Disclaimer: These are JKR's characters – who really needed a day out in Diagon Alley. Author's note: Thank you all for the kind reviews and the warm welcome to Phoenix Song.
I don't think you should feel bad about the badge. You know how Ron always says Prefect's duties are a pain. Most people don't get the badge, right? I didn't. Besides, you'll be glad for the extra time when revising for O.W.L.s.
I got my list yesterday, too. Professor Lupin says he will take me to Diagon Alley sometime this week to buy my things.
Looks like another day on the roof. Yesterday, while Kenny was reliving some Manchester United match, he knocked his lunch on to the pavement below. Luckily no one was walking by. It's amazing how when an apple explodes it looks just like a flower.
Aunt Petunia was telling her friend, Yvonne, that a posh designer firm papered the living room. Consider yourself complimented. That's as close as you'll get from her.
Time for work. I'll write again tomorrow.
Harry read through the letter again. Ginny hadn't said that she was upset by not getting the badge, it just seemed that way from reading between the lines.
"Should I send along the present?" Harry asked Hedwig.
She hooted in reply.
"Right, I think I should give it to her in person."
Harry rolled up the letter and gave it to Hedwig, who disappeared into the early morning fog. It was a routine they had followed for the last two weeks – ever since Ginny had visited on his birthday. Every morning before his job tiling roofs, he wrote to her, and every evening there was a reply.
He didn't have much to write about, yet he seemed to be able to fill the parchment. He told her about the illegal job Uncle Vernon found for him: the physical challenges, the monotony, what it felt like to be suspended somewhere between land and sky with the sun burning on his back. Ginny's letters weren't as long, or as personal, but there was something about writing in the cool quiet of the dawn, which made him share the silliest of thoughts: like how he imagined the tiles were the scales of a great terra-cotta dragon, which would wake up once they were all in place.
She never commented on that thought, but one evening Hedwig brought him a drawing of what looked to be rows of houses. On closer inspection he saw that the rooflines looked just like the points of a Norwegian Ridgeback; then he saw that the street in front was the tail curled around it. There were miniscule tiles drawn over half of the roofs. Underneath it said, "Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon" – the Hogwarts motto.
He had forgotten that Ginny could draw. He should have remembered that from the get-well card she had given him his third year.
I'm remembering now, he thought as joined the rest of the crew for the morning break. He noticed that the fog had burned off, and it was going to be a fine day. He wondered what Ginny was doing…
His thoughts were interrupted by Kenny, the most annoying member of the work crew, who could make reciting the phone book sound perverted. As always, Kenny was reading The Sun, a tabloid featuring a comprehensive sports section, and Kenny's favorite, the topless, page three girls. Today, like every day, Kenny asked Harry, "What do you think of her?"
And today, like every day, Harry answered, "Lovely, just the girl for you, Kenny." All the men laughed, thinking Harry was embarrassed by the nudity.
He wasn't embarrassed, exactly. Looking at page three girls was like looking at Veelas. The first time Kenny had shown Harry one of the page three girls, his body had an immediate and unequivocal response. This was nothing new, of course; it was just that he had been inside his own misery for so long, that while his mind had forgotten about such things, his body had not.
His success with Occlumency allowed him to put up steel barriers against the "irksome one", as he now thought of Voldemort. Yet as those walls went up, others fell down. While he was grateful for having that ugly voice out of his dreams, he didn't quite know what to do with the new images filling his head.
That day, that amazing day with Ginny, spent wallpapering of all things, lifted him out of his despair and made him see her in a whole new light. While he couldn't think of her as just a friend, to consider her his girlfriend was a stretch. He had never kissed her. One hug and a promise to go to Hogsmeade did not make her his girlfriend. He started second-guessing his invitation to Hogsmeade; he had sprung it on her so quickly, maybe she really didn't want to go? She didn't mention it in her letters. Sometimes there seemed to be a lot she didn't mention in her letters.
To make it worse was Kenny's constant patter about women. Harry didn't think of himself as a letch like that, but he did think about… things. What he felt for Ginny was a mix of admiration and friendship and now this physical attraction. Didn't he remember her body next to his on the ladder, or how silky her hair felt? Did that make him as creepy as all of these blokes on the roof who noticed every young woman walking by, but never noticed the members of the Order who came every day to keep an eye on Harry?
