Author's Note: I cheated and made the Auror training program last only one year.
Ginny turned more fully toward her friend. "Hermione, what's wrong?"
"Nobody mentioned… uniforms."
Ginny turned her attention back to the stage. They were in a large auditorium at the Ministry, waiting for the commencement ceremony of the Auror training program. This year's graduates included Ron and—
"Oh, lord…" Ginny sighed.
Harry. He wasn't leading the small group of graduates as they walked across the stage. He was somewhere in the middle. He wasn't the tallest— that was Ron. His hair was still messy, his eyes hidden behind his glasses. But he was in… a uniform.
It was black, which was always good, with a long cloak swept back over his right shoulder. There were some ribbons and small medals above his pocket. All the trim on the uniform was silver, the collar of the cloak high. He was even standing up straight. Harry looked…
"Mmmmphft…" Ginny said.
"Uh-huh," Hermione agreed. "He's so… tall."
"Huh?" Oh, right, she was looking at Ron. Strange girl.
"Oh, this is terrible!" Hermione muttered, and sniffed. Ginny turned away from Harry. Only the anguish in her friend's voice could have done that. She would have guessed an instant before that had Percy, seated on her other side, suddenly caught fire, he might have earned only a passing glance. Harry was just too, too…
Hermione sniffed again. Fished a handkerchief from her robes. "Hermione! What's wrong?"
"Just look at him, Ginny. All the photographers…" Hermione's voice trailed off. She dabbed tears from her eyes.
Ginny's gaze rocketed back to Harry. The way his hair fell across his forehead… The way the collar of his heavy cloak grazed his jaw…
Ron. Right. Tall, goofy smile, freckles, Ron. Whatever.
"Pictures?" Ginny asked. "What—" Then she noticed the flashes. Photographers. Of course, Harry Potter was becoming an Auror today. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, who together with Hermione Granger defeated Voldemort.
"Hermione?" Ginny watched as a group of photographers gestured for Ron and Harry to stand together on stage. Then the flashes really went wild.
Suddenly Hermione was gone, rushing up the aisle and away. Ginny followed, knowing Ron couldn't see anything with the lights and the camera flashes. Couldn't see the love of his life running from his graduation ceremony.
Ginny found Hermione in the nearest ladies' room. She was trying to fix her makeup while still crying. Bad idea.
"Hermione, what's wrong?"
"I'm sorry, Ginny, I'm sorry, you'll miss the whole thing. I know Harry and Ron want you there."
"Yeah, well, they want you there, too." She snatched the handkerchief from Hermione's hands and dabbed at Hermione's smudged makeup. "Run cold water over your wrists and explain."
"He's beautiful," Hermione said, nearly sobbing.
"No more crying! Who's beautiful?"
"Oh, he is not. He's Ron."
Hermione wasn't listening. "Those pictures will be in The Daily Prophet tomorrow and everyone will see… Witches will be after him. Beautiful witches…"
Ginny was scrambling to keep up. "You're a beautiful witch. You go after him. You've even got a head start. You know where he lives."
"I can't," Hermione said, and Ginny's smile faded. Hermione's voice was so sad. "We're friends."
"Isn't that best? To start?"
"He doesn't think of me that way."
"Hermione, I didn't know you thought of him this way until just now. I'm sure Ron—" I know Ron, she thought. And if he had one gram of courage anywhere in that scrawny body…
Hermione straightened. Wiped her cheeks one last time. "It's fine. He's a friend. He'll just… He'll find a girlfriend and I'll be fine." Hermione headed for the door.
"Ginny, if he'd ever had an interest he would have said something. I'm fine, really. I've been busy at work. It's just stress." With that, Hermione yanked the door open and left.
"Son of a—!" Ginny spared a moment's silent fury for her idiot brother, and followed.
Ginny worried about Hermione's broken heart for exactly twenty-eight seconds, which was how long it took to return to the auditorium and spot Harry. The ceremony was underway, with the waving of wands and incantations and sparks. Ginny scrambled into her seat beside Hermione just as Harry's name was called. There was a standing ovation, which really wasn't much of a deal for Harry's shortest admirer.
"I missed it!" Ginny hissed at Hermione as they resumed their seats.
"It will all be in the papers tomorrow." Hermione sighed.
Two minutes later they missed Ron's graduation, as well. The ceremony broke up. Ginny followed Hermione up the aisle. The entire Weasley family followed, her mother weeping with pride in her youngest son and proclaiming her joy in both Ron and Harry.
"Talk to him at the party, Hermione," Ginny said as they passed through the double doors.
"I'm not going to the party," Hermione said, drawing away.
"Not going to the party? Are you crazy? Mum will kill you!"
"I… uh, I have a project at work I have to check on. Tell her… Tell them I'm sorry." With that Hermione was gone, vanishing into the crowd.
There was no doubt about it; Harry Potter was the most astonishingly gorgeous man in the history of—
"Where's Hermione?" Ron asked.
"Damn it, Ron!" Ginny snapped. She'd finally found the perfect angle, standing at the kitchen sink pretending to help her mother with the last preparations for the massive graduation party while ogling Harry as he stood in the yard sharing a drink with Bill and Charlie, and Ron had gone and intruded upon her line of sight.
"What?" she asked, snapping an asparagus spear at him. He jumped back a bit. Not far enough for her to see Harry. "What, Ron?"
"I can't find Hermione."
Ginny sighed. Cursed Hermione in her turn. "She's not coming."
"Don't yell at me. It's not my fault."
"It's not— Why? I can't believe— Harry will be disappointed…" Ron's voice trailed off.
Ginny tried to ignore the hurt in his eyes. "You big idiot."
"What did I do?"
