Ginny sat on the deep sill of her bedroom window watching the sunrise. Overnight a cool north wind had swept away most of the mist that was making it such a damp and dreary summer, and the sun was coming up clear and bright. She looked back into the room, as she liked to do while sitting in the window, and saw her shadow slowly climb down the opposite wall; the light was diffused where it passed through her hair, which she had not brushed yet. She liked to imagine what it would look like to someone standing against the wall in her shadow, the golden light from the rising sun shining through her red hair.
She was already looking forward to this day, and the fact that the mist had cleared made the prospect of it even better. Dementors' mist, wizards were calling it; she did not know what Muggles called it, or even if they knew what was causing it. She occasionally saw what looked like thin, dark, wispy clouds passing rapidly in the northern or eastern sky, and her mother had told her to let her know immediately whenever they appeared. They were packs of dementors on a mission of some kind for Voldemort. Molly, of course, still would not speak his name. "You–Know–Who's devils," she had started to call them, but Ginny thought that "dementor" was as right a name as she could imagine for those creatures.
She had got up early to get ready for Fred and George. They were coming up from Diagon Alley to escort her back there, a trip they had promised shortly after her return from school. "We'll give you run of the shop," George had said. "You deserve a little fun after everything you went through with Harry and the other stuff."
"And," added Fred, "you will have your pick of a pair of the best dragon–hide boots from Twillfit and Tatting's. None but the best for any sister of ours who puts the Minister of Magic off his feed. Besides, it's almost your birthday."
It took some talking to persuade Molly Weasley to allow Ginny to Side–Apparate into Diagon Alley with the twins. Bill offered to take time from his job at Gringotts to help look after her, but watching Ginny mope around the Burrow by herself for most of the summer was what really convinced Molly to let her go.
Ginny had seen Harry at the wedding, and again only a few days ago when he had returned from Little Winging after his birthday. But on both occasions Ginny stayed out of his way. She remained in her room or in the garden, and when they met at mealtimes Harry seemed glad that she was avoiding him. He had brought his trunk, broomstick, Hedwig, and a few other belongings from Privet Drive and put them in Ron's room. Then he left with Ron and Hermione, but Ginny did not know where or why. She tried to put it out of her mind, which sometimes didn't work, especially at night.
As Ginny stepped down from the window sill, a small spot in the sky caught her eye. It moved like a bird, not a dementor, and she soon recognized it as an owl. It was heading for the Burrow, no doubt, and as it flew closer it steered directly for her window. She quickly opened it and stepped back.
A dark brown owl that Ginny had never seen before landed on the sill. It looked right at her and lifted its leg, to which a small parchment was attached. Ginny took the parchment, and the owl hooted and settled itself on the sill. It craned its neck to peer past her into the room, and then rotated its head to look backward at the garden and the woods. It seemed to be curious, as though these kinds of surroundings were new to it.
Ginny opened the parchment. It was a short letter from Dean Thomas.
Ginny, it read, I was in Diagon Alley yesterday and your brother George told me that you were coming in today for a visit. I was wondering if I could meet you at their shop and maybe we could hang in the Alley for a bit.
You can send your answer back with Beckham. It would be nice to see you. I hope your feet are okay.
Ginny smiled at the owl. "Beckham. That's a cute name. Wait a second, I have to find my quill."
She wrote "Yes" on the parchment underneath Dean's signature, tied it around Beckham's leg, and watched as the owl flew off. She leaned her elbows on the sill and thought about Dean. She had fun going out with him, even if at the end it was getting tiresome, and Harry's kiss after the Ravenclaw match, surprising and welcome as it was, had put all thoughts of Dean completely out of her head. But she liked him, and he was a connection to Hogwarts and Gryffindor. Thinking about Dean, and the common room, and meals with her House–mates in the Great Hall, and all the other things that made up five years at Hogwarts, she felt even better about the upcoming day.
