"I'VE SAID MY PIECE, AND I'VE TOLD YOU EXACTLY WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I CATCH THE TWO OF YOU IN ANY KIND OF COMPROMISING SITUATION, RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY! YOU WILL BEHAVE AS A GENTLEMAN WITH HERMIONE, NOT SOME--SOME RAKEHELL WOMANISER!" Mrs Weasley was in top form, intimidating her youngest son into complying with her wishes.
"Mum! I keep telling you all we did was some kissing and -and--"
"AND PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH YOUR HANDS! I AM QUITE SURE HERMIONE DOES NOT APPRECIATE BEING PAWED ALL OVER, AND IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT HAPPEN IN THIS HOUSE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"
Ron sighed and nodded miserably. "Yes, Mum, I understand."
"Good--and you had best make Hermione understand as well before you bring her back here. Now get going, you three, I'll be right behind you!"
Ron took a pinch of the Floo Powder and, tossing it into the fireplace, said, "The Leaky Cauldron," and was whirled away by a flash of green flames.
Harry followed, the spinning sensation making his stomach queasy before he stepped out of the fireplace in the Leaky Cauldron. Ron was already sitting dejectedly at one of the tables, a spot of soot being brushed from his shirt by Hermione, who had been waiting for their arrival. A moment later, the fireplace flared up with green flame and Ginny stepped through, followed seconds later by Mrs Weasley.
"Hello, Hermione, dear," said Mrs Weasley. "How was your summer?"
Hermione paused in her fussing over Ron's appearance to smile at the Weasley matriarch. "Quite nice, though I was a bit disappointed when Ron had to cancel half my stay at The Burrow."
"I'm sorry about that, dear, but I thought it was for the best. Things were a bit--strained at the time," she replied, giving Ron a meaningful glance and causing his ears to redden.
Hermione nodded her acceptance of the explanation, though she looked a bit puzzled over the lack of details.
"I'll explain it later," mumbled Ron, his ears still glowing.
"Now then, does everyone have their list of needs?" Mrs Weasley asked of Ron, Ginny and Harry. Receiving positive responses, she led them out the back entrance of the inn to the brick-walled courtyard, tapped the correct brick with her wand and waited for the entrance to Diagon Alley to form. Once it had, she led the young people to Flourish and Blotts Bookstore, where they split up, Ron, Mrs Weasley and Ginny to the used book bin, Harry and Hermione to wander the aisles and select the books from their lists.
Harry's list was quite short this year, the only two books he needed being The Standard Book of Spells, Level Six, and New Developments in Magic, 1985 to 1994. After finding the two volumes, he located Ginny, who was leafing through the pages of a book of potion formulas, a rather determined look on her face.
"Looking for love potions?" he asked.
"Why? Do you feel I need one?" she replied in return, continuing to peruse the pages of the book.
"Not at all," Harry smiled.
Ginny closed the volume and replaced it on the shelf.
"Then why ask?" she questioned softly, taking Harry's hand and looking into his eyes.
Harry was a bit discomfited by the solemnity of her question, particularly since he had asked in a joking manner.
"I--I thought it was funny," he answered.
Ginny shook her head. "No, Harry, it wasn't. I-I'm still a bit insecure about our relationship, and a question like that--it bothers me."
"Oh… Ginny, I'm sorry--I didn't mean to upset you," he answered.
"All right." She gave his hand a small squeeze.
Hermione turned down the aisle at that moment and asked, "Harry, Ginny, have you seen the display of Arithmancy books? I can't seem to find it, and Professor Vector has two different volumes on my list for this year."
"Sorry, no, Hermione," answered Harry.
"I saw some on the back wall--maybe they're there?" Ginny added.
"I'll check--Thanks!" With that, she turned on her heel and strode to the rear of the shop.
"I don't think Ron has had a chance to talk to her yet," said Ginny, picking up another volume of potion recipes. "How do you think she'll react when he explains why she had to wait to come to The Burrow?"
"Hermione? I'm not sure--but I'm glad that it's Ron who has to explain rather than me," Harry muttered. "So why are you checking out the potion books, Ginny?"
"It's my OWLyear, Harry, and in spite of Professor Snape, I rather enjoy the practice. Besides, there are many things you can do with potions that cannot be achieved by magic alone. I know that if I can gain any extra knowledge about them, I'll have a higher score and be able to work in the research department at the Ministry of Magic when I leave school."
