AN: Shhhhhhhh, no complaints, I've been busy.
Chapter Two: That Weasley Girl, Bizarre
There was something decidedly unsettling about Ginny Weasley, something that had Harry averting his eyes whenever they chanced to fall on her. Considering she was on the other side of the table, just to the left of his line of sight, his eyes fell on her distressingly often — that region of his vision was actually where he defaulted to when not actively looking about. He got more of an eyeful of her than he'd ever want.
Truthfully, she was a cute enough little girl — well, he called her 'little' since she was younger, but she was only one year so and was actually about the same size and dimensions as him, within a few centimetres of height if he judged it correctly. Anyway, vague aesthetic-appeal aside, she creeped him out. That was the long and short of it.
He considered the possibility that he was being unfair to her since they had just met, but did she really need to stare at him so intently over the buttered green beans? With how she kept sending him longing looks when she thought he wouldn't notice, Harry would have thought himself a tray of egg custards she wanted to slurp up.
She'd missed her mouth a few times while trying to take a bite and smeared cream of corn on her chin. Her blonde friend — in what Harry assumed was a show of solidarity — took one look at Ginny, nodded solemnly, and finger-painted a glyph on her own cheek with ketchup.
Right. . . .
Harry nibbled on a floret of steamed broccoli and peeked over at the Weasley couple calmly and pleasantly engaging Erised in conversation, utterly ignoring the organised food-fight happening at the other end of the table. Mr Weasley — a smiley man who looked just like the sort of person to have seven children and live on a little homestead in the countryside — was saying something about a jinx'd sousaphone his department of the Ministry confiscated from a Muggleborn wanting to prank their cousin, but it was hard for Harry to pay it much attention.
Mrs Weasley glanced over in his direction and stood.
"More chicken, dear?" she asked, already carving off another slice. "Don't be shy now."
Harry accepted the offer with thanks, but he didn't fail to notice that Ginny had leaned forward for whatever reason and now had an elbow lodged in a gravy tureen.
Nope. He didn't want anything to do with that.
Harry kept his eyes on his plate for the rest of the meal and then fled to see Fred and George's room as soon as dinner was over, eager to be free of their sister's heavy gaze. The twins had been snickering under their breath the entire time but they obliged him, talking loudly about how they wanted to show him something they were working on.
"Is there a reason your sister looks like she wants to burrow into my small intestines and start a commune?" he muttered as he inspected a small cauldron they had simmering at the foot of their bunk bed.
George snorted, flinging himself across the lower bunk and crossing his arms behind his head.
"Ickle Gin-Gin's been a fan since her diaper days," he said, wriggling his eyebrows with implications that Harry refused to give any thought to.
"Has posters, she does," said Fred, plopping himself down on the floor at the cauldron. "She made them herself with cut-outs of illustrations she and her friends pooled. She re-reads those fantasy-adventure books about you every few days."
"I see. . . ." Harry pretended to be not at all alarmed by what he was hearing. He cast about for a mildly acceptable explanation. He knew he was a celebrity, and the kids at school were all sorts of in awe, but the hype should have died down by now, yeah? His return to wizarding society should be old news after a school-year. "Are they a good read then?"
"Fine enough, I suppose."
"We're not exactly the target demographic," added George.
"Bit too fantastical for our tastes —" Fred continued.
"— but the people who read them aren't really in it for the cold, hard facts," finished George, propping himself up on his side and resting his chin in one hand.
"So. . ." said Harry slowly, "she's just a fan of the books?"
The twins shared a look and burst into hooting laughter.
"N-nah, mate," said George as Fred leaned away from their potion lest he over-turn it with how hard he was shaking. "Ginny's in it for you. The story of the Boy Who Lived was her favourite bedtime story since the beginning — think Mum might have painted you as some fairy prince, and those books don't stray from that theme."
Harry's lips thinned in displeasure.
"I hope both of you know how creepy that is. I met her just today."
Fred shook his head, running a hand through his hair.
"Dunno what to tell you, mate — that's just how Ginny is. She's usually a cool customer and mouthy as Hell as well, but when it comes to the Boy Who Lived, she's a giggly dolt. You should see her when she gets with her friends that are like that as well. You'd think the Weird Sisters were in town."
"And you don't find that . . . weird? Unusual? Utterly alarming?"
"Nah. It's pretty common actually. Can't think of a single girl growing up that wasn't mad for you — well, the you in the books at least, though you certainly have true groupies now as well. Ginny's just really obvious about it."
