Happily, Harry saw Ginny first the next morning at the Ministry. This was his chance to watch her unnoticed – like he used to do in his sixth year. She was wearing light blue robes that he had never seen before and she was chattering with her father as they walked down the dark narrow corridor toward the Apparition Testing office. His stomach did an excited flip when their eyes locked. She was really here and they were going to spend the whole day together.
"Is there a hold up?" Mr. Weasley asked, looking at his watch.
"A small Splinching accident," Harry told him. "Seems a witch can find only ten of the twelve warts she had on her face."
Ginny giggled. "There goes her modeling career."
"Back in the old days, warts were considered a mark of beauty."
"Dad! How can that be true?"
"Beauty is a fickle thing." Mr. Weasley grinned. "Maybe some day receding hairlines will be in style."
"Maybe." She laughed and idly swung a little straw handbag on her wrist.
"Harry," Mr. Weasley said, "a quick word before I go."
Ginny groaned, but Harry stood up straighter. "Yes?"
"What time will you be bringing Ginny home?"
"Er – the match starts at four o'clock."
"That's a strange time."
"It's the wireless, Dad," Ginny said. "Since it's the first match of the season and they want to sell a lot of adverts, they're airing it right after Days of Destiny."
"They're planning Quidditch around wireless advert money now?"
Ginny snorted. "I think they've been doing that for awhile."
Mr. Weasley shook his head at the crassness of professional Quidditch and then addressed Harry. "Ginny should be home by mid-night – no matter how late the match goes."
"I'm sure in eight hours you'll have a good sense of who is going to win."
Ginny pressed her lips together and didn't argue.
"Good luck on your test, darling." He kissed Ginny on the cheek. Then he nodded at Harry. "You, too, Harry. And – oh, yes – you're both of age now, but I'd prefer you didn't drink and Apparate."
"Yes, sir." Harry tried to look trustworthy.
He must have succeeded because Mr. Weasley smiled at them both and left them in the waiting room.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "I was going to bring my own flask of Firewhisky to the match – what a spoilsport!"
"He's just looking out for you."
"I suppose, but he should know by now that you would always look out for me."
He felt warm all over that she thought that of him.
"So, what do you think of my new robes? Mum and Dad bought them for me for my birthday." She twirled around in the empty corridor. "I love having something new to wear."
"You look really nice."
Her eyes glowed with pleasure. "Even though I don't have twelve warts on my face?"
"Especially since you don't have twelve warts on your face."
They ended up having to wait for twenty more minutes, but Harry hardly noticed the delay. Ginny told him about her birthday presents – new robes, a pair of shoes, Granny Prewett's favorite cauldron that had been held back until she was of age, the latest Kathleen Pen novel, and Chaser's gloves that actually fit her small hands. Harry was glad to hear she hadn't received any jewelry. His gift to her was in his robe pocket, but he wasn't sure when he was supposed to surprise her with it. The waiting room outside the Apparition Testing Office didn't seem like the best place.
That question was decided for him, since Ginny's name was called as he was mulling over gift-giving etiquette. She left him her handbag to hold, which both embarrassed and amused him. It was such a silly little feminine thing, but it probably had the proverbial kitchen sink in it or – better yet – an entire Quidditch equipment locker. Hermione had managed to carry around a tent to a wedding.
In no time at all, Ginny was standing in front of him. "I passed! One hundred per cent!"
He wasn't surprised, but he couldn't help but smile at her smug expression. "Brilliant."
When it was his turn he found it strange to be in a testing atmosphere again, listening to directions and worrying about mistakes. Once he began the exam, though, he found it easy to move from one circle to the next in the long, low room.
The witch toting up his score seemed more nervous than he did. She scratched out several numbers with her quill and had to reach for a fresh sheet of parchment. "There you go, Mr. Potter," she said breathlessly when she was finally finished. "An almost perfect score. Your toes were over the line on the seventh circle."
"Thanks." He was pleased – he had never taken such an easy exam. Then he reminded himself not to say that out loud to the wrong person. He wouldn't have found it so easy last year.
"How did you do?" Ginny asked.
"I passed. It felt weird, though." They started walking down the corridor.
"The examiner seemed more nervous than I was. I mean, it was easy, considering I've been Apparating for over a year now." Then he winced. He wasn't supposed to say that.
"I'm sure she was nervous being around someone so famous."
His steps slowed. "I'm not –" He stopped since he knew that wasn't true. "I always forget that."
"I know." She took his hand and pulled him along the corridor. "That's one more thing to love about you."
Harry was speechless. Ginny had never said anything like that before. He wanted to say something similar back, but there were people all around them now that they had made their way to the Atrium – besides, he wasn't breathing properly.
"Where should we go now?" Ginny asked, gesturing with her free hand to the bank of Floo Fireplaces.
"I – wait –" His brain had jammed at the word 'love' but now he remembered the unpleasant task he had told himself he would do today. "I have to buy an owl," he blurted, grasping Ginny's hand tightly.
She slowly turned back to him and put her free hand on top of their clasped hands. "All right," she answered quietly. "We can do that."
We. That sounded so much better . . . He nodded, not trusting his voice. He still felt like a traitor. Hedwig hadn't been just an owl; she had been a friend. It was a stupid sentiment to have for an animal – a working animal that delivered the mail. But how could he replace Hedwig? He could see her now – white and majestic and haughty – so out of place in his bedroom at the Dursleys – just like him.
He swallowed. That green light filled his mind. She had died in a cage. His fault . . .
"Harry?" Ginny's warm voice cut through his morbid thoughts. "Let's not take the Floo. I don't want to get ash on my new robes."
He nodded, trying to bring himself back to the present and to the bustling Ministry. The sky blue color of Ginny's robes helped banish the sickly green from his mind.
