Now Hermione stared at me. "Of course second, it's obvious that Harry and I are not exactly enemies … oh." She stopped in full train. "We were talking earlier about who was boyfriend material, weren't we? But, Ginny, surely you didn't think that Harry … that I … that we … oh, you couldn't have misunderstood whom I meant!"
"What?" My mind hardly dared to move. "You said that … I mean, after Lockhart … he'd been in the Chamber … he was a friend … and you're always together … and he's been growing taller … whom else could you …?"
My brain was whirring round in circles now, like cogwheels on an over-speeding clock. And from the dregs of the chaos, the nonsensical thought that leapt into my mouth was:
"You mean … you fancy … RON?"
"Of course it's Ron. Who else would it be – Draco Malfoy?"
I was weeping in earnest now, tears coursing down my cheeks while waves of relief swept over me.
"Ginny," she said, "I know Ron's just a brother to you, but you have to understand, to other girls he's a boy, and a very good-looking one too."
"But … why not Harry?" It was a stupid question, but my mind was full of it.
"Of course it was never going to be Harry. Harry drives me round the twist, with his moody silences and refusal to tell us stuff and ignoring good advice and never facing up to the practicalities."
"I thought," I ventured, "that Ron would irritate you with all his joking and arguing."
"Yes, but I like being irritated by Ron. Ginny, if you're the type of girl who likes moody, headstrong, humourless men, you're welcome to Harry!"
I digested this for a while. I should have remembered, of course, that Hermione knew I was in love with Harry. She must have known: it was part of the landscape, and Ron told her everything. I should have known that if she had been in love with Harry too, she wouldn't have gone on and on about it in front of me. When I'd assumed that she was doing exactly that, I really had been guilty of thinking the worst of her. Hermione was frequently tactless, but I should have remembered that she was never deliberately unkind.
Hermione may have thought me "welcome to Harry", but after a minute I pointed out: "Harry hasn't noticed me." And I said it quite cheerfully, even though it wasn't good news at all.
"You'll have to be patient with Harry," she agreed, "because he's still growing."
"Do you think he ever will notice me?"
Hermione became very serious. "Ginny, I don't know. I can safely tell you that Harry hasn't noticed any girls yet. So you have as good a chance as anyone."
"But he knows I like him. Tom Riddle told him. So now Harry finds me annoying."
"No, he doesn't. Honestly. I've never seen the smallest sign that he finds your adoration annoying, any more than he finds it flattering. To him it's just …"
"Yes?" I said eagerly. "Give me the bad news. To him it's just?"
"… not very interesting," she admitted. "I've told you, he hasn't noticed girls yet. But he will. Because he's growing taller too."
"What do you think a girl has to do," I asked, "to make a boy interested in her?"
We had a very long conversation about this. We talked on and on, but I don't remember all of it. Then we had to discuss Crookshanks and Scabbers and Sirius Black and Hermione's new subjects and my problems with making friends in my own year. And long after Crookshanks had fallen asleep, we were back to discussing how we could make the boys notice us.
It was nearly four o'clock in the morning when Hermione suddenly yawned. "We need to sleep if we're to be fit for school tomorrow – I mean today," she said.
I lay back on my pillows. My mind was still busy, so I didn't think I could sleep. I heard Hermione return to her own bed, settle down, and grow still. The candles were long since finished, but I was too comfortable in the dark to want to waste the moment by sleeping. The new school year had begun well after all, because I had made a friend. I knew then that if I were meeting Tom Riddle for the first time now, I wouldn't be interested in him. Just as Hermione couldn't be interested in a Professor Lockhart once she had decided that she liked Ron, so I couldn't be interested in a manipulative talking diary now that I had a real human friend.
There would be more friends. I would find some people who wanted to play Quidditch in the lunch hours, even if I wasn't good enough for the House team yet. I would try to be closer friends with Colin this year, always grateful that he didn't blame me for his misfortunes. Perhaps I would get to know Vicky and Sarah in a way that didn't annoy them. Certainly I would make an effort to be kind to that poor Ravenclaw in my Herbology class whom everyone else teased, because I knew what it was like always to be the one left out.
I must have slept after all, because suddenly the room was light and the clock showed half-past six. But I wasn't tired. I was light and full of energy as I stepped into the shower, put on school robes, and threw a pillow at Hermione.
"Wake up! It's time for school!"
Hermione sat bolt upright. "New subjects this term!"
"Come on, let's get down to breakfast before all the boys!"
Mum, sitting opposite a vertical copy of the Daily Prophet, was eating porridge in the parlour. "Good morning, Hermione. Ginny, you have dark rings under your eyes; I hope you girls weren't up talking all night. You have a busy day today. Come and have some bacon before the boys take it all."
