A/N: I hope you lot enjoy this chapter. It was extremely fun to write. Thanks to Chreechree and Sherry. This story was co-written with Athea.
Ginny furiously scrubbed at her eyes as she felt the prickle of hot tears. It all seemed a bit unfair. No one had remembered her birthday, and then the boy she had fancied for so long had to see her looking like a hag.
Ginny sat down by her dresser and stared forlornly at her reflection. She looked even more frightening than she had imagined. Her face was still pink, and her freckles seemed to have multiplied in the short time since she had come from the shower and had run into Harry. And her hair! Ginny moaned as she surveyed the wild red tresses. Some of the previously standing locks were now hanging limply in random patches, so the overall effect was truly comical.
“Oh dear, you look ghastly,” her mirror declared, sounding horrified. “I do hope no one saw you like that.”
“Thanks for stating the obvious,” Ginny replied sarcastically. Grabbing her comb, she savagely attacked her wet hair and pulled it into a ponytail. She stomped over to her wardrobe and changed into a faded orange Chudley Cannons shirt that had once belonged to Ron and a pair of old denim shorts. She then flung herself onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. If she never came out of her bedroom again, it would be too soon.
If she were really honest with herself, however, Ginny was secretly hoping that someone would come barging into her room to greet her a happy birthday. Falling down on their knees to beg her forgiveness for forgetting her birthday would not be a bad idea, either.
She could hear the sounds of people clattering up and down the stairs, and she smiled when she heard the twins’ loud voices right outside her door. So those two gits had finally come to their senses and remembered it was their favourite sister’s birthday.
“Hey, Fred, you think we left some of those prototype Whizz-Bangs in the attic?”
“I dunno. Let’s go have a look. Maybe we can hide one in Ron’s pants and make it go off the minute he sees Hermione.”
“Yeah, that would be one way to prove that Hermione can get a rise out of Ron.”
The sound of twins’ chortling faded as they made their way up the stairs.
Idiots, Ginny fumed. After a few minutes of gazing blankly at the pattern of cracks on her ceiling, she rolled over on her stomach and was glumly picking at the bedspread when she heard someone knock softly on her door.
“Ginny!” a feminine voice called out, “It’s me!”
Finally, someone she could talk to! Ginny hopped off the bed and opened the door to see her bushy-haired friend smiling at her. Hermione looked tanned and healthy from her vacation in the Caribbean. Ginny let out a squeak and embraced her in delight.
“Hermione! When did you get here? Has Ron seen you yet? You look great! How was Barbados?”
Hermione laughed and held up her hands. “Hey! One question at a time. First of all, I Flooed in just now, and yes, I’ve seen Ron. He was having a conversation with an Aunt Tessie of yours, so I didn’t get a chance to say anything except a quick hello. Barbados was fantastic. You should have gone with me.”
Ginny helped Hermione drag her trunk into the room, and they sat down on her bed. “I wish I had gone with you, and I wish we could be there right now. Anywhere but in this madhouse,” she said, hating but unable to stop the petulant note that had crept into her voice.
Hermione shrugged out of her light jacket and placed it neatly on the nightstand. She looked keenly at Ginny. “I was kind of shocked that there were so many people in The Burrow. What’s going on? And where did all those birds come from?”
Ginny laughed. “Oh, you mean Uncle Bertram, Aunt Tessie and their budgerigars. They’re here because there have been reports of Death Eater attacks near their home, and this is the only safe place for them right now,” said Ginny.
Hermione gasped. “Death Eaters? Oh, my goodness. No wonder Professor McGonagall and the others are here. Was anybody hurt?”
“Only Dodo, as far as I can tell,” Ginny said.
“One of the budgies. The funny-looking one. Seems he had a bit of a coronary, if Aunt Tessie is to be believed.”
Hermione nodded in agreement, as if it were perfectly common occurrence for a bird to have a heart attack. “Aunt Tessie is the one with the violet hair who was talking to Ron?”
“Yep. Her husband’s Uncle Bertram, the one with the cigar and who smells like tuna fish.”
Hermione wrinkled her nose. “I’ll take your word for it. Are they the only ones here? There seemed to be a whole gaggle of people in the kitchen.”