Kenny broke through his thoughts.
"Hey, Potter! Some bloke is calling you."
Harry looked down to see Professor Lupin. He scooted down the ladder.
"Hello, Harry. Ready to go shopping?"
Harry gaped at him. "Today? Now? I don't have my list."
"I have it. Today is as good a day as any. Both Tonks and I are free to take you. So make your excuses."
"Tonks is coming too?" Harry asked with raised eyebrows.
To his surprise, Lupin colored a bit before he answered. "Strength in numbers."
"Oh." Then he called up, "I'm going. Court date. See you tomorrow."
"What was that about?"
"They think I go to St. Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. Great cover story of Uncle Vernon's, don't you think?"
"Kind of like strength in numbers," Lupin replied.
Startled, Harry looked at his former professor.
Lupin smiled blandly back.
Harry was glad to see Tonks. He was tired of being around men all the time.
"Wotcher, Harry! What's in the bag?"
"My lunch, but I won't have to eat it now, thank goodness."
"What is it?"
Harry wondered why Tonks was so interested in his lunch. "Um, marked down sandwiches from Marks & Spence." And Ginny's present! He was glad he remembered it before he chucked it in the bin.
"Oh, I love take-away sandwiches! Crisps too?"
"Help yourself," Harry said, surreptitiously putting the small bag which contained Ginny's gift in his pocket.
"We have time to eat before the train," Tonks said happily.
"She was up all night doing some top secret Auror mission," Lupin explained at Harry's puzzled look.
"Right now I'm starving. No time for breakfast," Tonks said between gulps.
"Shouldn't you have some time off, instead of minding me?" Harry asked.
"This is my time off. I'm just keeping Remus company. Oh – and I wanted to see you too, Harry," she added cheekily.
I wonder what's going on with these two, Harry thought as he watched them interact on the train. They didn't touch each other, they included Harry in the conversation, they didn't act like the dopey couples at Madam Puddifoot's. Yet, he could plainly see that they liked each other.
He filed that away to think about later, because once they arrived at Diagon Alley, Tonks took over with great enthusiasm.
"It's about time you had someone younger to help you shop, Harry. Molly Weasley is a wonderful person, but she doesn't know much about style. Like buying you green things to match your eyes –"
"'Oh, we wouldn't want to match, would we?" Lupin scoffed, looking pointedly at her pink hair, purple t-shirt, camouflage pants, and five earrings in one ear.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "This is a perfect reflection of my personality."
"Um…" Harry interjected into this little by-play. "Maybe something, um… plain for me."
"OK," Tonks sighed. "It will be the same old boring thing. Honestly, don't either of you have any fashion daring?"
Harry caught Lupin's eye. Together they assured her that no, they did not have any daring whatsoever.
Once the style question was out of the way, the rest of his shopping went quickly, partly because there seemed to be fewer people in Diagon Alley than from what Harry remembered in the past.
"Everyone is scared these days," Lupin explained, "even more so because of the Ministry cover-up of Voldemort's return. The Daily Prophet is adding to the paranoia, of course. A lot of people don't want to congregate in a public place."
It looked as if the shops were trying to cash in on the fear factor. Flourish and Blotts' window display was devoted to defensive manuals, home protection guides, and first aid potion books. The Quidditch supply store was boasting of a broom with full shield charms, "in case of an airborne attack."
Harry felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. Before he could really feel anxious, he thought back to the drawing he had pinned to his wall. This was a dragon he didn't need to tickle. He would fight it when he had to, not before.
Thinking Lupin and Tonks might like to be on their own, Harry declined their invitation for a late lunch. They both hesitated to let him go alone.
"I'll look in on Fred and George. I'll be perfectly safe." He handed Tonks all of his parcels. "It's broad daylight."
"How much trouble can he get in, Remus?" Tonks asked in a reasonable voice.
"We'll give him two hours and see," Lupin answered, smiling at Harry.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was a tiny shop with a blue door flanked by two paned windows. The yellow bench out front and the red flowers in the window boxes were no indication that this was the place to buy all the raw materials needed for mayhem.
A bell jingled when Harry entered the shop. He had the general impression of high shelves packed with brightly colored boxes before he spotted Fred standing behind the counter, adding up numbers on a roll of parchment.
