"
Ginny grabbed her Tweeter Twig out of his hand. "Because I thought it could come up naturally — after you saw how nice everything was."
"I didn't want to turn you off of the idea of staying at a romantic hotel or bed and breakfast because of the tourist hype."
He snorted. "Hype is right. All those things sound . . ." He trailed off at Ginny's set expression. She obviously wanted to stay. That hotel would probably be horrible — all lace doilies and cherubs and uncomfortable, spindly furniture — but he could live with it for a night. "No, wait. Let's stay."
Her eyes widened. "Really?" And then her smile grew. "You really want to?"
"Yeah." Harry smiled back, suddenly feeling enthusiastic about the thought of the whole night with Ginny as well as most of the next day. This would buy them a lot more time. "And I can go with you to Merlin's Gate, too. I'll take the Knight Bus to London or I'll Apparate back in stages."
"Well, I'm glad that's settled," Ginny said with pretend primness, folding her hands in her lap. "Since I don't have a long train ride tonight, I can go to bed early."
Harry laughed. "I'll tuck you in."
"That you will," Ginny promised.
If the landlady of The Lovelace Inn thought it odd that they were checking in with nothing but a rucksack, a large wedding portrait and a balloon, she didn't show it. She handed Harry the key to their room without the flicker of a false eyelash — but then, Ginny didn't think she could flicker an eyelash, since her face seemed to be permanently frozen into a neutral smile. "She's done one of those Freeze-Time Charms," she whispered to Harry as they walked up the wide staircase to their floor.
"Ghastly," Harry murmured. And he meant it. The Lovelace Inn was ghastly — pink cabbage roses on the carpet — floral wallpaper — lace everywhere — and that was just the corridor. He couldn't imagine what new horrors awaited them in their room.
"Oh, my goodness," Ginny gasped when he unlocked the door. "No wonder she called it the Fairy Room."
The room resembled a deep forest glade with a four-poster bed in the middle of it. Fake moonlight shone from the ceiling and tiny pin-pricks of light danced through the leaves of the trees. The bed was draped in some sort of gauzy white material that was held up by little figures with wings.
"Those are real fairies," Harry protested. "All around the bed."
"I know. Aren't they sweet?" Ginny fingered the lace-covered counterpane and looked around happily.
Harry set the portrait on the floor. "Look, the fairies have to go. Three's a crowd and — " He started to count. "Sixteen is a mob."
"Oh, Harry." Ginny giggled. "What —"
Ginny took the Twig out of her pocket. It had been going off every five minutes since she had announced that they were indeed going to spend the night in Fairbeck. "Hermione says the guidebook gave The Lovelace Inn three out of five stars."
Ginny read the next message. "It got points off for surly cherubs serving breakfast."
"Okay, that's it," Harry said firmly. "The Twig has to go."
Ginny sighed. "I don't know what to do with it."
"I do," Harry said.
The Cupid Chariot ride, under normal circumstances, wouldn't have been Harry's thing. The gilt was peeling off of the basket of the chariot and the poor fat things couldn't fly very fast pulling two people. A toy broom could probably outrace them. But the cherubs knew all the beauty spots of the district and they never once turned around to look at their passengers. At least, Harry didn't think they turned around — he was too busy kissing Ginny to notice. It was peaceful up here, high above the dark blue Fairweather Lake and the roaring Frothy Falls. On a moonlit night when the air was balmy, every thing shimmered silver — even Ramesh's balloon, floating far in the distance, with Ginny's Tweeter Twig attached.
"Do you think my Tweeter Twig will make it to Merlin's Gate by tomorrow?" Ginny asked as she brushed her hair. She was perched opposite of him, at the end of the four-poster, wearing a white toweling robe provided by the inn.
"Should be fine," Harry assured her. "And if it isn't there, I'll buy you another one that has a Silencing Charm built in." He sat up higher against the bank of fluffy white pillows and aimed his wand at the fairy in the right-hand corner. "Got it." With a great sense of satisfaction, he dropped the Petrified fairy in the drawer of the dresser along with the others. "Two more to go."
"I don't know why they couldn't have stayed," Ginny said. "The hangings look pretty on the bed. And it's not like fairies can talk."
"No, but they have tiny little eyes." He concentrated. Maybe he could get the last two at once . . .
"Got 'em both!" He grinned at Ginny.
She laughed. "Now can we have our romantic evening?" She crawled up the bed to him, and then knelt in the center, just out of his reach. "No tiny little eyes but yours to see . . ." She began to toy with the belt on her robe. That slight movement caused one side of the too-large robe to slip off of her shoulder.
Heat coursed through his body as the other side of her robe dropped precariously. Now this was romantic.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he realized something else in the room was moving.
Molly and Arthur's wedding portrait.
In its rare and valuable mermaid-harvested pearl frame, a young, slim Molly Weasley stood behind a seated, full-head-of-hair Arthur Weasley with her hands on his shoulders ready to hug him around the neck. Every time the she hugged him, his glasses were knocked askew and he smiled. His blush was almost as red as his curly hair. It was, as Ginny said, 'an adorable painting.'
Unfortunately, the two subjects of the adorable painting were staring at him — the wizard who was about to ravish their daughter.
A wave of magic came from Ginny. The portrait spun to face the wall. "There," she said with satisfaction. "I think that's the last of our crowd."
She laughed and untied the belt. "We should get away more often."
He looked at his beautiful witch with her shining eyes, kneeling over him with her bright hair barely covering her breasts. She could have all the lace she wanted. "Anywhere you want to go," he promised.
"Brilliant." She kissed the corner of his mouth.
"As long as it's just the two of us."
"Of course." She kissed his nose.
"No magical communications devices."
"None." She kissed the other corner of his mouth.
"And we go to bed early."
She smiled against his lips. "You were supposed to tuck me in."
"So I was." He rolled her on to her back and then he laughed. "Lucky you were here. I almost missed the memo — er — Tweeter."
She swatted at his back even as she shivered from his kisses on her neck. "Just for that I'm going to start sending you sexy messages. You'll be hearing Tweets all day long."
It sounded maddening — and rather wonderful. "Why don't you start with the sexy messages now?"
"No Tweeter Twig." She ran her hands over his bum. "But I do have other ways to communicate."
"All right then."
This story was written for glockgal as part of the Takingitinturns exchange on Live Journal.
The title of this story is Far From the Maddening Crowd. It's a riff on the title of Thomas Hardy's novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. I had to look up 'madding' to see how it was different from 'maddening.' (And to make sure I had the right word.) 'Madding' means 'to act in a frantic manner.' The connotation in Hardy's title is the crowded world of frenzied activity and strife. I thought 'maddening' as 'tending to irritate' was more appropriate for this story.
Thanks to Sherylyn for the beta and to Bel for the extensive Brit-picking!