“My other relatives from Gloucestershire are also here. Uncle Heathcliff’s a tall, reedy chap with a monocle, and, despite his ridiculous goatee, he’s actually loads of fun. Aunt Beth’s a rather large woman with brown hair and a tendency to giggle at the drop of a wizard’s hat. I haven’t seen them yet, so I don’t know if they look different since I last saw them. They have three children: Sherman–” Ginny paused, unable to say Cleo’s name without rekindling her embarrassment in the hallway.
She felt her stomach curdle at the mere thought of Cleo. Would it be so bad to forget her dear old cousin for the time being?
“–Cleotilde and Little Molly,” she finished, deciding that it was a bit unreasonable for her to take out her wounded pride on her relatives, no matter how nasty some of them were. After all, what was a forgotten birthday compared to the very real threat of death and destruction?
“All right,” Hermione said. “So Little Molly’s the girl with the blue eyes and brown hair who was practically throwing herself at Harry in the living room?”
“No. That would be Cleotilde,” Ginny said flatly. “My perfect cousin with the perfect hair and the perfect figure.” She snorted in disgust. “Was Harry chatting her up? Not that I care, of course,” she added hastily.
“Of course,” Hermione smiled at her. “No, from what I saw, Cleotilde was giggling and batting her lashes, but Harry just looked bewildered. He seemed a bit frightened, come to think of it.”
Ginny was relieved that Harry appeared to be immune to Cleo’s charms. She suddenly felt loads better, and she smiled at Hermione.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Hermione jumped up and flung her trunk open. Digging through it, she finally extracted a small box wrapped in rainbow coloured paper. “Here,” she said, thrusting it into Ginny’s hands. “Happy birthday!”
Ginny stared at the gaily wrapped package for a few seconds and promptly burst into tears. Hermione sat down and looked at her worriedly. “What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong?”
“N-no!” Ginny hiccoughed and wiped her face with her shirt. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I’m grateful for your gift, I really am. It’s just that – you’re the only one so far who’s remembered that it was my birthday today. I guess I’ve been a tiny bit emotional, and seeing your gift brought it all out,” she said sheepishly, giving Hermione a watery smile.
“What?” Hermione said indignantly. “Ron and Harry didn’t remember?”
Ginny shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Come on, Hermione. Ron can’t even recall where he puts his shoes at night. And I don’t expect Harry to remember when my birthday is.”
“No, I’m more upset that Mum forgot. Dad had already gone to fetch Harry from the Muggles when I got down to the kitchen, but usually Mum makes me a special breakfast for my birthday. Today she just shoved some flapjacks at me and told me to serve the others.”
Hermione patted her hand sympathetically. “Oh, Ginny. It’s probably just slipped your mum’s mind because of all the stuff that’s happened today. I’m sure she’ll remember later.” She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Ron, however, has no excuse. Maybe I should say something to him and Harry.”
“Don’t say anything, Hermione,” Ginny said adamantly. “I don’t want to come across like I’m looking for attention. And you’re right, with so much stuff going on, my birthday isn’t foremost on people’s minds. There are more important things to worry about. It’s just another day. I’ll be fine.” She grinned and started tearing off the wrapper of her gift. “Besides, I got a gift from you, so that makes everything all right.”
She lifted the lid off the box and gasped. “Hermione!’
“Do you like it?” Hermione asked anxiously. “I saw it in Barbados and I thought that shade would look great on you. I know green is your favourite colour,” she said slyly.
“I love it!” Ginny exclaimed, then bit her lip. “But I don’t think I can do justice to it.”
“Nonsense,” Hermione tutted. “It’s perfect for you. Why don’t you try it on?”
Their conversation was interrupted by a sudden knock on the door. Both girls turned to see a scrawny figure silhouetted in the doorway.
“Hello, Sherman.” Ginny had to suppress the urge to snigger loudly as her ‘cousin’ strolled into her room, his hands stuck artfully into his pockets. Obviously, he had given a lot of thought to his outfit for the day. He was wearing rather uncomfortable-looking black dragon-leather pants and a white button-up shirt that made him look remarkably like an underfed pirate, although Ginny was certain that this was not the look he was striving for. He leaned nonchalantly against the wardrobe and managed to right himself quickly as his shoulder slipped off the corner of the cabinet.
