The sun beat down upon the overgrown back garden of number 12 Grimmauld place where five bodies lay prostrate, stretched out and soaking up the opportunity to feel some heat on their skin on what passed for a lawn amongst the crowded shrubbery and straggly apple trees.
Only two weeks in to the summer holidays and already the teenage members of the order of the phoenix felt a little stifled by the constrains of the house and grounds. With everyone so busy with important business for the order, there had not been the chance for any trips to Diagon alley, or to the muggle streets of London with their tempting shops and teeming amusements, and things being as they were in the world at large, letting a group of fifteen year olds with a penchant for danger, a knack of finding it in unlikely places, and what may as well have been a neon sign over their heads calling for dark wizards to come and get them out and about unaccompanied would not have been the smartest move in anyone's books, and those aurors currently in residence at the headquarters had made it clear that there was to be absolutely no leeway given on this issue.
Hermione, who had stayed up half the night before, reading a book on obscure, yet, she felt certain, potentially very useful, hexes, was now lying stretched out on her back. A small smile was playing across her lips which were just visible beneath that very self same book – currently at home across her face, shielding her eyes from the sun as she dozed in the early afternoon heat.
Ginny stopped watching the small bug which was making steady headway through the bushy curls splayed out beside her and glanced across to the boys. Propped up on elbows they were animatedly discussing the relative merits of two quidditch players that she had heard of but cared nothing about - hard not to hear of quidditch players with six brothers, one of whom was Ron. From the sounds of it, they were seekers for opposing teams who were playing that evening. She sighed loudly - would they never tire of discussing the ins and outs of the game and everything associated with it?- and flopped back down, chin on hands, one leg idly kicking up in the air behind her as she continued to observe the progress of the wandering insect in her friends hair
The fifth member of the group sat a little distance away, and he was decidedly not a teenager. Hands by his sides with fists tightly clenched, Sirius Black was anything but relaxed as he stared unblinkingly up at the clear sky. If the others were beginning to find life on the premises tedious, Sirius was starting to feel life was beyond suffocating and not only had he been there for far longer than any of them, but there would be no shopping trips for Sirius, no later respite in the promise of summer excursions, and no relief as the end of the summer drew to a close and preparations were made to return to Hogwarts for the start of the new term as he would be left behind.
Left alone, at the mercy of visits from the order to relieve his solitude and introspection, he reflected that he remained as much a prisoner here as he had ever been in Azkaban. What use was he to anyone? A middle aged man, left to wait at home with a bunch of kids for his colleagues and contemporaries to return from fighting the good fight against the rise of evil. No one outside the order even knew of his continued existence, but if anyone ever found out they would have no hesitation- dark wizards or ministry alike- in seeking his immediate death. Now there was a depressing thought. He snorted contemptuously, though whether his contempt was directed at dark wizards, stupid wizards or just his own ineptitude in life that had left him in this state was unclear even to him.
Ginny looked up at the noise, and studied Sirius' inert form intently. His longish dark hair framed slate grey eyes fixed on the heavens, and he looked like he was wishing the sky overhead was filled with thunderclouds rather than the clear blue haze that was actually apparent.
She'd caught that look on his face a lot lately. She supposed he was brooding on times gone by; his life had been anything but easy from all that she'd heard since he'd been in their lives. It did him good to have Harry around, she was sure, he seemed to be the only one that could bring a smile to Sirius' face some days, but now he seemed heedless of the boys' earnest discussion though he was still boy enough that thoughts of quidditch would often serve to put that flashing grin across his chiselled features – it really was his best feature, she thought. Well, that or his eyes. The way one moment he looked like a… puppydog… eager to play, and the next, full of steely determination…. In any case… it was a shame that he didn't smile more often.