"Why don't I Side-Along Apparate you to Diagon Alley?" she continued. "It's not that far."
This caught his attention. Ginny had just passed her Apparition test and he had been Apparating for a year. He was about to protest that it was the wizard's job to Side-Along Apparate a witch, but stopped in the nick of time at the dangerous glint in her eyes. She was the one with the perfect score, not him. "Okay."
Her whole face lit up in a smile and then she grabbed his arm. Before he knew it, they were standing at the far end of Diagon Alley, near Ollivander's wand shop.
"How did I do?" Ginny asked eagerly. "Did I bring all of you with me?"
Harry looked down at his feet and then touched his hair, feeling disoriented. When he Apparated he always had the destination to think about – but with someone else in control, he had only the dissolution to focus on. "Yeah. I'm fine," he said, trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his stomach.
She rubbed a comforting hand across his back. "Sorry. I should have let you go on your own."
"No," he answered quickly. "I'm glad we stayed together."
He shook off the hollow feeling as he walked with Ginny through the crowded street. After a year of deprivation under the rule of the Death Eaters, people were ready to pick up the threads of their lives, and that meant replacing what had been lost. There was a sign in Ollivander's window: For new wand purchases:Please take a number and wait your turn. For wand repairs: visit our sister shop, Reparo at number seven Diagon Alley.
"His business is booming, I reckon," Ginny murmured.
He didn't want to think about the Muggle-borns he had seen without wands – he didn't want to remember how much everyone had suffered in this war. It was too much for his mind and his heart to handle. So he looked up, past the sloping tile rooftops of the shops to the cloudy sky above. He couldn't tell in this sheltered alleyway, but he thought it must be quite breezy based on how quickly the gray clouds scudded together.
"Think it will rain for the match?"
"The Augerys said it would be fine by late afternoon," Ginny answered, steering him toward the dark door of Eeylops Owl Emporium. "I heard it on the wireless this morning."
It took a moment for Harry's eyes to adjust to the dim light inside the shop, but he knew immediately he was around owls based on the sound of rustling feathers and the rich smell of dust and bird droppings. It reminded him so much of the Owlery at Hogwarts that he almost expected to see Hedwig swoop down on him from a high perch. But she didn't, of course. Instead, the clerk behind he counter explained that he had very few owls to pick from since so many witches and wizards were replacing the birds that had not survived the war.
"Don't think those Death Eaters ever heard that you're not to kill the messenger," the clerk said, shaking his head sorrowfully. "Now you say you need a bird to fly from London to Hogwarts. I have three strong owls here . . ."
The clerk first showed them a gray Long Eared Owl. It was a tall, handsome bird with a long narrow face, a pointy beak, and two high bat ears. While it was a powerful looking owl, Harry thought it looked . . . snobby. Ginny shook her head.
The clerk shrugged and coaxed a fat, fluffy owl, the color of treacle tart, onto his gloved fist. "A Northern Hawk Owl," he said. This owl seemed to be as wide as it was tall – the horizontal brown stripes ringing its plump body added to that illusion. It had a round face, an orange beak, and golden eyes that looked . . . stupid. Ginny shook her head again.
"He's a good-natured bird," the clerk coaxed, but Harry thought Ginny's assessment was right. He looked the type to forget where he was going.
Then the clerk brought out a species of owl Harry had never seen before. He exchanged a glance with Ginny and could tell she had never seen a bird like that, either. This owl was smaller than Hedwig and had striped golden brown feathers. What made the bird's appearance different were its eyes – they were dark orange set in white eye sockets. When the bird caught Harry's stare, it opened its beak and barked.
Ginny giggled and Harry smiled. "What was that?"
The owl made the sound again. It was raspy, happy sound and it reminded him of the way Sirius laughed for some reason.
"That's one of his noises," the clerk answered. "He's a Laughing Owl – from New Zealand. The Kiwi Muggles think this kind of owl is extinct, but there's a bloke in Sherwood Forest who breeds them."
"A Laughing Owl?" Ginny asked. "That sounds more like a bark."
"He makes all kinds of noises," the clerk assured them. "You should hear him when Celestina Warbeck comes on the wireless. He loves the accordion parts."
"He loves Celestina Warbeck!" Ginny's eyes were glowing with mirth. The Laughing Owl barked again, this time sounding like an accordion exhaling. "Harry, no one under the age of fifty would let him listen to that kind of music except for you. You have to take him home."
Harry thought of Ron's incredulous face when he found out that his new owl had a favorite wireless program. "Okay." He grinned, put a pile of Galleons on the counter and held out his fist. The owl eagerly fluttered to him, making a pleased whistling noise. Harry stroked the bird's head fondly. He wasn't betraying Hedwig – he was offering sanctuary to a Celestina Warbeck fan. "Think he likes Stubby Boardman?" he whispered to Ginny as the clerk wrote up the sale.
Ginny laughed. "I'll love seeing him this winter with a letter from you."
Now he felt even better. He needed an owl to stay in contact with Ginny – and this one felt right. He had Sirius's laugh and his eyes were Chudley Cannons orange. "What should we name him?" he mused as he looked at the white face of his new owl.
"Cupid," Ginny said promptly.
"Cupid?" The owl showed good sense by rasping his surprise as well.
"Well, he'll be delivering my boyfriend's letters," Ginny defended.
"You know – Cupid makes people fall in love."
"Maybe I'm already in love," he argued, since he thought Cupid was a stupid name.
At Ginny's gasp, he realized what he had just revealed. In the dim light he couldn't tell if she was blushing, but her eyes widened in surprise.
"Here's your paperwork, Mr. Potter," the clerk said, handing him a bill of sale. "I'll just pop your owl into this cage and you can be on your way."
"Er – okay." Now he was flustered. Should he follow up on what he had just implied to Ginny? Somehow professing undying love in Eeylops Owl Emporium seemed just as inappropriate as giving Ginny her seventeenth birthday present at the Apparition Testing office.