“Well, Ginny, you just get prettier every time I see you,” said Sherman with a wink as he adjusted his collar. “When are you going to let me take you out to dinner and show you what a good time is?”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “First of all, Sherman, I highly doubt if your idea of a good time is the same as mine. Secondly, you’re way too young for me. Besides,” she continued loudly over his indignant protests, “we’re sort of related, so that makes the entire concept of us going out even more disturbing.”
“Ah, but we’re not related by blood now, are we? And what about all those Muggle royals who’ve gone off and married their cousins, eh? Being related never stopped them from going out.”
“Yes, but they only did that to preserve the royal lineage,” interjected Hermione, who was staring at Sherman with what could only be described as fascinated horror.
Sherman turned to Hermione, his face lighting up in what Ginny could only suppose was his idea of a charming smile. He sidled up to Hermione, grasped her hand and kissed it extravagantly. “You’re a bit of all right, aren’t you? Enchanté, ma douce chérie. Ginny, who is this vision of beauty before me?”
Ginny snorted loudly. “This is Hermione, a good friend of mine.”
“Hello, gorgeous,” he leered at Hermione. “I’m Sherman, Ginny’s cousin and lover of all things beautiful, such as you. Tell me – are you, by any chance, a thief?”
“Wh-what?” asked Hermione, puzzled. “No, of course not! Why would you ask that?”
“Because you seem to have stolen my heart,” said Sherman melodramatically, putting one hand over his chest.
Ginny groaned and stood up to usher him out of the room. “Come on, Sherman, time to leave.”
“But, wait, did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?” inquired Hermione warily.
“When you fell out of heaven, of course,” said Sherman cheekily.
Ginny groaned again. “Good-bye, Sherman.”
“Wait! Don’t you want to experience the wonder that is the Sherman Love Machine?” he called out to Hermione as Ginny slowly but surely pushed him out of the door.
“Oh! Well – um – how – uh – very kind of you to – erm – offer, Sherman,” stammered Hermione, “but I think that my delicate constitution isn’t quite ready yet for something of that – erm – magnitude,” she finished tactfully.
Sherman looked a bit disappointed but bounced back admirably. “Oh well, I seem to remember seeing a foxy witch downstairs with pink hair. Maybe she’s up for a few rounds in the broom shed with the Sher-man.” And with that, the Sherman Love Machine exited Ginny’s room, surreptitiously wiping his sweaty face with his sleeve.
“Well, that was certainly… different,” said Hermione, breaking the stunned silence that had descended upon them. Ginny let out the snicker she had been holding back, and soon she and Hermione were giggling madly, clutching at each other as they tried to catch their breath.
“Good grief,” gasped Ginny, “where the heck did he get those awful pick-up lines? Poor Tonks!”
Hermione simply shook her head. “Poor Professor Lupin,” she said in between giggles, “he doesn’t stand a chance against the Sherman Love Machine.”
After a few more minutes of laughter, Ginny picked up her fallen present and said, “All right, I’m going to try this on now.” Squealing in excitement, she ran to the bathroom, changed, then dashed back to her bedroom. “Well?” she asked, striking a pose.
Before Hermione could give her opinion, the door swung open again.
“What the bloody hell are you wearing, Ginny?” Ron bellowed, appearing quite scandalised.
Hermione and Ginny turned to see a red-faced Ron standing in the doorway. Most of his hair had now settled back into its normal colour, but it still had a few renegade violet streaks running through it. Behind him, a slack-jawed Harry was goggling at Ginny.
“It’s called a maillot, Ronald,” Hermione said coolly.
“Doesn’t anyone ever knock on the door anymore?” Ginny glowered at her brother. She could feel her colour rising, but she could not be certain if it was because she was mad at Ron or because of the way that Harry was staring at her.
“A what?” Ron asked. He grabbed Ginny’s dressing gown and attempted to cover her with it. She huffed angrily and turned away from him to sit down on her bed.
“A mah – yoh,” said Hermione, enunciating slowly as if talking to a two-year-old. “A one-piece bathing suit for women, simply styled and usually having a scoop neck and shoulder straps. Or, in terms you can understand, a swimming costume.”