Fred looked up and exclaimed, "Merlin's moustache! George! It's Harry!"
Then he moved from behind the counter and gave a high-pitched squeal. "And you should see him! He looks so…"
George poked his head around a display of fireworks. "Dishy?"
"Yes, that's it," Fred continued, grabbing Harry's arm and pretending to swoon.
"Look at the muscles!"
"You'll be beating the ladies off with a broom," George said.
"Are you finished?" Harry sighed.
"Now, son," Fred began in a senatorial voice. "I think we need to have The Talk."
"Yes," George continued, "when a boy becomes a certain age, he begins to have, er…" He looked to Fred for help.
"Yes, that's it. Er, feelings about the fairer sex."
"I've heard enough," Harry groaned.
"Now these feelings aren't bad, per se," George said in a reassuring manner as he clapped him on the shoulder, "but they are powerful."
"So you must master them."
"Or you can just master –"
"– don't go there, George."
"You know," Fred said changing tactics at Harry's tone, "there are unscrupulous males who try to lure women with their wallpapering prowess."
"But we think that is going too far on a first date."
"It's indoors, for one thing."
"And it involves glue," Fred pointed out.
"Oh, glue." George shook his head.
"We think an outdoor activity is more wholesome."
"Yes, wholesome – that's a good word. Maybe ditch-digging."
"Whilst singing hymns."
"Most girls like that."
"Would you two stop –"
"And Harry, if we ever hear that you and Ginny watched paint dry together we would be very, very disappointed in you."
"Some people say on the third date that it's OK, but we –"
"Well, we're a touch old-fashioned."
They both nodded solemnly.
"You're touched all right!" Harry was glad to get a word in edgewise.
George finally relented. "Oh, handsome Harry, no wonder Ginny risked a full prison sentence at the Burrow."
"What do you mean?" Harry said sharply. "Did she get in trouble?"
"She didn't tell you?"
"She just said that she got a big lecture when she got home," Harry said, starting to get worried.
"And she hasn't seen the light of day since. Mum went completely overboard," George said, shaking his head.
"Then there was the badge," added Fred.
"I knew about that."
"We're all next-door neighbors now."
"Dad finally talked Mum into letting Ginny come shopping today."
"Really? She's here?" Harry couldn't believe his luck.
"Should be back anytime. We're her minders today."
"Doing a bang up job," Harry said sarcastically.
"She tired of us," George defended. "Who's minding you by the way?"
"Lupin and Tonks. Did Ron come shopping too?"
"Ron is at Hermione's with Mum. They're setting wards at the Grangers. That's Mum's specialty, you know. Fits doesn't it? Making your home secure – keeping the bad people out, and the good ones in."
"We should have given Ron The Talk," Fred said thoughtfully.
"But he's not wallpapering."
Before George could get back on that topic, Harry asked, "How's business?"
"Booming – at least the owl-post part is."
"We might as well have set up shop in the garden at the Burrow for all the foot traffic we're getting. Everyone's afraid to go out," Fred added.
"Ginny," George exclaimed. "Your cotton wool's come off!"
Harry whirled around.
Ginny had an armload of parcels just like the last time he had seen her. "Harry," she said blankly, "you're here."
"So are you," he replied, wondering how stupid the smile on his face looked.
Fred wiped an imaginary tear. "I love it when people state the obvious."
Ginny slammed her packages on the counter and turned with her wand out. "I've had it with you two, and I'm allowed to do underage magic in Diagon Alley."
George looked nervous. "Ginny, it's all in fun. The world loves a lover."
"That's it!" She said something under her breath and brandished her wand sharply. Dozens of black wings slipped out from Fred and George's noses and attached themselves to their faces.
"Oh, brilliant," Harry gasped, once he could control his laughter. Over the surprisingly loud noise of wings flapping he asked, "Come to lunch with me?"
"Sure." She smiled at him and then turned to glare at her brothers. "We'll put the 'be back in fifteen minutes sign' on the door, until this lot can get their faces sorted out."
"I had heard about that curse," Harry said as they walked to the café, "it lives up to its reputation. You'll have to teach it to me."
"What if I want to use it on you?"