Ginny got dressed and went downstairs. He father had already gone to work; she and her mother were alone in the house. Mrs. Weasley was in the kitchen, humming to herself and keeping an eye on a pot of porridge cooking on the stove.
"Morning, Mum," Ginny said, taking a seat at the table. "It looks like a good day to go into London."
Molly nodded and smiled, and hummed louder. "Who was the owl from, dear?" she asked as she dished porridge into a bowl in front of Ginny.
"Dean Thomas. He wants to meet up in Diagon Alley today," Ginny said, starting to eat, and without looking up
Molly glanced at her. "That's a good idea," she said, putting tins of oatmeal flakes and sugar back on a shelf. "You need to see more people, especially ones your own age. He's a nice boy. Didn't you go out with him last year?"
"Um, yeah," Ginny mumbled into her bowl. "Yeah, he's nice. We played together on the Quidditch team."
"Well, that's good." Molly glanced at her again. "Maybe you should let Hermione know."
Ginny looked up at her mother, then back down at her breakfast. She finished in silence, then got up and took her bowl to the sink. "Maybe I'll do that," she said. "That's a good idea." Her mother smiled slightly and started a brush to scrub the dirty dishes.
There were three quick pops from the front yard, and Ginny looked out the window. "It's Fred and George," she called out. "And Tonks, too!" She started to unlock the door.
"Ask the question," Molly reminded her.
"Oh, right," Ginny giggled. She put her hand on the door handle.
"Come on, it's us." George's muffled voice came through the door. "Open up."
"Ask the question first," Ginny said loudly. "You know the rules."
"Oh, for — okay, okay. Um — what was it?" she heard George mutter.
"Who's your favorite Ministry of Magic official?" Fred yelled.
"Rufus Scrimgeour!" Ginny shouted back. "What's your favorite thing about Dolores Umbridge?"
"Her stupid kittens. Now open the door already." George was pounding on it. "Or you can stay home today."
Ginny opened the door laughing. The twins stood there grinning back, and behind them Tonks, sporting a violent green hairdo and a long, hooked nose, was also smiling. "Hi, Tonks," Ginny said. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm Molly's bodyguard," Tonks answered, moving into the kitchen behind Fred and George. "With you gone she's totally vulnerable." She winked at Ginny.
"More like you knew I'd be baking today," Molly snorted.
"Well," Fred cut in, "enough small talk. Ginny, are you ready? We don't want to leave the shop for too long."
"Let's go," Ginny said. "I'm ready."
"Just a minute," Mrs. Weasley interrupted as Ginny was about to walk out the door. "I want it understood that you are not to leave Diagon Alley, and Fred or George or Bill is to be with you at all times, even when you're with Dean."
"Who?" the twins said together.
"Dean Thomas," Ginny told them. "He sent an owl this morning. He said he saw you yesterday."
"Oh, right," George nodded. "He's been in the shop a lot. Asking about you, too." He gave Ginny an appraising look.
"Just friends. Quidditch teammates, you know. And I need to meet more people my own age, not over–the–hill blokes like you two. Come on, they're probably looting your shop by now."
Her mother hugged her. "Have a good time. And bring home a nice pair of boots," she called as Ginny and the twins stepped into the front yard. As her mother closed the door, Ginny heard Tonks say in an incredulous voice, "Dean Thomas?"
Ginny Apparated in the back room of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, holding tightly onto George's arm. The room was piled high with opened and unopened boxes of merchandise. A young witch sat at a desk near the door, tabulating the contents of a carton on a long piece of parchment. Pulsating green and red cubes were strewn on the table and on the floor around her.
"Paradox Pyramids," said Fred as they left the back room. "We're not really sure if they'll move or not, but the supplier has done lots of favors for us, so we thought we'd give 'em a go."
"But they're cubes, not pyramids," Ginny said, glancing back.
"Exactly. Paradox Pyramids, get it?"