They stepped out into the street, blinking against the sudden light. Now the moment had passed and Harry still didn't know what to say.
Ginny seemed to have forgotten it, though. "Since you don't like 'Cupid,' how about 'Q?'"
"It's the first part of 'Cupid,'" she said with impish grin. "An unusual name for an unusual owl."
The whistling noise from the cage sounded happier at 'Q' than it had at 'Cupid.' "It's unusual all right," Harry agreed, giving in with a laugh.
They took so much time introducing Q to Kreacher and finding a way to make the wireless play in Buckbeak's old attic room, that they almost missed their one o'clock lunch reservation at the hottest new restaurant in magical London.
"Kingsley's Private Secretary told me about it," Harry said as they Apparated in front of a shabby warehouse near the Thames. "It's called the Epic Epicurean."
Ginny looked doubtfully at the gloomy building. "Is it seafood?"
"Dunno." Harry grinned. "But it's seven courses for lunch and twelve for dinner."
"What? No wonder you didn't want those biscuits Kreacher just took out of the oven."
He laughed. "Everyone who has been here says it's a real experience." He held open the door for Ginny. "Let's go. I'm starving."
A slightly-built wizard in close-fitting black robes with a long white apron introduced himself as 'Dale-your-waiter-this-afternoon' and ushered them into a private white-walled alcove away from the other diners. He seated Ginny at one end of a square table that was already set with white linen, glittering silverware and many crystal goblets in various shapes and sizes. Then he motioned for Harry to sit at the other end. With a wave of his wand, one of Ginny's and one of Harry's glasses filled with water.
"Welcome to the Epic Epicurean," Dale-their-waiter-this-afternoon said in an enthusiastic voice. "Today our chef, Luis, has prepared a seven course meal while our sommelier, Rene, has matched the appropriate wines for each course."
Harry raised his eyebrows at the familiarity of knowing everyone's first names, but nodded dumbly, since Dale had paused in his little monologue.
"You will wish to taste each wine before the course," Dale said, looking down his long nose at Harry.
"Er –" He glanced at Ginny. They had promised not to drink and Apparate – but there didn't seem to be a way out of it since the wine service was part of the meal.
"Our sommelier will uncork the first selection."
Dale wave his wand and the small alcove now looked like a seaside terrace, complete with grapevines overhead keeping the hot sun off them and a view of a bright blue sea meeting a white sand beach.
"Our first course is a cold appetizer. A humble bruschetta made with grilled bread, Sicilian tomatoes, virgin olive oil, and fresh basil."
A large white plate with three tiny pieces of toast and a dollop of chopped tomatoes appeared in front of Harry.
"This is served with a cheeky Hippogriff wine –" A bottle whizzed in front of Harry's eyes and then the cork shot out of it with a loud pop.
"A what?" Harry was so surprised at the Hippogriff wine that he forgot his manners completely.
Dale looked taken aback for a second and then recovered admirably. "Forgive me, sir. Hippogriff wine is vernacular for this sprightly Italian red that is still made in the old-world manner – that is – the grapes are stomped by Hippogriffs."
Harry's eyes slid to Ginny. Her eyes were dancing, but she hadn't dissolved into giggles yet. "Oh," he said inadequately. A glass with a small amount of red wine was now hovering under his nose. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered Uncle Vernon putting on a show for his dinner guests by sloshing wine around in his glass and smelling it. Maybe Dale wanted him to do this. He sniffed.
Dale watched him with his wand poised.
Harry looked at Ginny for help. He had promised not to drink and Apparate – but maybe he could just pretend to taste the wine. She shrugged and gave him a small smile, so he grasped the glass and raised it to his lips. "'S okay," he said, setting the glass on the table.
Dale smiled and their glasses filled with wine. "Enjoy."
Harry looked down at his plate and at the dozens of knives and forks and spoons surrounding it. It looked like he was expected to do Muggle surgery or something.
Now Ginny did giggle. "You're supposed to work from the outside in. I read that in Cosmowitch once."
"They don't have information like that in Quidditch Illustrated," he remarked as he picked up the outermost knife and fork.
The bruschetta was delicious, but there wasn't very much of it. Harry finished in no time and found himself looking around at their Mediterranean terrace. "Do you think this is all conjured?"
"I think some of it is real. I can smell the flowers."
"What's the purple one hanging over the trellis?"
"Bougainvillea?" Ginny guessed. "I've never seen it, but it's on the cover of one of Kathleen Pen's novels." She smiled. "It was part of a very romantic setting in that book."
Harry heaved a sigh of relief. So far Dale and all of his forks and wines and glasses had created more of a daunting, somewhat ridiculous ordeal, rather than a romantic setting.
"So how did you ever get Mrs. Black's portrait out of the hallway?" Ginny asked, taking a sip of water. "I thought it was attached with a Permanent Sticking Charm?"
Harry wasn't able to answer since Dale had returned to Vanish their plates and bring them their next course. It was Wild Mushroom Soup accompanied by a rare elf wine made with Viogner grapes. Harry endured the label-cork-tasting ritual and then the scenery changed. Now they were sitting at a wooden table under a chestnut tree with a view of pleasure boats and barges on a wide river and a Bavarian castle in the distance.
Harry selected the biggest spoon in his arsenal of cutlery and answered her. "Kreacher knew how to remove the charm." He shrugged and dipped a spoonful of the aromatic soup out of the small bowl. One more spoonful and the soup would be gone. Harry hoped the main course was more substantial. "When I suggested that Mrs. Black would be happier in the room with the family tree, he agreed. Kreacher just wanted his old mistress to be happy."