He laughed. "I reckon I'll start researching the counter-curse, just to be on the safe side. Until then it's 'yes, dear' and 'no, dear'!"
"Idiot," she said nudging him with her shoulder as they walked along the sunny street.
Since it was mid-afternoon, they were the only patrons in the café. A broom and its dustpan were briskly sweeping around the tables. Their waitress promptly took their orders and disappeared into the kitchen.
They were as alone as two people could be in Diagon Alley.
Looking at Ginny across the table, Harry decided that his memory had not served him well. Somehow he had forgotten how vital she was: from the quicksilver way she moved to the liveliness of her voice. There was something about her face that was just so arresting… Before she caught him staring, Harry decided to give her his gift. "For you." He handed her the small bag.
"For me?" Her eyes grew round. She drew a green fabric circle from the bag. "What is it?"
"I don't know what they're called, but they're thingys to hold back your hair. You know, like if wallpaper attacks you."
Ginny laughed. "Oh, I get it!" She drew her long mane of hair through the circle and then twisted it through again.
Harry was fascinated just watching her do this. It seemed so intimate, like watching someone get dressed.
"It works," Ginny said. "How does it look?"
She turned her head. It was so absurdly ruffly and feminine, that Harry felt his stomach flip over a bit.
"Very pretty," he said softly.
"Where did you get this?" she asked quickly. "You didn't go to the girly shops did you?"
"No! They had a whole stack of them where I bought my sandwiches for lunch."
"That explains it. I knew you were brave, but…"
"Right." She giggled. "Thanks, I'll wear it the next time we wallpaper together."
"If your mum ever lets you out of the house again."
"Don't remind me." She grimaced.
"What happened? I want to know the whole story."
Seeing her reluctance, Harry moved the knife and fork away from her.
"No wallpaper here, but that fork looks sharp."
"Oh no, those feelings again." She laughed "Are you sure all hazardous items are out of reach?"
"Unless you're going to drown in that glass of water."
Ginny slid it to his side of the polished wooden table and started her story.
"When I left Ron at the shop that day, I still had all of your cards and gifts in my hands. I stepped into the fire thinking I was going to say 'The Burrow,' but then I thought about how the weather had turned foul, and how the owls wouldn't get through to you, so I said, 'Arabella Figg' instead."
Harry nodded, watching her fold and unfold the corners of the paper placemat.
"Mrs. Figg didn't seem to think it was a big deal. She loaned me her coat and told me how to get to your house. I didn't think anything of it."
"When I got home, Mum was fit to be tied. She said that I was irresponsible, that Death Eaters could have gotten me, that I shouldn't be at a boy's house without a chaperone. And then it all kind of blended together after that." She stopped.
"What did you say?" Harry asked, inwardly wincing at the sting of those words.
"I didn't know what to say. I mean Fred and George always say it's easier to apologize than to ask permission. And maybe that was at the back of my mind. But I wasn't being sly…"
She sighed and gave the placemat one last crease. "What do you think? What should I have done?" She put her elbow on the table and rested her chin on her hand.
This was a new concept to Harry. Being raised with the arbitrary punishments of the Dursleys, it was hard for him to know just what parents with good intentions and their children did when mistakes were made.
"I don't know," he began slowly, trying to remember what he knew about the Weasley family. "It seems Fred and George have gotten into worse trouble without being grounded for two weeks. I mean, they came and got me in your dad's flying car. And when Ron and I flew to Hogwarts in it, your dad got a fine."
"I know." She sat up straight again, and went back to folding the placemat. "I think it's because of this war, and because I'm the only girl, and I'm the last one."
Harry looked out at the almost-deserted street, a tangible reminder of how fear was overtaking the magical world. He thought back to Mrs. Weasley's Boggart, remembering the horror of seeing one Weasley after another dead. "Your mum's really scared – for all of you. And when she doesn't have control over what you're doing, it makes it all the worse."
"Yeah," Ginny said gloomily, "and she doesn't trust me."
"I don't think she trusts life right now. There are so many things that can go wrong in an instant. I mean, look at your dad getting bitten. Everyone is as risk these days; it's not just you, Ginny."
"I know; you're right. I reckon it's been the two weeks in the house. I could only see my side of it. And Mum, well, you know I love her. It's just that she's so nervous these days." Ginny smiled slightly. "Like she's tip-toeing around sleeping dragons."