I took a plate and asked, "Mum, how old were you when you met Dad?"
"I'd known him all my life, of course," she said, "because we're second cousins."
"But when did you start to – you know – fancy him?"
The newspaper may have grunted slightly, but perhaps Dad was only turning a page.
"About two years before he started to fancy me. You don't need more sugar than that, Ginny. Boys are like that. It takes them years to catch up with girls."
"Mum, did you ever do anything to make Dad notice you?"
"Goodness, don't tell me Hermione wants to make a boy notice her already. There's plenty of time for that, and you have your homework to think of. Well, I must admit, I did try to cheat a little."
Hermione was listening as closely as I was, and I wondered if she were really so confident of attracting Ron.
"We-ell. I was about fifteen. Fifteen, I said, not twelve like you two. And I was tired of seeing my classmates go off meeting boys in Hogsmeade while Arthur tinkered with an old Muggle radio and never offered me so much as a walk around the lake."
The newspaper was very still.
"So I told poor old Professor Jigger that I was interested in the theory of Polyjuice Potion, and he believed me and gave me permission to borrow a book from the Restricted section of the library. And I copied out every Love Potion in the volume."
"Oh, is there more than one kind?" asked Hermione excitedly.
"That depends on what you mean by Love Potion," said Mum. "There are draughts that make you look more attractive, but it's really better to use charm-work for that kind of thing. Then there's the Pherenomial Potion. If you can persuade a man to drink it, his hormones will go full fire, and you have guaranteed, um, love." She simpered, and then admitted, "Well, lust. The problem is, there's no guarantee about after whom he'll be lusting. It could be anyone or everyone. So I decided not to brew that one. Then there are fidelity jinxes, but they don't guarantee fidelity, they only put terrible punishments on an unfaithful lover. Which is no good at all before you actually have a lover. So in the end I decided on a nice smooth Soulmate Potion. Give half of that to your soulmate, drink the rest yourself, and your minds will unite, so he'll know at once that you're his one true love."
"And did you make it, Mrs Weasley?" asked Hermione breathlessly.
"I was terrible, really," said Mum happily. "I told Professor Jigger that I wanted extra practice in Forgetfulness Potions – because I knew they smell very similar – and he let me work in the dungeons on a Saturday, and opened the students' supply cupboard for me. I spent all morning brewing the Soulmate Potion. You need to know, girls," Mum tried to look stern, but she really wasn't in a very stern mood, "that all forms of Love Potion are illegal. I'd have been expelled from Hogwarts if I'd been caught making it, and sent to Azkaban if I'd actually used it."
"So what happened?" I asked, giggling a little as I tried to weigh up whether a year in Azkaban would be worth sneaking a Soulmate Potion into Harry's pumpkin juice.
"I poured the potion into an empty butterbeer bottle, and I brought it to Arthur while he was wiring his blasted radio."
The Daily Prophet rustled to the floor, and Dad didn't even notice.
"And it seemed rather unnatural just to hand it to him for no reason, so I left the bottle on the edge of the table, and we started chatting. And he told me all about his radio, and it really was quite interesting. And I told him about Moste Potente Potions – not the Love Potions, of course, but the Polyjuice and some of the others that I'd read up. And he turned on his radio, and there was the Muggle news, all about some Muggle politician in America who'd been murdered that day. And we talked so hard that in the end it was Arthur who offered me a butterbeer, and – "
"And?" Hermione and I were both agog, but Dad suddenly picked up the newspaper again.
"And he had a whole crate of them behind his work bench. And we both had a couple, and we kept talking, and then Arthur moved to pick up a spanner, and – oh, dear – "
"What, Mum? What happened?"
"He accidentally knocked over my butterbeer bottle, and my morning's work crashed onto the floor! And he hadn't even realised it was my bottle, he thought it was one of his, so he just said 'Whoops,' and cleaned it up with a Scourgify. So nobody ever drank that Soulmate Potion after all. But you know the oddest thing about it all?"
"What, Mrs Weasley?"
"When I was helping him tidy away his radio, he suddenly asked me if I would like to meet him in Hogsmeade the next weekend. And that's what we did. And we've never looked back. And nobody ever did find out that I'd broken all the rules."
By this time Hermione and I were both overcome with giggles. We hardly noticed when Harry and Ron walked into the room, asking for scrambled eggs and sausages. It was bad enough to think of Mum as a naughty teenager who nearly broke the law to ensnare a man. My eyes met Hermione's, and I knew that she too was thinking about a flame-haired, flame-eyed girl, just like me, who had wasted a perfectly good Soulmate Potion.
We found it just too funny that, without the benefit of either magical or Muggle love tricks, her soulmate had noticed her anyway.