"I'm glad you did," Ginny said. "Now you don't have to listen to –"
Dale interrupted them again. This time with a salad made of wild greens, goat cheese, and a few other ingredients Harry didn't catch. The grassy alpine meadow with a range of snowcapped mountains in the distance was so arresting, that he forgot to listen to the description of the "vintner's favorite white" that was dancing in front of him.
"Sorry," Harry said to Ginny after the decanting ritual was over and Dale had made his bow and left. "You were saying?"
"Um." Ginny frowned as if trying to remember their previous conversation, and then stared at his right elbow. "Harry, look."
Harry looked down into a pair of cloudy blue eyes and sprang back in his chair.
"Do you think the goat wants her cheese back?" Ginny asked, laughing at this new twist.
He laughed, too. "The meadow comes complete with a goat. I wonder where Heidi is."
"Muggle story," Harry explained. "Nevermind."
The goat continued to stare hungrily at him.
"Clear off," he told the goat. "There's not enough here for handouts."
"We have wine," Ginny offered brightly.
"I worked hard for that wine," Harry said. "And I don't think Dale would like it if we got his goat drunk."
Dale wasn't happy with the goat when he returned to bring them their next course. "Clear off, Blossom," he scolded. Then he schooled his expression back to the bland cheeriness of Dale-your-waiter-this-afternoon. "Now for a palate cleanser of lemon sorbet with fresh mint."
A small dish with a mound of pale yellow sherbet garnished with a green leaf appeared in front of Harry. Then he noticed a distinct chill in the room.
"Are those real penguins?" Ginny asked with a giggle, pointing at the dozen or so birds that were waddling along the icy floor of their dining alcove.
"Yes, they are," Dale said stiffly, as if Ginny has personally insulted him. There certainly was a resemblance between the tall black and white penguins with their long black beaks and their waiter-for-this-afternoon.
Once Dale departed, both Harry and Ginny dissolved into laughter. The penguins must have liked this cheerful sound, since they crowded around their table looking at them with friendly, inquisitive eyes.
"Do you think they like mint?" Ginny asked.
"We only have one leaf each," Harry answered. "I don't want to start a feeding frenzy."
"Sorry, my friends," she said to the penguins, "it's wine or nothing."
"You know," Harry began, looking at his three full wineglasses, "If we had drunk all of that wine, penguins following goats would have make perfect sense."
Ginny laughed and laughed. "When I saw all of the fancy forks and things," she confided, leaning over the table to take his hand, "I thought this was going to be such a stuffy place. But this is turning out to be so much fun."
It was fun, Harry realized. This restaurant wasn't romantic like he had hoped, nor was it elegant and dignified – but that was all right, too. "Well, it is epic." He squeezed her hand and was about to bring up her birthday gift, when Dale returned, scattering the penguins as he approached the table.
"Your fish course will be next," Dale announced. Harry swore afterwards that he saw the penguins' eyes light up at hearing the word 'fish' before Dale Vanished them.
On it went. Dale brought them slices of fish and fowl and beef with palate cleansers in between. They dined by a still lake, in a forest clearing, and next to a waterfall. Harry thought they were finally done when the cheese course was brought out, but he had forgotten that he had told them when he made reservations that it was Ginny's birthday.
"The eighth course," Dale said grandly.
Ginny raised her eyebrows at Harry.
"I told them it was your birthday," he said weakly. He hoped it was chocolate cake with ice cream like he had suggested, but of course, it wasn't.
It was a parade – a ticker-tape parade with all sorts of colorful confetti raining down a city street with Blossom the goat in the lead and the twelve penguins following. Blossom had a sign around her neck that said "Happy Birthday, Jenny." They hadn't even spelled her name right, but then Harry hadn't specified. He closed his eyes, but opened them quickly when he heard a plate slide in front of him.
"This is a flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Delight Cake," Dale said. "It has four layers of hazelnut meringue, three layers of raspberry preserves and one layer each of white chocolate icing, bittersweet chocolate icing, and mocha icing . . .all covered in chocolate ganache and crushed hazelnuts."
Harry couldn't believe they could stuff all of those ingredients into such a tiny cake, but then they hadn't bothered with the flour. Ginny's eyes were shining in delight and she thanked Dale with great sincerity.
"Sorry," he said when Dale left them to eat the cake and enjoy the coffee made from 'freshly ground Arabica beans and spring water from the Andes.'
"Sorry! Why? This has been the most memorable birthday meal I've ever had."
Harry watched Blossom eat the confetti that littered the dining room floor. "They spelled your name wrong. And I thought this was going to be a posh restaurant, not one that was so theatrical."
Ginny laughed. "It's brilliant. A parade, for Merlin's sake. I loved every minute of it."
Harry was starting to feel better, but then he thought to check the time. It was after three. "We'd better hurry. Our tickets are Portkeys to Exmoor and they're going to activate at half past three."
"Do you have the tickets with you?" she asked.
"Yes." He also had her birthday present, which he still hadn't given her. But now wasn't the time with Blossom crunching next to him. Somehow he didn't think the intimacy of Exmoor stadium was going to be the place, either.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He glanced at her. She looked so pretty and happy sitting across the table from him. She deserved a perfect birthday. "I want to give you your birthday present and I can't seem to find the right time."
Her eyes softened. "I was hoping to buy you something for your birthday today but there hasn't been the right time for me, either."
"You don't have to buy me a birthday present," he said quickly, and then just as quickly realized his mistake when he saw her eyes flash.
"I think I want to buy you a birthday present," she said forcefully.
He was saved by Dale, asking if there was anything else he could bring them. Harry wanted a sandwich at that point, but didn't think Dale would understand that eight small servings of nicely prepared food weren't enough to fill him up. While Ginny excused herself to "freshen up," he paid the bill and left a tip. Hopefully the penguins would get some fish heads for their part in this epic lunch.