Harry remembered then about that time at the beginning of first-year where Justin presented him with a stack of parchment that was said to be applications from some girls in his House to join Harry's harem. (Not that he had a harem, mind you, but, apparently, there were volunteers to start one.)
"D'you. . . ." Harry considered his words for a moment. "D'you think you could tell her to tone it down? I don't feel very good about all of the fuss, and her intensity is genuinely putting me off."
Fred laughed again, taking a small stirring rod to the little cauldron.
"There's no talking to Gin about it — she might seem all shy and daft now, but she'd bite our heads off in half a second if she thought we were telling her to lay off. Not too keen on us telling her what to do. Merlin, I can imagine the fit she'd throw! 'You lot can't just keep him all to yourselves!'" Fred screeched in an absurd falsetto. "'He should be able to decide for himself who he wants to talk to!'"
"But I'm telling you myself to ask her," Harry countered, sliding from the edge of the bed and onto the floor. "This is me deciding who I want to talk to."
"Yeah, but unless she hears it straight from you, she's just gonna say we're hogging you and playing keep-away."
The door cracked open before Harry could say anything else. Ron poked his head in.
"You lot mind me hiding out in here?" he asked, a miserable look on his face. "Gin's being a right terror."
"What?" said Fred, half-turning. "Even with her friend here?"
Ron nodded solemnly.
"Even with Loony here."
The twins graciously allowed Ron in, and he wasted no time barring the door with whatever he could get his hands on.
"Is that really necessary?" he asked.
They were acting like their sister was some ravenous bea— alright, well, maybe they weren't too far off at the moment.
Ron shot him a bewildered look.
"Did you not see her earlier? She was leering like Percy does at one his how-to-get-ahead-in-life books! As soon as you ran off, she reamed into me something fierce for us not letting her know you'd be here today. Didn't hear a word of me saying we invited you to come whenever you decided! I swear, it was only 'cause Loony was here that she didn't chase me up here!"
"And. . . and your parents just let her?"
Harry didn't have much experience with a normal family life despite the Dursleys so neurotically striving to achieve it, but he had imagined that a normal family wouldn't let a child make a scene in front of guests. Erised was still down there, for goodness' sake!
Ron scoffed, sitting in the chair he was using to hold the door shut.
"Mum an' Dad are too busy fawning over your human-mirror creature to pay any attention to any of us. Mum thinks he's the best thing to happen since Gilderoy Lockhart, and Dad's thrilled to have someone who's willing to talk with him about Muggle stuff — never mind that your Erised is about as muggle as the Sorting Hat."
The four of them hid-out up there, ending up in several rounds of Exploding Snap until it was well and truly dark on the other side of the twins' window. Eventually, Mrs Weasley called up that it was time for them to call it a night, and Harry had to slink back down to the Floo.
He crept down the stairs like Uncle Vernon trying to sneak a midnight-snack, eyes peeled for long, ginger hair.
Mercifully, the girls were nowhere to be seen.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief as he flashed away in the green flames. With luck and a dash of his best evasion skills, he'd never have to interact with Ginny Weasley ever again.
Harry should have known it wouldn't be that simple.
Despite going to neither hers nor Percy's birthday celebrations — they were small, family affairs anyway — Harry had the displeasure of seeing the littlest Weasley again when the brood bumped into him and his other friends during the back-to-school shopping rush. She stood gawking from behind Mr Weasley when they met up at Flourish and Blott's.
Surprisingly, Justin was the one who noticed her first. He caught one look of her staring holes into Harry's head and didn't need to be told that it was a bit not good.
He side-eyed Harry as they were jostled away from the family of gingers through the thick crowd stuffing the bookstore.
"Any particular reason the Weasley girl's sizing you up like a zesty Moroccan mixed-dish platter?" he asked, gripping Harry by the elbow firmly lest they be separated.
Harry hoped the thousand-yard stare he fixed on Justin was answer enough.
Morag, already standing in the clear at the edge of the crowd, strong-armed herself between some ladies chattering excitedly and hauled Harry and Justin out of the crush. When she spotted Dean all but drowning a few feet off, an arm waving in the air like he was being dragged under, she shouldered in and reeled him forward to safety, intimidating people out of her way with an aura of loosely-leashed violence, scowl in place.