He laughed. "I guess you woke one up."
"Then she turned into one," she said ruefully. "Fire-breathing is an accurate description of Mum at that moment." By now, Ginny's placemat was folded so tightly it was the size of her fist.
"That's not an origami dragon, is it by any chance?"
"What?" Ginny looked at the placemat in her hand as if seeing it for the first time. She laughed. "That is a big ball of paper. See how I can't talk about myself? I'm a menace."
Then she lobbed it across the table at him.
Startled, Harry grabbed it with the tips of his fingers.
"You need some practice, Mr. Seeker. Being able to lay all those pretty tiles isn't going to help in a Quidditch match."
"I don't see how being able to wallpaper a room is going to help the Gryffindor Chasers," he shot back, firing the paper ball a little to her left.
"No, but practicing with Ron everyday has helped," she said coolly, as she caught it with her left hand, transferred it to her right, and then threw it – all in a matter of seconds.
Harry missed it by a hair's breadth. It landed on the other end of the room. He was about to retrieve it, when the broom and dustpan emerged from the counter and whisked it away with an audible tsk, tsk.
She dissolved in a fit of giggles. "I reckon we shouldn't play paper Quidditch in a café."
"Do you think that broom's called Mrs. Norris?"
"I hope not. I've been in enough trouble these past two weeks."
Their waitress appeared looking askance as to why Ginny's placemat was missing and why her entire place setting was on Harry's side of the table. She dumped a heaping platter of fish and chips in front of Harry and a bowl of stew in front of Ginny.
After laughing at their waitress's obvious disapproval, Harry brought up Lupin and Tonks. "What's going on with them? Tonks was up all night, but she said she wanted to 'keep Remus company'."
"They come for supper sometimes. I know what you mean, they've always been friends – you know, they always got along and had something to say to each other. But this summer it seems different," Ginny said thoughtfully. "I think they became closer after Sirius died. I mean, Lupin lost one of his dearest friends and Tonks her favorite relative."
He had never considered how Sirius's death had affected anyone else. Just another reminder of what a self-centered prat I've been, he thought with regret.
"Harry?" Ginny was looking at him with concern. "You're not eating."
"I was just thinking," he said, frowning. "I was just thinking about Lupin and Tonks and Sirius. I kind of missed that connection. I've only been thinking of myself."
"Nobody blames you for that," she said softly. "It's still new – for all of us. I caught Mum crying the other day."
"Yeah, I think that's when I realized I can't keep doing stuff to worry her. You're not the only one who has self-centered moments."
"This is a problem. If we're both full of ourselves which one of us is going to get center stage then?"
"I'm surprised you have to ask that," Ginny reproached with a smile.
"Yes, dear," he laughed, answering on cue.
"How are those chips?" she asked, helping herself from his plate.
"They're fine, although I don't seem to have as many as before. Are you taking a few to feed the dragon on my jumper?"
"My jumper, now. And your dragon only sleeps, she never eats."
"Wasn't she a mama dragon?"
"I always wondered, how did you ever figure out to fly for that task?"
Harry was surprised that Ginny didn't know, but then he remembered the fight he had with Ron at the time. "Oh, that was the imposter Moody. He told me to 'go with my strengths.' The only strength I could think of was flying. So that's how it came about."
"Yeah, for a psychopathic murderer, he had a lot of good things to say."
After their waitress cleared their plates, and brought Harry a treacle tart, Ginny asked, "So, who's this Kenny person you're always going on about?"
"Oh, he's not a problem – just annoying. I mean, if he could just get his mind out of the gutter," Harry said between mouthfuls.
"He's the type who could rival Mr. Ollivander's measuring tape for assessing all the women walking by."
Harry stopped eating. "You're right – but how do you know what blokes like that talk about when women aren't around?"
"Six brothers – really the male of the species isn't that hard to figure out."
"Good, maybe you can explain him to me," he said, only half in jest.
"What do you want to know?"
"Why is it, when it comes to girls – you know relationships and stuff – that it is either something smarmy for the Kenny's of the world, or it's something ridiculous like for Fred and George."