As her thoughts trailed off into incoherence, Sirius blinked once and turned to look straight at her. A trace of puzzlement etched across his features as he realised the source of the persistent eyes he had felt lingering on him as he lay. He saw her lips part slightly in an almost gasp and was bemused to see a flush of pink rise to her cheeks, and as she quickly turned aside, spread across the back of her neck and even tinge the tops of her ears. That brought a smile to his face, then. There's no mistaking a Weasley, after all, he thought. They blush at the slightest thing until their skin blends right in with their bright red hair. What did the girl have to be embarrassed about, after all? She was just looking at me; though why she was watching me for so long, I have no idea. I was quite absorbed in my own bitterness, thankyou very much. No call to go breaking my self pitying reverie.
Ginny felt the heat spreading across her freckled cheeks and tore her gaze away from those eyes whose qualities she had been considering only a moment before. Why was I watching him for so long? He must think I'm so rude; some little kid peering at him slack jawed when he was quite obviously having a private moment. His eyes seemed to be looking into another place or time.
And why do I keep thinking about his eyes? I mean, it's not like I fancy him or anything. He's old enough to be my father, and that would just be…wrong. She pulled a face at this thought, but as his face – yes, complete with puppydog eyes and winning smile - appeared in her head, she bit her lip. No. That would just be silly. This is Sirius she's picturing. Not some boy from school. And since when did he have puppydog eyes anyway?
Hermione sat up with a startled look on her face, book flying spread-eagled to the ground before she realised quite where she was. Looking around, she took in her immediate surroundings and then exclaimed, 'Oh - Blast!' rather too loudly as she realised that she had crumpled the poor pages of her treasured book.
Ron and Harry stopped their conversation and realising the cause of their friend's distress – they should have guessed, really – burst out laughing, as Ron laughingly remarked, 'I never thought to see you treat a poor defenceless book in such a way 'Mione, I'm really quite shocked. And as for such a scandalous expletive coming out of your mouth….' He and Harry carried on laughing, Hermione's habit of using markedly un-offensive swearwords being a joke they had enjoyed at her expense for several years now.
'Shut up you two!' Hermione whined petulantly, reaching across to punch Ron on the arm. 'I can't help it if my mouth's not been dragged through the gutter like yours.'
And she settled down to read the book; muttering as she did so about which hexes she'd like to try out on them when they got back to school if they carried on teasing her. Still laughing, the boys shot amused glances at each other, but there was a distinct touch of uncertainty in their eyes; she wouldn't, would she?
After a short while the boys, finding they had for one day at least exhausted the topic of quidditch, departed to go play a game of exploding snap indoors away from the burning heat. Ginny sat, threading daisies into an ever-growing chain and surreptitiously sneaking glances from beneath her lashes at Sirius, who had resumed his prior posture but was now regarding the sky with a more benign countenance as he considered that, all things considered, life could be a lot worse at Grimmauld place.
It was amazing how you never really looked at somebody properly when you saw them every day Ginny thought, twisting the flowers in her hands.
Ginny stayed curled up into the corner of the battered sofa, which was so soft she was always surprised she didn't sink right through it and out the other side, she had one foot tucked up underneath her, always her favourite pose when she was reading, and with her teeth she tugged at a bit of skin at the edge of her nail, lost in thought.
Hermione was, as always, occupying the opposite end of the couch and she had not looked up once since retreating there after dinner, with yet another book that she had found in the Blacks' extensive magical library. The two girls had become closer than ever since the end of the year, and sharing not only a house, but also a room, they seemed at times inseparable. Ginny loved Hermione to bits, but being best friends with her did seem to result in an awful lot of time spent reading and she longed for something to liven up her summer.