"Why are we even in this madhouse?" she groused, crossing her arms and looking down her nose at the roiling horde. From where they were marooned between two shelves leading away from the front entrance, the crowd seemed to stretch from wall to wall.
Dean, straightening his skewed shirt, glowered at the crowd as well.
"Textbooks, Morag — ever heard of 'em?" He huffed and leaned against a shelf. "Flourish and Blott's don't include them in their owl-order catalogue. You'd think a Ravenclaw would know that."
"Ugh! I'm just saying why'd we wait until the busiest day of the season to come get our things?"
Before their eyes, another gaggle of witches flooded into the shop, swelling the sea of shoppers even further.
"Agreed," said Harry, stretching up on his tiptoes in an attempt to see farther. "I'm slightly regretting not simply getting mine from the shop near my place now. The price we pay for friendship, I suppose." He sighed. "Though, if this fracas gets any worse, I'll sell you lot to Satan for one corn chip."
"Oi! At least get your money's worth if you're going to cash us in!" cried Dean, arms akimbo. "I'd be worth a combo meal and a side of nuggets by myself!"
Justin wrinkled his nose.
"Only the most bourgeois of tastes around here, I see."
The noise level was incredible. People were in and out and in and out, the sound of the door chiming open again and again punctuating the enthusiastic rumble and chirping of conversation. It was like the Great Hall after the exams, but twice as loud at least!
"It's unusually crowded today, even for the back-to-school rush," said Harry, tracing the spine of a book on his right. "Why the Hell is it so packed in here?"
"Didn't you read the sign?" asked Morag, pointing to the front. "Today's the day of the book-signing with Gilderoy Lockhart!"
Harry looked at her in askance. He flicked his eyes to Justin and Dean as well, the latter looking equally lost.
". . . Gesundheit."
"Are you tell me you've never heard of Gilderoy Lockhart?" Morag cried, the most aghast he'd ever seen her. "He's, like, the most popular author of the twentieth century! I'd say he's second in fame only to you right now!"
"Considering I've done a fat load of nothing for the past ten years from the perspective of the magical community," said Harry, scratching his nose, "that's not really anything commendable on his part."
"Must you be like this?"
"Are you asking me to be 'like that'?"
Any further comments on that train of conversation were shoved to the wayside — shrieks and exclamations of the not-excited sort rang out over the already calamitous din. It turned their heads; they saw bodies thrashing on the floor through the gaps of the crowd shifting in alarm.
Before Harry could even pose a question, Dean ducked down and disappeared into the assemblage. The remaining three of them exchanged bewildered looks before following, albeit to varying degrees of success.
Harry, still the smallest, weaved under arms and around legs deftly. He burrowed his way to the edge of the commotion.
Dean was there, sandwiched between two ladies exclaiming their shock. Harry caught him by the forearm and was then tugged to the forefront by the bigger boy.
It was Mr Weasley, Harry realised with a blink, his mouth falling agape. Mr Weasley was rolling on the floor with some blond bloke, the two of them beating the ever-loving shite out of each other. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley was screeching for them to stop as another blond bloke grinned maniacally from next to a table piled high with books.
From somewhere on Dean's other side, Harry heard the twins cheer, "Yeah! Get him, Dad!"
How in God's name did they manage to cause a scene in the five minutes since they parted?
Mr Weasley heaved himself to the side, flinging his combatant with him, knocking the fellow backwards into a bookshelf. Dozens of heavy books came thundering down on all their heads.
Mrs Weasley was shrieking, "No, Arthur, no!" as the crowd stampeded backwards, knocking more shelves over.
Harry and Dean dove to the side in the rush, regrouping with Justin and Morag who finally broke from the herd. They huddled together, careful not be swept off nor bludgeoned.
"Gentlemen, please — please!" cried an assistant, echoed by his comrades trying to control the fray.
And then, louder than all —
"Break it up, there, gents, break it up —!"
Hagrid (when had he gotten there?) came wading toward them through the sea of fleeing bodies and fallen books. In an instant, he pulled Mr Weasley and the other fellow apart, the two all but dangling from his massive hands before he set them down again.
Mr Weasley was scuffed and had blood dripping down his chin, a cut splitting his bottom lip. The other man was just as badly off, if not worse — his long hair was an absolute mess and an eye was bruised and already starting to swell; Harry thought he might have taken an encyclopaedia to the face. In his hand, he held an old transfiguration textbook, completely at odds with his fine though rumpled clothes. He thrust it at Ginny, his eyes glittering with malice.