The ticket Portkey dropped them into the middle of a noisy, milling crowd. The sun felt warm on the top of Harry's head and he could smell fried food.
"I don't think they're letting anyone into the stadium yet," he said, putting his hand on her lower back to keep her close.
"They want us to eat, drink, and buy before the match," Ginny said cynically.
"Sounds good." Harry's stomach rumbled at the savory smells coming from the kiosks.
"You're still hungry?" she asked.
"Should have had the wine," she teased.
"Oh, no." He closed his eyes at the thought of explaining to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley why Ginny was drunk and Splinched when he brought her home at mid-night. "I promised your dad. I wouldn't want to mess up on our first time out together."
She surreptitiously gave him a quick, one-armed hug around the waist, and smiled up at him. "I smell something good. I think it's coming from there." She pointed to the kiosk that had a sign advertising curries, lassi, and onion bhajis. "Onion bhajis are really nice. I had some in Hogsmeade that one time when I went with De –"
Harry had a strong feeling she was going to mention Dean, but then stopped herself. "Once when I went out for dinner," she continued, "We had curry and the onion bhajis were for the starter."
"I've never had those," Harry said doubtfully. "Aunt Petunia hated that kind of foreign food."
"It's not foreign," she answered. "If you really want to be an epic epicurean then you should try the onion bhajis – get the raita dip, too. It goes really well with the onion flavor."
Harry squared his shoulders and nodded. After all of the new foods he had tried today, one more wasn't going to matter. Besides, he wanted to know what Ginny liked.
"While you're queuing for those, I'll just nip over to the souvenir kiosks," she said.
"Wait, I don't want to lose you in this crowd."
"I'll meet you right here by this Apparition point," she assured him. He watched her plunge through the crowd feeling suddenly bereft. It was a silly way to feel about a short absence, but part of him wanted to hold on to her and never let her go.
She slipped through the crowd and contemplated the gaudy t-shirts, key chains, banners, and badges. Even though Ron always gave Harry Chudley Cannons gear, Ginny really didn't know if the Cannons were the team Harry supported. Then she spotted a kiosk that only sold mugs. It was her lucky day.
She rejected all the ones with Quidditch Logos and the rude ones like 'Save a Broom, Ride a Quidditch Player' and 'The Cannons Have Balls.' There were also sentimental ones like 'My Sweetheart' and 'World's Best Boyfriend.' She laughed at the mug that professed: 'Starring in My Own Drama Five Days a Week.' It was for a Days of Destiny fan. Even Celestina Warbeck had her own mug: 'There's Nothing Better Than A Hot Cauldron of Hot Coffee.' Then she saw it – a dark blue mug that said just what she wanted to say. She quickly turned over the one Galleon, two Sickles asking price to the seller and stowed it in her handbag. Finally she had Harry's gift.
He was waiting for her at the Apparition Point with a cardboard cauldron of hot onion bhajis in his hands.
"Did you try them?"
"Er –" He looked doubtfully at the crisp golden brown treats that were tinged with a green powder. "What's the green?"
"Tumeric," she said, taking one out of the cauldron and biting into it. She tasted the slightly spicy fried batter first and then the sweet onion. "Delicious."
Harry grimaced and took a tentative bite. She watched him chew and then smile in relief. . "S' good."
"Should I go into the history of bhajis, like Dale?"
He laughed. "It seems wrong to eat anything without a commentary."
"Try it with the raita dip," she coaxed.
Harry liked them better dunked in the cool white yogurt dip and seemed to have warmed up to the 'foreign food' enough to polish off the entire cauldron. "I need to cleanse my palate," he said, looking around. "Where's the sorbet kiosk?"
They laughed. As they looked around for some ice cream, Ginny noticed a kiosk selling model brooms. "Oh, Harry, look!" She pulled him closer so she could watch a Firebolt dive-bomb a circling Cleansweep Seven.
"Tonks gave me a model of a Firebolt," Harry said. "For Christmas one year."
"When we were at Grimmauld Place," Ginny murmured. Now she felt terrible. Tonks was a huge Harpies' fan. She would have been here today, with dark green hair to show her true Harpies' colors. "She gave me my Harpies poster."
"She did?" Harry turned to her.
Ginny swallowed and nodded. "I wish . . ." She was going to say that she wished that she could have given Tonks something back, but that was impossible now.
"Maybe we should start a model broom collection for Teddy," she said impulsively. "Charlie's godfather started one for him when he was a baby and the rest of us were always so jealous."
"Really?" Now Harry looked intrigued instead of sad. "Who is Charlie's godfather?"
"My Uncle Charles, Dad's younger brother – the one who lives in Brittany. He was at the wedding." She frowned. "Did you meet Charles? He's Barney's dad."
"I – er – sort of met Barney."
She turned again toward the model brooms. "I think a Cleansweep is a good first broom for an infant to watch. They hover well."
"You mean buy it now?"
"Why not? I have a little money left," she said eagerly. "I really want to do this for Tonks. That dark green one is a Harpies edition."
He smiled. "Okay. But you have to come with me when I give it to him. I want Teddy to know it's from both of us."
She giggled. "I'm sure he'll notice the distinction."
After buying the model broom for Teddy Lupin, they quickly made their way into the stadium. Their box was huge – big enough for a party of dignitaries – and it was located right above the announcer's box, the perfect vantage point.
"Is that Lee Jordan behind the microphone?" Harry asked, looking down.
"Yes, and that's George with him."
"Oi, George!" Harry called.
George turned around and gave them a smug grin. "He must have talked his way in with Lee," Ginny huffed. "What's he going to do? Turn the pages of the team roster for the announcer?"
"You just wanted to be the only one in the family who was at the first match of the season," Harry accused.
She didn't deny it. "Ah, well, I'm the only one who's been to the Epic Epicurean."