“I know it’s a swimming costume,” Ron retorted irritably. “Don’t you think it’s a little revealing for Ginny to wear? People will get the wrong idea about her if she wears that!”
“Come off it, Ron,” Ginny said impatiently. “It’s perfectly decent. It’s not as bad as some of the things other girls wear, for Merlin’s sake.”
Ron folded his arms across his chest. “But it’s showing too much of your legs, Ginny. Mum’s going to have kittens. Right, Harry?”
Harry tore his gaze from Ginny’s well-shaped legs and looked guiltily at Ron. “Um,” he said eloquently, his face strangely flushed. “Yeah?” he timidly offered.
Ron smiled triumphantly. “See, even Harry thinks so.”
Hermione frowned. “Ronald, I happen to have a similar bathing costume. Are you saying that if I wear it, you’re going to think that I’m a scarlet woman?”
Ron gaped at her. “You’ve got the same thing?”
Hermione nodded. “Yes, but it’s blue.”
Ginny hid a smile behind her hand. Of course Hermione would pick that colour.
“You wore it in public?” her brother yelped. “In front of people?”
“That’s what ‘public’ means, Ron.” Hermione’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “I wore it to the beach in Barbados. You normally need a swimming costume to go swimming.”
“Would you like Hermione to model it for you, Ron?” Ginny asked impishly.
Ron’s blue eyes bugged out of his head. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, but nothing came out.
“Well, if you decide you want to see Hermione in her maillot, you come back and tell us, all right?” Ginny stood up and walked towards the two boys. She noted with interest that Harry was trying to avoid her gaze, but his eyes kept drifting down to her legs. Blushing slightly, she firmly took them by the elbows and ushered them out of the room. “Maybe we’ll see you later at the pond, hmmm?” She shut the door in their glazed faces and turned to Hermione. The two girls looked at each other then started howling with laughter.
“I thought Ron was going to have a conniption when he realised you wore the swimming costume in public,” Ginny chortled. She picked up her shorts and slipped them on.
Hermione laughed. “How does he think I got this tan? By wearing my robes to the beach? Honestly.”
“Well, that’s Ron for you. He’s a bit thick, really,” Ginny said dryly, flopping down on her stomach beside Hermione. “Not to mention he’s a big old prude.”
“Harry seemed to like your suit,” Hermione smiled knowingly. “The poor boy looked like he was hit on the head by a Bludger.”
“Please,” Ginny waved her hand dismissively, although her cheeks reddened. “He’s probably never seen me in anything except ratty old clothes and Hogwarts robes, and he was just surprised, that’s all.”
“If you say so,” Hermione said lightly. “I think Harry’s suddenly realised how grown-up you are.”
“Right,” Ginny scoffed. “Pull the other one, Hermione. Next you’ll be telling me that Harry has been watching me and that he’s fancied me all this time.”
Hermione shrugged. “All right, I won’t tell you.”
Ginny opened her eyes wide. “What?” she shrieked. “Hermione! What are you on about?”
“Oh, nothing. Harry just seems to be more aware of you nowadays. He’s always talking to you, isn’t he?” Hermione smiled smugly at her. “Are you telling me that you seriously haven’t noticed that?”
Ginny shook her head. “He was only talking to me because you and Ron seemed to be spending so much time together.”
“Yes, well,” Hermione coughed uncomfortably. “That’s only because we had lots of prefect duties.” She firmly steered the subject away from Ron and her. “But even when we were with Harry, he made it a point to include you in the conversation. Didn’t he always ask you to eat with us?”
“Well, yeah,” Ginny admitted. “But maybe he was just being brotherly, because I’m his best friend’s sister.”
Hermione gave an unladylike snort. “Well, there wasn’t anything brotherly about the way he was gawking at you a while ago. He looked like Christmas had come early for him.”
Ginny stared at her, and a smile slowly lit up her face. This birthday was turning out to be brilliant after all.
Just then, the door burst open again and Cleo sashayed into the room, her long brown hair rippling prettily on her shoulders. She turned and pulled her paisley-patterned trunk in with her.
Then again, things could still become pear-shaped.
“Hello, Ginny. I see you’ve managed to fix your hair.”