"Here, girl — take your wretched book — it's the best your father can give you!" He pulled himself out of Hagrid's grip imperiously. "Draco! Come."
At the call, Draco Malfoy climbed down from a step-ladder he'd been sitting on.
With twin sneers, the two blonds — father and son, Harry presumed — swept from the shop.
"Yeh should've ignored him, Arthur," they heard Hagrid say. He almost lifted Mr Weasley off his feet while straightening his robes. "Rotten ter the core, the whole family, everyone knows that — no Malfoy's worth listenin' ter — bad blood, that's what it is —"
Still agog, Harry, Dean, Justin, and Morag gravitated over to the nearest Weasley children, Fred and George, who were absolutely having the time of their lives.
'What the Hell?' Dean mouthed to Ron through the grin splitting his face, a laugh threatening to escape him, shaking his shoulders.
Justin shared an alarmed glance with Percy who had only just now come out of hiding from behind an unturned bookshelf.
"What was that all about?" asked Morag, clasping her hands behind her.
"Um, well . . ."
It came out that the Weasleys and Malfoy's family hated each other even more than Ron and Malfoy's interaction at school would lead one to believe. Apparently, there was even a feud between them, the current Malfoy patriarch having been accused of being a member of Voldemort's terrorist group being only part of the problem.
"Genocidal blood-discrimination is only a part of it?" Harry squeaked, eyes wide. "What the bloody Hell else can top that?! Why isn't that man in prison?!"
"Well, that's our problem with them," explained Percy as if this was all merely a simple Transfiguration formula. "They hate us for being so-called 'blood traitors' and —"
Erised chose that moment to return from Eeylops' Owl Emporium, a cute little bag with an illustration of an owl in hand. He took two steps in serenely before the scene before him sunk in.
"Wha—?" He looked around, blinking quickly, taking in the bedlam. "Is . . . is, um, is this a bad time? Are you closed?"
"Not at all, my good man!" cried the grinning mad man — Lockhart, apparently. He struck a pose. "Here for the book signing no doubt! As you can see, there's been quite the clamour for it!" He laughed gaily, dramatically returning to his seat at the table of books.
Lockhart pushed his autobiography onto Erised alongside the book-set mentioned in their supply lists, but any adoration he quite clearly was expecting from them was withheld — even if they had all been inclined to fawn over him as Mrs Weasley did, the Weasleys had worn out their welcome that day and Harry's group wasn't inclined to stick around any longer at the totalled bookshop.
Hagrid bustled them out with a firm, "Come on now — let's get outta here."
The assistants looked as though they had a few more scalding words for the Weasley couple, but not a one of the shop workers came up farther than Hagrid's waist — they thought better of it. The lot of them exited in a hurry, Mrs Weasley beside herself with fury.
"A fine example to set for your children . . . brawling in public . . . what Gilderoy Lockhart must've thought —"
"He was pleased, Mum," said Fred with a scoff. "Didn't you hear him before we left? He was asking that bloke from the Daily Prophet if he'd be able to work the fight into his report — said it was all publicity —"
Harry considered where next they would go. Flourish and Blott's was now a no-go and they all still needed their school books. He wasn't even certain if there was another bookseller around, not in the main alley at least. Well, if worse came to worst, he supposed they really could just drop by the shop in Hindsmoor before everyone went home.
Distracted by his wondering, Harry didn't notice Ginny stopped at a window until he ran right into her.
The girl was knocked right off her feet, her cauldron of belongings ricocheting off the window sill and sending books every which way.
"Sorry," cried Harry, immediately dropping to gather up the mess.
Ginny sputtered and blushed like a cartoon tea-kettle, scrambling for her books. Between the two of them, everything was picked up again before their group, which had been swallowed up by the heavy traffic of the Alley, was too far away to catch up with.
"Here, what about this one?" said Harry, noticing a black book peeking out from under a stand. He picked it up and showed it to her.
"N-n-no, u-um, not," Ginny stammered, clutching her cauldron to her chest like a shield. "Not mine! S-sorry! SORRY!"
With that, she ran off as if the hounds of Hell were nipping at her heels.
"What an odd girl," Harry muttered to himself.
He dusted himself off and looked over the book again. Flipping through the pages, he saw it was completely blank despite looking well-used. A glance around proved that the shop before him was no bookseller, so it must have been dropped by someone earlier.
With a shrug, Harry tucked it into his jacket and hurried to catch up with the rest.
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