Harry grinned and turned his attention to the pitch. The teams were warming up and Lee Jordan was starting his commentary.
"The Harpies are the dark Hippogriff of the match," Lee said. "They're a new, untried team – even Captain Gwenog Jones is playing a new position. She's Seeker today."
Ginny bounced in her seat. Maybe she would have a chance to meet Gwenog Jones if the match didn't go past mid-night. One of her biggest regrets was not meeting the Harpies Captain at one of Slughorn's parties during her fifth year. That had been the only time she minded that Harry scheduled Quidditch practice during Slug Club meetings. She smiled as she remembered Harry's horror of Professor Slughorn's flattery. Yet another thing to love about him.
"One name that I recognize on the Harpies roster is Angelina Johnson as Chaser," Lee continued. "She was Captain of the Gryffindor team three years ago."
There were cheers and a few boos from the crowd.
"Lots of Gryffindor fans here, I see," Lee said smoothly. "Fellow Gryffindors will be happy to know that Puddlemere United's only change from their lineup is Oliver Wood, who has moved up from the Reserve team to play Keeper today. Oliver was also a team Captain for Gryffindor. It should be an interesting match to have these two housemates as rivals."
"Wow! Angelina is playing!" Ginny exclaimed. It seemed so weird to think that one of her teammates was now playing professionally.
"She was always keen," Harry said, watching the Puddlemere team put the first Quaffle through the hoops.
After three additional Puddlemere goals in less than fifteen minutes, Ginny knew that youth and surprise were not going to be enough. Angelina managed to bring the Quaffle to the Puddlemere hoops, but her fellow Chasers let her down when one of them fumbled the pass. "It doesn't look good," Ginny groaned.
Harry shook his head.
When Gwenog Jones called a time-out, Lee mentioned the sponsors of the match (Madam Malkin's and Flourish and Blott's: two necessary stops on your way back to school), the upcoming schedule for matches at Exmoor (Harpies vs. the Arrows in two weeks), and then he started to list the celebrities who were in the stadium. "Sir Thespis Smith, the celebrated actor who plays Roderick on Days of Destiny, is out of hiding and enjoying the match with us today."
There was a big cheer and Ginny craned her neck to see him.
"Constance and Edmund Bones who sheltered many Muggle-borns and sponsored Potterwatch are also here today!"
Ginny exchanged a glance with Harry. Surely Lee wouldn't announce his name? So far a few people had recognized Harry, but no one had said anything to him. Then she noticed a flash going off to her right.
"That man is taking pictures of us!" she hissed.
Harry put his arm around her. "Yeah. If we don't do anything interesting they'll go away."
"You knew photographers would be here?"
"I didn't know for sure. But . . ." He turned to her. "Sorry. I should have warned you."
It wasn't Harry's fault of course, but the thought of strangers taking her picture made her feel uncomfortably on display. "I'm just glad I brushed my hair."
"You look very pretty." He smiled. "Perfect for the first pictures of us together."
He was right. There weren't any pictures of them together except for group shots of summer fun at The Burrow and those didn't count because Ron or Hermione or someone else was always in the photo.
"So I get to claim you in public, do I?" she asked, smiling.
He smiled back. "I get to claim you."
There was another flash and Ginny found that she didn't mind one bit.
As the lopsided score quickly increased on the Puddlemere side and Oliver started flying in lazy figure eights in front of the hoops, bored spectators stopped by their box to say hello. Ginny greeted friends of her parents who didn't know Harry and wanted to be introduced. And she also met acquaintances of Harry's from the Ministry who wanted to be introduced to her. It was rather like hosting an open house except they were at a Quidditch match and Ginny wanted to study how the Puddlemere Chasing team was seamlessly working together to score all of those goals.
Harry was keeping one eye on the match while greeting old school friends. He was the one who noticed the Snitch first – even before the Seekers on the pitch. "There it is," he said in Ginny's ear as she was talking to Padma Patil, who was a keen Quidditch fan. They immediately stopped the conversation so they could watch the Puddlemere Seeker charge across the pitch before Gwenog Jones could grab it.
The Harpies were down two hundred points, but Ginny could see that Gwenog had to end it now. It was the first match of the season. No use letting Puddlemere rack up any more goals.
"And that's it," Lee Jordan announced. "Jones captures the Snitch, but the win goes to Puddlemere."
"That's the way the World Cup ended," Harry remarked.
"Look at Oliver," Padma said.
He was doing loops on his broom and pumping his fist in celebration.
Harry laughed. "I think Angelina could take losing better than Oliver."
It certainly seemed that way, since Angelina landed in their box, still in her dark green Harpies uniform, just minutes after the teams dispersed. "Harry! Ginny! I saw you from the pitch!"
"Tough match," Harry said, shaking her hand.
Angelina shrugged. "Watson was too distracted out there tonight. I don't think she has what it takes to perform in front of such a large crowd." She looked at Ginny. "You could do it, though."
Ginny felt the heat rise in her face. "Me?"
"You could, Ginny." Padma nodded. "You've already shown you're versatile since you've played both Chaser and Seeker."
"Under stressful circumstances," Harry added.
"I'd love to see the Harpies put together a good team this year," Padma continued. Then she grinned. "Even if it is full of Gryffindors."
"Now wait a minute. I'm going back to Hogwarts this year," Ginny said, alarmed that her future was suddenly being decided for her.
"Then you're a shoo-in for Captain," Angelina said, now full of advice. "Make sure you schedule separate Chaser drills so you can practice without worrying about the whole team –"
"Hey, Angie!" George and Lee were now in their box, looking pleased to see their former classmate. Angelina hugged Lee and then she clung to George. "How are you?" she asked tearfully.
George blushed and looked over Angelina's head at Padma. "I'm doing better."