“Hello, Cleo,” replied Ginny half-heartedly, then added in an undertone, “I see you’ve managed to ruin my day again.”
“Your mum said that I was supposed to share this room with you and someone named Hermaphrodite.” Cleo surveyed the room haughtily, her mouth making a moue of distaste as she took in the faded rose-coloured quilt on the bed and the worn-out rag rug on the floor. “I wanted my own room, of course, but Mother and Father said that there was no space left. How do you manage to live in such cramped quarters? I’ve always wondered how this shack has stayed upright with all of you Weasleys.”
Cleo paused in her harangue when she spotted Hermione. “Hello. Who are you?” she asked rudely.
Hermione raised her eyebrows at Ginny before offering her hand politely. “Hello. I’m Hermaphrodite,” she said, causing Ginny to snigger softly beside her. “I mean,” Hermione elbowed Ginny in the ribs, “I’m Hermione Granger. I’ll be staying with Ginny too. You must be Cleotilde. Pleased to meet you.”
“Charmed.” Cleo shook her hand limply and then sat down imperially onto the chair beside Ginny’s desk. She looked at Hermione from head to foot, seeming to linger on Hermione’s bushy brown hair. “Oh, you must be the one Ron’s been gushing about. Are you also friends with Harry Potter? The Harry Potter? Who knew he’d be so dishy? Do you know if he has a girlfriend? I’ve been trying to talk to him, but he always seems to be busy doing something,” she pouted and expertly flicked her hair over her shoulder.
Ginny shifted restlessly on the bed, becoming very brassed off with her cousin. Hermione placed a calming hand on her arm. “As a matter of fact, Harry’s my best friend. And no, he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but I do know that he’s interested in somebody right now,” she said, giving Ginny’s arm a meaningful squeeze.
“Really?” Cleo examined her glossy nails. “Is this girl pretty?”
“Yes, and, more importantly, Harry thinks so,” Hermione replied, smiling at Ginny, who smirked back.
“Oh?” Cleo said in disbelief, as if she could not imagine anyone prettier than her.
“Yes,” Hermione said firmly.
“Hmm.” Cleo turned to look at Ginny. “That’s a nice swimming costume, Ginny. A little old-fashioned for my taste, but it’s still all right. Is it new?”
Ginny bristled and fought down the urge to hex her. “Yeah, Hermione gave it to me for my birthday.”
“Oh, that’s right. Your birthday’s in February, right?”
Ginny gritted her teeth. This girl really was odious. “No. As a matter of fact, it’s today.”
“Well, fancy that. Happy birthday, then,” Cleo said carelessly. “How old are you? Twelve? Thirteen?”
“Sixteen,” Ginny ground out, her fingers reaching for her wand. Hermione gave her a warning look.
“Whatever.” Cleo yawned and closed her eyes.
There was a soft knock on the doorframe, and the girls looked up to see Harry smiling shyly at them. Cleo immediately straightened up and flashed him a charming smile. “Well, hello there, handsome,” she purred.
Harry glanced at her briefly. “Uh, hello.” He looked back at Ginny and Hermione. “Ron said that he’d like to take you up on your offer, Hermione,” he said, his gaze lingering again on Ginny’s legs. “We’ll meet you at the pond for a swim, yeah?”
Hermione blushed, but she stood up and grabbed her own maillot from her trunk. “All right. I’ll just be a minute.” She went to the bathroom to put on her suit.
“That sounds like a good idea. It gets so dreadfully hot here in the country.” Cleo rose gracefully from the chair and opened her own trunk.
Ginny bit her tongue before she could point out to Cleo that she had not exactly been invited. She busied herself instead by getting a fresh towel from her closet.
“I’ll just change into my bikini. Would you please wait for me, Harry?” Cleo said coquettishly. “I might get lost on the way to the pond.”
Harry appeared gobsmacked but was apparently too much of a gentleman to refuse. “Um… okay, I suppose.” He looked uncertainly at Ginny as he reluctantly followed Cleo out of the room.
Seething inwardly, Ginny nevertheless smiled sweetly at him. “I’ll see you there, Harry.”
Harry paused at the door and gave her a brilliant smile in return. “I’ll be waiting, Ginny.”