Ginny looked up at him. "I don't know – for the Kenny's of the world, what's a good way to put it? One up from the animal kingdom?" She grinned. "Fred and George – well that's their special gift; they make everything seem ridiculous."
"Tell me about it."
"I think maybe, all that talk is just a way to… I don't know… minimize things. No one wants to talk about how they really feel about another person. Take Bill for instance. I think he really likes Fleur – it's nothing he says to us which makes me think that. Everyone senses it: Fred and George give him grief about English lessons. Well, not anymore." She started to giggle. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you this story."
"Oh, go ahead. What did Bill do to them?"
"You should have seen it. He said, 'English lessons? You two will need English lessons after this.' Then he hexed them to speak some other language none of us had ever heard."
"What language was it?"
"Some ancient Egyptian dialect he had to learn for curse-breaking. The funny part was when they tried to speak and Bill 'translated.' He told us they were saying things like: 'we are the ugliest of the Weasley brothers. Our jokes are juvenile and a sign of immaturity.'"
She laughed along with Harry before continuing. "'We like to wear dresses in our leisure time. And we both have unusually small – '" She blushed. "You know what I mean."
Harry was laughing so loudly that their waitress poked her head out of the kitchen to give them a disgusted stare, which made them both laugh all the more.
Finally getting her breath back, Ginny said, "So they shut up after that. Ron kept trying to get them to talk to see what Bill would say next."
"Just another fun evening at the Burrow," Harry said, wishing he could have been there.
Ginny continued about Bill. "Maybe one day he'll come home and say they're getting married – or that they broke up. And we'll never know what happened because when you have that kind of relationship; it's something that just belongs to the two of you."
Harry thought back to Hermione and Ron discussing his kiss with Cho and while that had been embarrassing, it would have been worse to talk to Cho about it. That certainly wasn't a moment that just belonged to the two of them. Then he remembered Ron's wish for a book…
"So who is going to write the book Ron wants – you, or Hermione?"
She laughed. "Share the secrets of the ages with the likes of you and Ron? I don't think so. Although I could tell Mum that writing a book is my career choice."
"What, like, Hogwarts a History, the Revised Edition?"
"I think Hermione has the monopoly on that one – besides the only thing I know from that book is that you can't –"
"No wait – I know this one too –"
They said in unison: "– Apparate or Disapparate from the Hogwarts grounds!"
"Why do you need to tell your mum a career choice?" he asked.
"Oh, that all came up when I didn't get the badge." Ginny sighed and stared at a mop languidly making wet circles on the floor. "Mum seems to think that I don't care about what career I want to pursue after Hogwarts. She thinks I don't have any ambition."
"Well, do you have any ambition?"
"Yes, of course I do; I try my best at school. I just don't know what I want to do. I think I'm the only Weasley who ever had that problem. I mean, Bill was Head Boy and liked adventure, so off he went to Egypt. Charlie always had his dragons. Fred and George planned that joke shop for years. Percy always wanted to work for the Ministry. Now Ron wants to be an Auror.
"But he's still Ron," Harry hastened to say, not wanting to imagine Ron as some kind of driven career man.
"That's true, he's still Ron."
"Don't you think some of this – you know the Prefect badge and the house cup and the Quidditch matches – is, well, kid stuff? I mean I still care about Quidditch and all that – but I don't know, it just doesn't seem as important as it used to."
"Harry, of course it doesn't to you. And it's not as important as what you have to face. But I don't have that excuse. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life, and according to Mum, I'm mucking it up quite nicely."
She started fiddling with her spoon. "And as much as I disagree with her about how important the Prefect's badge is, there is a part of me that wants to please her. And I haven't been able to do that for a long time."
Harry thought back to how he felt when he didn't get the Prefect's badge, and how relieved he was when Sirius didn't seem to care one way or another if he was a prefect.
Then he remembered how hurt he felt when Sirius was disappointed in him for not being more like his father.
"Maybe with your mum, it is just that she dwells on the things that bother her, and forgets to tell you the good stuff. Take Bill for instance, she doesn't like his long hair or his earring – she mentions it often enough. But he's decided to keep them and your mum still seems to love him."