Padma didn't smile, but her dark eyes brightened and she nodded slightly. Ginny was mystified by that exchange until she remembered that she had seen George talking to Padma the day after Fred died. Since Padma was also a twin, maybe they had had some sort of conversation about Fred's death. Whatever it was, Ginny wanted to know more about this sudden friendship.
"Angelina, stop sniffling over George," Lee said. "Oliver is going to think you're heartbroken over the Harpies loss." Oliver had just arrived – straight from the showers, judging by his damp hair.
Angelina pulled away from George and tossed her braids. "I'm not heartbroken over a Quidditch match," she said loudly enough for Oliver to hear.
Oliver's broad, tanned face creased into a smile and then he bounced over to Angelina with his usual exuberance. "That's good to know. Your other Chasers were outmatched anyway. Nothing you could have done. You were the only one who broke away to our side of the pitch."
Angelina tossed her braids again – but this time she looked pleased. "It was really cool when that happened," she admitted. "The crowd is a lot louder at Exmoor than at Hogwarts."
"I'll say!" Oliver beamed. "It's taken me four years to move off the Reserve team, but it was worth the wait."
Angelina frowned. "You could have played for a different team. It's only because Deverill was such a strong Keeper that you weren't allowed to play."
"Nope." Oliver shook his head. "I wanted to be on the best team – just like we had at Hogwarts." He turned to Harry and slapped him on the back. "I had the best Seeker and the best Chasers." He smiled at Angelina and then looked over at George. "The best Beaters –"He faltered when he realized that one of those Beaters was gone.
"The best announcer," Lee piped up.
Everyone laughed and the moment passed.
"The Harpies will be the best team in the league one day," Angelina said with a lift of her chin. "Mark my words. Next year we'll have Weasley as a Chaser –"
"Weasley?" Oliver's glance landed on Ginny. "Oh, you play, too?"
"She's brilliant, Oliver," Harry said.
"I'm going to talk to Gwenog about Ginny as soon as she's over her sulk about this match," Angelina said, turning toward Ginny. "She'll want to scout you at Hogwarts."
Ginny blushed. It didn't seem possible that one of her Quidditch idols would want to watch her play.
"You know who else would be good for your Chasing team?" Oliver said. "That girl from Hufflepuff. Smith or Smythe or –" Then he gave Angelina a heart-stopping grin. "Why don't you come out with me for a late dinner? We could talk about a Harpies dream team."
Angelina stared at Oliver for a full second and then glanced at Lee and George as if asking permission. Lee grinned and George nodded. She shrugged. "Okay." Then she looked down at her crumpled uniform in horror. "I'm not really dressed."
"I'll wait," Oliver said promptly. "I'm good at waiting for what I want."
Now Ginny was dying to ask Harry if he thought Oliver had fancied Angelina back when they were at Hogwarts. Lee looked like he was stifling a laugh, but Angelina didn't seem to notice in her hurry to change.
"Well, my dad is not good at waiting," Padma said. "I should go. Actually, we should all go since they're starting to take down the stadium."
Ginny looked across the pitch and saw a team of wizards with their wands raised, Vanishing the stands back into the Conjuring Boxes. By morning this would be an empty moor again.
"Oh," George said slowly, like he was trying to think of something else to say to Padma. "Well, bye."
"Yeah. Maybe I'll see you at another Harpies match. We have season tickets."
Padma nodded and then Disapparated to wherever her father was waiting.
Lee was smirking after this exchange, but didn't say anything – he simply clapped George on the shoulder and told him it was time to go.
"Thanks for not mentioning me, Lee," Harry said.
"I didn't think you were famous enough. I mean, we did have a Days of Destiny star in our midst."
"Lee should have mentioned Ginny's birthday!" George said. "I forgot."
"Nope," Lee said. "No birthday wishes on the air until you turn one hundred and twenty – it's a Wizarding Wireless Network policy."
"Guess you'll have to wait," Harry said, smiling fondly at her.
As she looked into his eyes, she realized a little breathlessly that they were still out together and that she didn't have to be home until mid-night. "What time is it?"
Harry looked at his watch and grinned. "Ten o'clock."
Ginny Side-Along Apparated Harry to the top of Pixie's Peak, a steep hill on the other side of Ottery St. Catchpole. She had once heard Bill telling Charlie about how it was the perfect place to take a witch since there was a sheltered bench at the top and you could see for miles. At the time Ginny didn't understand why a witch would like a bench on the top of a deserted hill, but now she did.
"Are there real pixies up here?" Harry said, looking around in the dim moonlight.
"No, they like caves," Ginny said, waving her wand over the bench. Now the little grotto was lined with squishy cushions. "I think the story goes that a Muggle mistook a fairy for a pixie and the name stuck." She sat down and leaned against the cushions. When she tilted her head, she could see thousands of stars in the soft black sky. There was a faint warm breeze that stirred her hair and then subsided. It was so quiet she could hear Harry's faint footsteps as he trod on the grass.
"What are you doing?"
"Just looking around." He had his wand out, doing some sort of a spell that made a glittering blue net before it vanished.
"You're not trying to catch fairies, are you?"
"No, it's a form of the Imperturbable Charm."
She was about to ask why he was doing that and then she remembered the photographers at the stadium. He was right to be cautious. She sighed. Caution had been necessary this past year, and it was a difficult habit to break.
"Finished," he said, sitting next to her. Like she had done, he rested his head on the cushions, looked at the sky, and sighed.
It was incredibly peaceful to sit side-by-side with the stars filling her vision and the wind whispering in her ears. Maybe her King's Cross was the night sky, she thought fancifully. Up there she could see all the people she loved below and they could see her . . . A shooting star moved faintly across the sky.. There would be meteor showers later on tonight. There always were on her birthday.
Fred's star would dance and Tonks' star would twinkle and Remus' star would be difficult to see at first and then would glow brighter as the night wore on . . .