Ginny didn't get it, but she forgot them as they came into the front room of the shop. There were about a dozen customers inside. She looked around, and immediately saw what she was looking for. "Oh, you still have them!" she cried, and headed straight for the cage of Pygmy Puffs. She bent down in front of it and put her finger through the bars. "Ooh, they're so cute! How many can I have?"
"As many as you think Mum will tolerate," Fred said with a smile. "But look around. The shop is yours." He gestured around the entire room. "Have fun," he said, and walked to the counter where two more young witches were waiting on customers.
Ginny wandered among the displays and shelves, examining and marveling at the variety of jokes. There were the standard items she already knew, like Skiving Skittles — she made a mental note to take a plentiful supply — but there were lots of things she had never seen before. She saw jokes from around the world and from Diagon Alley. The shop now carried a dozen kinds of trick wands. Some made nasty comments about the user's intelligence or looks; some turned into various kinds of animals; and some simply disappeared when you tried to use them. Ginny looked at one that made embarrassing bodily noises when it was put away inside a pocket, but decided instead on one that had a built–in jinx that caused forget-me-nots to sprout out of the victim's nose. All you had to do was point it, announce what color you wanted, and squeeze the end. It took no ability or training at all; maybe even a Muggle could use it.
The shop gradually became more crowded, and Ginny saw that the street outside was also busier. As she peered out the front window she saw a tall, young wizard coming down the Alley, and recognized Dean Thomas. He walked into the shop and spotted Ginny.
"Hi, Ginny," he said, coming over to her and smiling broadly, "how are you? It's good to see you."
"I'm okay," she answered, looking up at him. "You grew some more?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he laughed. "My mum had to fix all my clothes so they fit."
They stood awkwardly for a few moments. Ginny looked around. Her brothers were helping customers behind the counter.
"Do you want to go outside and sit somewhere?" Dean asked.
Ginny nodded. "Sure, but I promised my parents I wouldn't leave the shop without one of my brothers. Let me talk to them."
Fred watched her as she came to the counter. "Ready to go get your boots?"
"Oh." Ginny hesitated. "Well, we'd like to go someplace outside and sit for a bit." She glanced back at Dean. "Maybe next to Gringotts? It should be pretty safe there, don't you think?"
Fred nodded at Dean, who waved back and then took an interest in the cage of Pygmy Puffs. "Sorry, Sis," Fred shook his head. "We promised Mum and Dad, you know."
"But we'll be right outside the doors," Ginny protested. "If something happens we can duck inside. They'd never attack Gringotts, they'd be idiots to do that."
"They are idiots," Fred retorted. "But okay, here's what I'll do. I'll walk you over to Gringotts and tell Bill where you are, then you can sit on the steps next to the door. Actually, there's been an Auror posted right in front of the bank for a while."
"Fair enough," Ginny agreed. She went back to Dean and told him what was happening. In a moment Fred led them outside and down toward the white marble edifice of Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
As they walked, Ginny sensed a difference in Diagon Alley from the last time she had been there, almost a year ago. Then, people seemed to hurry about their business with furtive glances and withdrawn faces. Now it seemed a little more like the old days when all was bustle and noise and people greeting each other with smiles and talk. Looking up and down the street there were still boarded up shops, but the wizards and witches she saw seemed almost defiant in their purpose, determined to enjoy themselves without fear. She also saw pairs of Aurors walking along; many people nodded and smiled at them.
There were also more vendors in the street selling things from push carts. Ginny saw magical jewelry; an ice-cream vendor — Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor was still closed — invisible bird cages filled with dozens of yellow and green budgies; and one shifty–eyed wizard selling what he claimed were pre–owned Ollivander wands. "Ours are better," quipped George.
When they got to Gringotts Ginny and Dean waited just inside the brass-plated doors while Fred went to find Bill. Ginny looked at Dean, who smiled at her, and she smiled back. "So, been doing much this summer?" she asked.