"Yeah, you're right. Bill takes enough guff for that earring – I think there is some story behind it that he's not telling. And it must have to do with dragons."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because Bill always talks about dragons like they're a challenge. I suppose they would be to him because they guard treasure, and it's his job to bring back the gold. He's certainly not going to try to tame them like Charlie – I mean, look at the boots he wears." Then she added, rather shyly, "He liked the drawing I made for you."
"He saw it?"
"When he came to see me after I got in trouble. He saw it on my desk, read the Hogwarts motto out loud and then he said 'good advice – most of the time. But if you want the treasure, you have to wake them up.' Then he kissed me on top of the head, and said, 'two weeks is a small price to pay.'"
Before Harry could absorb any of this, their waitress returned. "Anything else?" she asked in a bored voice.
He looked at his watch, unable to believe they had been there for an hour and a half; it seemed like they had just sat down. He only had a half an hour left before he had to meet Lupin and Tonks.
They decided to sit on the bench outside of the joke shop. Fred and George left them alone after Ginny brandished her wand at them through the window.
"I don't think they're going to let you be next-door neighbors with them."
"Oh, no – they can dish it out, but they can take it too," Ginny assured him. "It's inspiration for them, really. They're trying to turn Bill's hex into a prank they can market. They want to call it 'the tongue twister'."
Harry was conscious of the day dwindling down from the long shadows cast by the shops across the street. The sparse crowds had thinned to just a few shoppers wandering about. His spirits sank, realizing that he wouldn't see her for another two weeks. Of course they would write… he tried to comfort himself. Then he remembered that niggling worry about Ginny's letters. He needed to know, even if it was the wrong time to bring it up, even if she grew angry.
"Ginny, do you mind writing to me?"
She looked at him in surprise. "No."
Harry felt uncomfortable confronting her, yet he didn't want to let it go. "I don't know, it just seems… seems as if you don't write very much sometimes. I mean, you didn't tell me you got in big trouble. And I was wondering… well, I was wondering why you didn't tell me something important like that?"
Ginny shifted her weight and fidgeted with her fingers; finally she spoke in a low voice, "I don't like to write about… me, not to anyone, not even in a… diary."
Then he understood – with horrible clarity.
He could hear Tom Riddle's voice, mocking her, scorning everything she was:
Little Ginny has been writing in it for months and months, telling me all of her pitiful worries and woes – how her brothers tease her, how she had to come to school with secondhand robes and books, how she didn't think the famous, good, great Harry Potter would ever like he …
Ginny was hanging her head, looking down at her lap. From this angle he could see the lovely shape of her head, and the green frill holding her hair away from the nape of her neck. That little bit of white skin looked so vulnerable…
Red-hot anger surged through his entire body. It took every ounce of his will-power, every shred of control he had learned from Occlumency, to channel his rage, to only say, "I'm glad I stabbed that bastard through the heart."
Breathing deeply, Harry tried to calm himself.
"He told you what I wrote, didn't he?" she asked in a trembling voice.
Harry nodded, remembering: Dear Tom, I think I'm losing my memory. There are rooster feathers all over my robes and I don't know how they got there. I think I'm going mad…
Sickened, he made his mind up then and there to never repeat those words to another living soul.
Ginny hugged herself and took a deep breath as if gathering her strength. She finally asked in a choked voice, "What did he tell you?"
It all came down to this. How could he tell her what he knew about her, but didn't believe was really her? How could he tell her that he never even thought of her in connection to that kind of evil? He could still hear that sneering voice: Of course she didn't know what she was doing at first. It was very amusing. I wish you could have seen her new diary entries… far more interesting they became...
He looked her in the eye and said firmly, "He told me that the sky was green and the grass was blue."
Her eyes searched his face. She waited for him to continue, but he let those words hang there, hoping she would understand what he was trying to say.
"You didn't believe him… about me," she breathed.
"No, not for one minute."
"He used… my words against me. That's why…." She looked as if she was trying not to cry.
The voice mocked: I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley's like this is because she opened her heart to an invisible stranger.
His anger surfaced yet again, but this time with helplessness. How could Ginny ever open her heart to him, ever open her heart to anyone – after she had been used so badly?
"Ginny – I would never do that – use anything against you."
She looked at him. "You never did use it against me, did you? Sometimes I thought… when you looked at me… how can you not remember how stupid I was? How can you not be utterly disgusted with me?"