She was distracted by a commotion at the head of the stairs, craning her neck to see what was going on. Sirius wrestled Harry out of his bedroom and across the landing, pinning him playfully against the wall and reminding him that as an adult, he is perfectly able to take out his wand and hex him to high heaven should so much as a single other item from 'Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes' make its way amongst his unsuspecting belongings with unfavourable results. Harry looks up at him and grins, 'unfavourable to who, exactly…?' he enquires, with a wicked look sparkling in his eyes and reaches up, unselfconsciously, to muss his untidy fringe. A matching grin lights up Sirius' face and he laughs, clapping a hand on Harry's shoulder. 'I swear Harry boy, you grow more and more like James every day. I have to keep kicking myself to remember that its not him leaving 'surprises' in our room, and that I'm supposedly the responsible party here and can't beat you up for it.' Harry grinned right back up at him, 'You? Responsible? I have to keep kicking myself to remember you're not one of us kids. Come on. Fancy a game of something in our room? I've still got some chocolate frogs left, I think.'
Ginny watched the interplay with some amusement, shaking her head. Sirius certainly didn't act his age most of the time, and he didn't look it either, she reflected. Not much older than her brothers really, certainly not as old as Arthur. Most of her thoughts, however, were occupied not by their conversation but by the twin smiles the two had been sporting. Harry certainly was still attractive she thought wryly, even if she was long past the stage at which she couldn't meet his eye without a blush – but in comparison to Sirius, an analysis she had been covertly making – he seemed rather like, well, like a boy. Sirius stood taller, and having lost that haggard look he emerged from Azkaban with, was wirily muscled while Harry retained a certain gawkish adolescence, endearing perhaps, like his cute smile, but - in comparison. Sirius's features were more defined, his hair darker, and instead of sticking at any angle in defiance of gravity, it curled slightly in front of his eyes in a way that Ginny bit her lip thinking about. I can't believe I noticed all of that, she thought. They were only standing together for a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes, however, was long enough to confirm in Ginny's mind what she had grudgingly realised on the lawn that afternoon. She did find Sirius very attractive. In fact, judging by her initial blush earlier, she was in the distinct danger of developing a full on crush. Please don't let anyone notice, she begged silently. It's not like I can do anything about this crush. But she would certainly be looking at him properly from now on. Oh yes.
Turning back around, she was disconcerted to find Hermione's eyes fixed upon her. 'what?' she asked rudely, on the defensive. Hermione simply raised an eyebrow, and leaning forwards, clasping her hands around knees, smiled triumphantly. 'You were watching him.'
'…yes,' Ginny replied sarcastically, 'I am allowed to look at people, you know.'
'Well, yes' said Hermione, still with that smile on her face. 'But you were looking at him like you were a cat and he was the canary and the cream. You like him.'
Biting her lip once again, Ginny was panicking. She could just see the look on Ron's face when he found out she fancied Sirius.
'I knew it!' Hermione announced. 'I knew you still fancied Harry.'
Ginny wasn't sure whether to burst out laughing, deny it or go along with it instead, but as Hermione took her silence for an admission and had made her mind up already in any case, it made very little difference either way.
She sighed. At least this way she avoided the awkward questions about Sirius, and the scrutiny she would be under every time she so much as looked his way. It was always hard enough to maintain a coherent conversation with a guy once she knew she liked them, without having friends eyeballing your every move. Not that she got so flustered that she didn't know how to get it together with a guy if she was really interested, Ginny reflected, an involuntary smile gracing her lips as she thought of the boys at Hogwarts – I guess my blushes make them feel more confident or something. But that was at school. This was different. It wasn't like Sirius was going to suddenly….
'I saw that smile,' Hermione cut in, 'don't try and deny it. You totally do still like him,'
Ginny sighed once more. Now she would undoubtedly have to deal with Hermione's attempts at matchmaking….
Predictably, the older girl smiled. 'So what are we going to do about it then…?
'Nothing.' Replied Ginny; careful to make her face perfectly flat and neutral. We're not going to do anything at all. And neither are you.' She added quickly, with a stern glare at Hermione, who looked dumbfounded that her offer of help had been so flatly rejected.
Still, she's bound to come around, Hermione thought…. Another week in his company and she'll be going crazy if she can't have him, if I know Ginny at all.
And that was exactly what Ginny was worried about.