"No, not really. My parents are freaked about what happened at school." He grimaced. "Actually, I'm not supposed to be here. But they're both at work, so I'm cool as long as I get home before they do."
"But you're seventeen," Ginny said. "You can do whatever you want, can't you?"
"Well, yeah, but I don't really want to upset them. They could still decide not to let me go back to Hogwarts." He looked questioningly at her. "You're going back, aren't you?"
"Absolutely," said Ginny firmly. "And my folks want me to."
They were interrupted by the arrival of Fred with Bill in tow. Bill gave Ginny a hug while Dean stared at his scarred face. Bill noticed, and reached out to shake his hand.
"Dean, isn't it?" he smiled. "We didn't really meet last spring. Don't worry about this," he touched one of the scars on his cheek, "I know it's kind of ugly, but actually it lets me blend in better in this place." He laughed and waved his hand at the goblins sitting behind their desks and counters.
"Sorry," Dean mumbled. "I didn't mean to stare."
"No problem," Bill assured him. He turned to Ginny. "I got the okay to put up a little shield around the steps and along the street in front of the building. It'll last for a couple of hours, and no one should notice it unless they try to Confund it, and then they'll get a little surprise." He grinned. "Okay?" he said to Ginny.
"Sure." She turned to Dean. "I always liked wizard watching."
They went outside again, and Fred left, saying he would return in a couple of hours. Ginny and Dean sat on a wooden bench next to the building. For a few minutes they watched in silence the parade of witches and wizards passing by. Finally Dean spoke. "So, how's — how's everybody? Seen many people this summer?"
Ginny turned to him and put her hand on his arm. "Dean, look, I like meeting you, I have a good time when I'm with you. But, I'm sorry if you're expecting something else to happen today."
He nodded. "I didn't really, but maybe when we went out together it meant more to me than to you. That's okay," he added, taking her hand. "I just wanted to make sure."
They looked at each other and then they both laughed at the same time. After a moment Dean said, "It's Harry, isn't it?"
Ginny looked up and down the street; no one was near them. "Dean, listen," she said in a low voice, "I don't think we should talk about him here. But, yes, that's it."
Dean nodded again, but then immediately changed the subject, asking how she had done on her O.W.Ls. They also talked about next year's Quidditch team — Gryffindor should have by far the best team — and other topics about the upcoming school year. The time passed quickly, and soon Fred was back, this time with George.
"Okay, kids," Fred announced as George went inside Gringotts to tell Bill that they were back, "let's head on over to Twillfit's. I happen to know, courtesy of a certain brother in Romania, that they just got in a new shipment of the latest styles in dragon–hide footwear."
They strolled back down Diagon Alley, and as they passed a street vendor hawking jewelry Ginny stopped. Prominently displayed on a rack was a hair clasp in the shape of a golden lion, glowing softly in the sunlight. Dean noticed what she was looking at.
"Do you like it?" he asked, taking it from its display and holding it against her hair. "It would look great on you, especially during a Quidditch match. It would keep your hair out of your face."
Ginny clipped it into her hair and shook her head so that the clasp twirled around. "It feels good," she said, and looked at the twins.
"It's gorgeous," they said in unison. "Buy it."
The vendor, an old witch in threadbare robes, came around her cart and cackled. "It's perfect for a pretty redhead, and guaranteed not to contain any magic." She peered at Fred and George. "I know you two, you opened up that joke shop over there. Bless you," she croaked, stroking George's arm. "If it wasn't for you this street would be dead." She looked at Ginny. "Your sister, isn't she?"
"That's right," said George, passing his wand over the clasp. "It's okay," he pronounced. "How much?"
Dean interrupted. "Oh, no, I'm buying. Quidditch teammate, after all."
"Dean, no," Ginny protested.
"It's fine, Ginny," Dean said. He leaned toward her and whispered in her ear, "A thank you gift for some good times."
But Ginny shook her head. "Dean, I appreciate it, I really do, but if you buy it I won't wear it. I can't wear it."