She looked at the real stars again. They felt far away and mysterious – and close and familiar all at once. The same way she felt when she thought of Fred. He was so far away, but she still felt close to him at times. It had been good to see his friends tonight – they were coping and living their lives.
"What do you think that was with Angelina and Oliver?" Ginny asked.
Harry laughed. "Oliver isn't the most subtle bloke."
"I don't think Angelina cares about subtle. Do you remember how Fred asked her to the Yule Ball?"
"They weren't really going out anymore," Ginny mused. "But Angelina always cared for Fred as a friend."
"You want everyone to be all right, don't you?"
Not only was that true, she could hear the affection in his voice. Her heart turned over that he knew her so well – knew her and liked that about her. "So do you," she answered.
"I think everyone is going to be all right." He must have been thinking about George when he said it, because he then asked her about Padma. "How do you know Padma Patil so well?"
"Through Michael Corner," she answered. Then she added, just so Harry wouldn't feel jealous. "I was right to ditch him and keep the friendship."
"Oh. You mean like Dean and onion bhajis?"
He had obviously noticed her slip up. "Sort of." She rested her head on his arm. "But now I have you and a seven-course meal."
"Don't forget the wine."
She laughed. "Oh, the wine. Someday, when we can just –"
"Look – shooting star."
Ginny looked up in time to see a very bright meteor sketch a long ribbon of light against the dark sky. Soon it was gone, but the stars still winked steadily in its wake. She sighed at the beauty of it all. "Wow."
They lapsed into silence. Ginny was glad to finally be alone with him. They had done so much together today, but there had always been other people with them – even in their conversations. Now she wanted to concentrate just on him – she wanted to touch him and kiss him and tell him how she loved their day together.
Before she had the chance to do or say anything, he covered her hand with his. He had done that a lot today – casually touched her as if he wanted to make sure she was connected to him at all times. She reveled in the warmth of his hand as it sheltered hers. He wasn't clasping her hand; she was free to move away or to hold on to him tightly.
What she wanted was to hold on to him tightly – not just tonight, but for all the nights to come. There in the dark and in the silence, she faced that truth. But more than that, she wanted him to feel the same way. She wanted that with a stab of longing that made her draw a deep breath.
Harry stirred at the sound and took his hand away. "I think it's time I gave you your birthday present.
"Oh!" She had forgotten all about presents.
He took a long, narrow box out of his pocket, and then he lit his wand so she could see the necklace lying on the dark velvet cushion inside. It consisted of one delicate flower suspended on a fine gold chain. When Ginny lifted it from the box, she could see that the petals of the flower were made from cut blue gemstones and the center was a lustrous white pearl.
"It's a forget-me-not," Harry said quickly. "The petals are the light blue sapphires from Ceylon – not the dark ones."
Her fingers trembled as she looked at it closely. How could Harry give her a forget-me-not when there was no way she could ever forget him? Didn't he realize that she had never forgotten him since the day she saw him at King's Cross when she was ten years old?
"It's wizard-made, not goblin-made," he added nervously.
"It's beautiful," she murmured. It was, too. And it matched her robes.
"I just wanted you to know," he continued doggedly, "that I never forgot you – not last year – not this summer. I mean –" He swallowed. "And I mean, I never will forget you."
Her mouth went dry. This wasn't about how she felt about him – it was about how he felt about her. Oh, Harry.
"I have your birthday present," she said shakily. She put the necklace down and fumbled for her handbag. Then she presented him with the mug she had bought earlier, loosely swathed in tissue.
She held her wand up so he could read what it said.
'Someone at Hogwarts Loves Me.'
His mouth softened and he looked at her with emotion in his eyes.
"It's the same thing I gave you last year for your birthday," she whispered. "Not very original, sorry."
His eyes darkened and he reached for her. Their gifts slid away unheeded as he pressed her against his chest. "I love you, too," he said into her hair. He was holding her so tightly that she could scarcely breathe the words back to him, but she didn't care. This was all she wanted for her birthday – all she really wanted for the rest of her life.
Her whole body trembled as his mouth sought hers. She had thought that he loved her – almost against his will at times – but those feelings couldn't come first for him. Now they could.
Until today, they had never spent an entire day as a couple, they had never said 'I love you,' they had never kissed each other with their hearts laid bare.
She lifted her face as he kissed a trail of sensation along her neck, and saw a third meteor, blazing across the timeless starry sky.
It was almost too much for Ginny to comprehend – that their future was with each other – that this feeling now came first. It was as heady as seeing all the stars at once, and as miraculous as laughter after tears.
A/N: A big thanks to TDU who read through that restaurant scene too many times to count. Thanks also to Sherry for putting up with the numerous drafts that flooded her inbox.
I read about the Laughing Owl when researching New Zealand Chronicles. Yes, you can expect a new Kiwi fact in every story I write from now on. :-)
I paired George with Padma in Roger and Lisa: A Romance, and I was happy to bring them together again for this story. Since Lee Jordan is already taken in my universe, I thought Oliver Wood might be a likely candidate for Angelina. Fred's death, like any death in real life, affected a lot of people. As I wrote this, I was amazed at how intricate the ties were between all of these characters. JKR really wrote an incredibly detailed universe.
Beta note: Thanks, y'all, for pointing out that I'd forgotten to make this a "completed" story. Although, honestly... I keep telling our dear author that what she really needs to do is to make an on-going, never-ending version of Harry and Ginny's life together. Sort of their own version of Days of Destiny, you know? ;-) Somehow, she hasn't gone along with that idea too well yet, but hey... she's got 19 years to play with between the end of this fic and the Epilogue of Deathly Hallows, not to mention what else she can think of. I mean, it just makes sense, don't y'all think? ;-) And now I'd probably better go hide from our dear author... ;-)