Harry was shocked. "No! I never thought of you like that!"
"I realize that now," she said softly.
"Ginny –" He wanted her to trust him, but how? Then he remembered Mr. Weasley's admonishment: Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain…
"Your secrets are safe with me. Really." He smiled slightly. "You can see where I keep my brain," he said pointing to his forehead, "you can trust me."
She was utterly still for a moment, not even seeming to breathe. Her eyes clung to his, assessing his words. He looked at her intently, willing her to believe him...
Then she looked down, took his hand and drew it next to her face, caressing it with her cheek. He couldn't see her expression, but he could hear her whisper, "You are so incredibly sweet. You've always been so sweet to me… from the beginning."
Harry wasn't sure what to do next, and he really wasn't sure what she meant by 'sweet.' It seemed that Ginny believed him – that he was trustworthy. "It's not terribly difficult to be nice to you."
Ginny gave him a watery smile, still holding his hand.
He was glad she was holding his hand. "I'm sorry I brought all of this up. I had no idea. Do you feel better – about all this?"
"Yes, I do."
He didn't say anything because he was still thinking of her describing him as sweet. No one had ever called him that in his life. It sounded like something you would call a friend or… a brother. Even though Tonks and Lupin were due any minute, Harry knew he had to ask her. He didn't know if she would be able to write to him, and he didn't want to have this haunt him for next two weeks.
"Ginny, what did you mean by sweet? I mean, that doesn't sound very… " He started again. "I mean, treacle tart is sweet, Ron's owl is sweet, neutered puppies are sweet…"
She looked at him in astonishment. "Neutered puppies?!" Then she started to giggle.
Harry felt a grin tug at his lips. He was being an idiot – again. "Well, the puppy is sad as well as sweet."
"I reckon so," she tittered. "Look, if Tonks wasn't walking up the street this very moment, I might be able to make you understand…" Then she stood up, put her hands on his shoulders and swiftly kissed him on the cheek. "You've been a bit oblivious from the beginning as well, haven't you?" she asked, smiling.
Not waiting for an answer, she said hello to Tonks.
"Ready to go, Harry?"
"Um, yeah," he said, still bemused by Ginny's kiss. He turned to her and asked, "I'll see you in two weeks?"
"Right," Ginny answered, her eyes sparkling. She looked so pretty standing there in the last patch of sunlight. "We can sit together on the train. I'll bring my dictionary."
"So you can look up the meaning of sweet."
As they walked to the Leaky Cauldron to meet with Professor Lupin, Tonks looked sideways at him and said, "We had no problem keeping an eye on you this afternoon. Every time we walked by the café you and Ginny were still there. What's going on with you two?"
Harry thought of all the things they had shared in the past two weeks. He thought about how she decided to seek him out on his birthday… how she laughed at the twins… how she threw that wad of paper around in the café… how soft her cheek was against his hand.
While he didn't mind Tonks asking, he found that he didn't know any other way to answer except to say, "A lot. A lot is going on with me and Ginny."
When he ran through his Occlumency exercises before going to bed, he thought about what an unexpected and topsy-turvy day it had been. He wished he could have spent more time with Ginny. They had laughed so much at lunch. He smiled, remembering.
Someday, maybe, she would trust him enough to talk about herself without being nervous. He hoped by their conversation today, that they had driven another stake into the memory of Tom Riddle. That was a dragon he was willing to fight anytime.
He looked at the drawing on the wall. Ginny understood him so well – and she could convey that even without writing. Maybe she did like him. He knew now that what he felt for her wasn't smarmy – but it certainly wasn't the sweetness of a brother.
Bill was right, Harry thought, sometimes you have to fight foryour treasure. That was a dragon he wanted to wake up and soon. But what strengths did he have? Flying? Dueling? Animal magnetism, as Ron would say?
He smiled to himself; this was a problem he was happy to have. His last conscious thought was of where he could find mistletoe in August – Nargles be damned.
Long after midnight, while Harry was fast asleep, Hedwig soared silently into his room. In her claws was a very long letter from Ginny.
Passages from Chamber of Secrets are from the US Hardback edition: pp 309-11; p329.
A/N: I have written one more story to complete the "Wallpaper" trilogy. Watch for "Lucky Me" coming soon.