"Well, okay," he relented. "I guess I understand. It still looks great on you." He touched the lion, and then let his hand slide quickly down her hair. Ginny was momentarily annoyed, but she saw in his face that it was meant as a goodbye gesture. She squeezed his hand and they smiled at each other.
George paid the witch, who curtseyed as they walked away. Ginny held her head up, thinking that out of the corner of someone's eye, the golden lion might look a little like the Golden Snitch flashing in the sunlight. She smiled to herself.
A few yards down the street was Twillfit and Tatting's. They all went inside, and when they came out half an hour later, Ginny was clutching a pair of boots to her bosom.
"They're just beautiful," she gushed to her brothers. "I never had anything like them! I wish we could have the wedding again, they would have been perfect with my dress." She held the boots up as they walked. They were a deep, velvety black, and shimmered in the light with tones of red, brown, yellow, and green. She hugged them again and laughed. Fred and George looked at each other and grinned.
They reached the front of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and Dean stopped. "I better be heading on home," he said. "My mum's getting back soon."
"Goodbye, Dean," said Ginny. "I'm really glad you came." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and watched for a moment as he walked toward the Leaky Cauldron.
Back inside the shop, Ginny put on her new boots and packed the items she had picked out from the shop — including two Pygmy Puffs — into a carton that the twins would bring home later. She and George went into the back room, and in a moment they Apparated in the yard in front of the Burrow. Ginny ran to the door, and as soon as she answered Molly's question about Rufus Scrimgeour, she burst inside, sat down in a chair next to the fireplace, and put her feet in the air so that Molly and Tonks could admire the boots.
"Bye, Ginny," George said from the door. "Glad you had a good time. See you later, Mum, Tonks." He Disapparated with the usual pop.
"They're so comfortable!" Ginny exclaimed. "They feel so good! No need to break them in, and they're completely waterproof."
"They're beautiful," Tonks said admiringly; she took one off Ginny's foot and felt the supple dragon–hide. "And what's this?" Tonks held up the clasp in Ginny's hair.
"On, it's just something to keep my hair out of the way in Quidditch," she said.
"It's very handsome," her mother declared.
Ginny looked around. "Mum, do you know where Errol is?"
"I think he's in a tree out back, dear." Ginny stood up and moved toward the door.
"I'll go out with you, Ginny," said Tonks. "I have to be running along. 'Bye, Molly. Thanks for the pie."
Ginny and Tonks walked outside. Ginny started around the side of the house, and looked at Tonks in surprise as the Auror followed. "I thought you were leaving," Ginny said.
"I am," Tonks replied, "but I thought it would be nice to take a little walk first."
Ginny gave her a skeptical glance. "Did you want to ask me something?"
Tonks smiled. "Oh, look." She pointed to a small fruit tree just outside the garden fence. "There's Errol."
Ginny stopped and faced her. "Come on, Nymphadora, what is it?"
Tonks laughed. "Your mum told me you were meeting Dean Thomas in town. I was just wondering..." She looked directly at Ginny. "Giving up on Harry already?"
Ginny looked at her for a moment, then continued walking toward the tree. "Errol," she called, "I have a job for you." The owl, who had been watching them approach, gave a loud hoot and fluttered down to land on Ginny's outstretched arm. "You need to take a parchment to Hermione Granger," Ginny continued, "so that she knows I saw Dean today. She'll be interested in that."
She looked sideways at Tonks, who had doubled over laughing. "Ginny Weasley," she spluttered, "you are good! Harry Potter doesn't stand a chance." She hugged Ginny, causing Errol to squawk and jump up onto Tonks's head, which made Tonks laugh even louder. She reached up, took the owl in both hands, and gave him back to Ginny.
"Bye, Ginny," she said, still chuckling, "see you around." She stepped back and vanished with a pop. Ginny took Errol back inside the Burrow, and in a few minutes he was on his way with the message for Hermione.