"Is that what you're planning on doing? Potion research?" queried Harry.
"Well, I'm definitely not as good a Quidditch player as you are, so that as a career isn't too likely," laughed Ginny, "and I would like to work for the Ministry in some capacity. Daddy says the researchers in the Department of Mysteries work on all sorts of interesting stuff, so that is what I am thinking about if my OWL Scores are high enough. What are you planning to do when you leave school?"
"Auror training for me. Professor McGonagall told Umbridge she'd help me achieve that goal no matter what last year, and I think Aurors are going to be very necessary in the next few years to come."
"Because of him, right?" asked Ginny, a slight shudder in her voice.
"For one--there are still a lot of Death Eaters out there as well. But yeah, Voldemort is the biggest worry." Harry's face clouded at the thought. "He's the worst problem this world is facing right now."
"Maybe he'll be caught before you finish Hogwarts," Ginny suggested.
"Maybe, but I --I'm not counting on it." Harry's memories of the things Dumbledore had told and shown him rushed to the forefront of his mind. He still had not shared that knowledge with anyone else, but perhaps… "Ginny, I need to talk with you and Ron and Hermione when we get back to The Burrow. There are some--some things that you all should know."
"Oh? What kind of things?" asked Ginny.
"I'll tell you later, when we're all together. I don't want to have to repeat things any more than necessary," Harry sighed. "I think I should also tell your parents, Remus and Tonks, too."
Concern creased Ginny's countenance at Harry's pronouncement, but she kept silent, going back to leafing through the text in her hands. Harry stood looking at the various potions books, catching Ginny giving him surreptitious glances every few minutes.
"So, would any of these books be helpful?" he finally asked to break the silence between them.
"Well, yes--but we can't afford them. I'll just get copies from Madam Pince in the library," answered Ginny, a note of longing and disappointment in her voice.
"How about if I buy them for you?" asked Harry. "Call them a late birthday present."
"Harry, you don't have to spend your money on me like that--they're too expensive, anyways," she sighed.
"What if I want to buy them for you?" Harry continued to push the subject. "It isn't like I can't afford them."
"No, Harry. It--it would not be fair. I couldn't afford to get you anything like that for your birthday."
"Ginny, you'll be giving me something I'd like to have if you let me do this," Harry said, quite seriously.
Ginny looked up at Harry, a frown on her face.
"Oh, really? Just what is it you expect from me? Something that would make Mum really mad? I am not that kind of girl, Harry Potter!"
"No, Ginny, not-- not that!" Harry blushed. "I -I was thinking more of getting to see you smile and be happy."
"Smile…? Oh, Harry," Ginny's freckles were suddenly highlighted by the deep flush of red that covered her face, her hand clasped to her mouth in embarrassment. "I thought--but you--I'm so sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to imply --"
"So you'll accept them as a gift? No complaints about them being too costly?" Harry interrupted, taking the book in Ginny's hand and the other she had looked at from the shelf.
"Well--all right. Just this once," Ginny smiled shyly as her blush slowly faded. Her hand sought his and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze of affection. Together, they made their way to the till counter, where Harry paid for the four books they had gathered, then exited the bookshop to sit on a bench outside the store while they waited for the others to finish their shopping.
Hermione was livid. "Are you telling me you implied to your mother that you and I had-had-?"
"Kissed, Hermione. And that I had tickled you to get you to laugh." Ron was blushing a very deep red as he tried to explain. "She's the one who, er, jumped to conclusions."
"And you didn't try to tell her what really happened? Ronald Weasley, you are, without a doubt, the most aggravating, exasperating, pig-headedly thick boy on the face of the planet! What were you thinking? Did you even try to explain, to defend my honour? How could you even suggest that I--you--we--Arrrrgh!" She threw up her hands in disgust and rushed up the stairs to the room she was sharing with Ginny, slamming the door loudly in her wake.
Ron winced, burying his face in his hands.
Harry peeked out of the kitchen to where Ron was sitting in the parlour.
"Things didn't go too well, did they?"
"No, they didn't," sighed the youngest Weasley male, slumping back into the chair he was sitting in. "I did try to explain to Mum what had happened, didn't I, Harry? It was her who took it the wrong way?"
"Erm, well, yes, it was, but--"
"So why can't Hermione understand that?" he groaned.