"Just get out, Ron, before you get your uniform dirty."
"You're mad, you know. Mad as Hermione." He left, cloak billowing behind him. Ginny had a strong urge to fling an asparagus at the back of his head.
Harry had wandered away. Damn.
She sat across from Harry at dinner. A minor miracle if left to fate, considering the masses of people invited. But the seating arrangement had been subtly engineered by Mrs. Weasley, and what Mrs. Weasley wanted, Mrs. Weasley got. Ginny loved her mother.
The tables were set up outside, under a wide warm sky. Bill had cursed the gnomes into a day's evacuation. Fred and George had set perpetual sparklers into flower arrangements all along the table, one of which Ginny shoved aside when it blocked her unrestricted view of Harry.
Ginny sipped her champagne, poured for her by George while Mrs. Weasley was looking the other way, and admired Harry. As one of the men of the hour, his attention was drawn almost everywhere else. Kingsley Shacklebolt wanted to talk about their first assignment. Tonks teased both Harry and Ron about their Order of Merlin ribbons. Lupin asked about the flat Harry and Ron were planning to share. Mr. Weasley had heard a rumor that Harry was going to take Muggle driving lessons, perhaps to allow him to work undercover.
Work undercover. A marvelous phrase, in Ginny's opinion.
"So, Ginny," Tonks said suddenly, interrupting a million-galleon fantasy. "What are you planning on doing now?"
Ginny came within two seconds of saying "Harry." No use getting him killed right there, though. Her brothers might be listening. "Oh, I, uh…" She'd graduated from Hogwarts two months ago.
"Strange, isn't it," Tonks said quietly. "Planning for the future."
Ginny smiled. Lupin, sitting at Tonks' side, laid a hand over Tonks' and gave it a gentle squeeze. Ginny looked back at Harry, who was listening to Mr. Weasley hold forth about the benefits of the automatic transition. "It is."
Harry, of course, was not listening to Mr. Weasley. He had not listened to much of anything since Ginny sat down across from him. He hadn't seen her at the ceremony. Hadn't seen her in the crowd afterward. Hadn't found her in the crowd at the Burrow when he'd first Apparated home.
Home. It had been his only real home between Hogwarts and now, during the year of the war and his year of training. As a child it was his home because of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Now it was his home because of Ginny.
She'd been his, two years ago. Well, not his, really, in the sense of his, his. But he'd kissed her. And she'd kissed him. And for a few perfect weeks she'd been his girlfriend.
No doubt she was someone else's girlfriend now. And he was too much a coward to ask her. Hell, he couldn't even bring himself to ask Ron.
Harry glanced down the table at his best friend. Ron had sat uncomplainingly between Fred and George, in the universally acknowledged Seat of Doom, and was now staring into his champagne glass, which George was refilling out of sight of Mrs. Weasley. Ron's ears were red, which meant he was upset, and his face was flushed, which meant he was drunk.
Uh-oh. Harry looked around for Hermione. No sign of her. Maybe she was inside. Maybe Ron had said something… He could ask Ginny…
Whoops! No, he couldn't. Ginny had just leaned forward to say something to her father, who was seated at the head of the long, long table. As she did, her dress inched a bit lower in front and Harry… forgot Ron's existence. And Hermione's, and the fact that he was supposed to be listening to Mr. Weasley. Harry tugged at the scratchy collar of his ridiculous cloak and tried to breathe normally.
Oh, this was horrible.
She hadn't come. She hadn't come to his party. Well, his and Harry's party.
"Bit more champagne, there, Ron," George insisted, nudging the glass toward him.
"Don't wanna get drunk," Ron muttered, drinking.
"Sadly, I think that ship has sailed," said Fred.
"Why wouldn't she…" Ron began, looking at Fred blearily.
"Can't be Mum," George said. "She made all his favorites."
"That dear girl could do no wrong."
"This is leading us nowhere, Fred."
"Who could be left?"
"Well, there is the lovely Miss Granger."
"Where?" Fred made a show of looking up and down the table.
"Actually, I don't think I've seen her since the ceremony."
Ron perked up. "She came to the ceremony?"
"Drink, Ron, drink," George said.
He didn't remember anything after that.
Ron woke up on the floor. Exactly which floor was not immediately apparent. He opened his eyes and saw the empty living room of the flat he'd rented with Harry. It wasn't much; Ron had insisted that he and Harry split the rent equally. Harry hadn't protested, and they'd found this place last week. Small, in a bad part of London, and unfurnished.
It did have wood floors. Which explained a small part of Ron's headache. The rest was the champagne. Never, ever again, thought Ron.
He next contemplated vomiting, getting up, finding the bathroom, crawling into the pile of blankets on the floor of his tiny room and dying like a rat in the road, and Hermione, in that order.
What he got was Harry. "Wakey, wakey!"
"Augh," said Ron.
"Sorry, mate. You were a bit heavy for me to drag."
Ron climbed to his hands and knees, shedding the cloak that had been draped over him. "Dizzy." He began to crawl. "Call… Sick…"
"It's Sunday. Don't have to be at work until tomorrow," Harry wandered into their miniature kitchen and scanned the empty refrigerator. "Thought we'd go shopping today. Maybe find a couch. Get some food."
"Augh," said Ron again. He was halfway from the fireplace to the hall, crawling for all he was worth. Which wasn't much.
"Why don't I handle that?"
Ron crashed into the wall. Kept on down the hall. Terrible things were happening in his stomach.
"Bathroom's on the left!" Harry called. "Lots of water, Ron. Drink lots of water. You'll be fine."
"So everybody had a good time, then?" Hermione asked over lunch. Ginny had Flooed that morning and insisted they meet at the Leaky Cauldron.
Ginny glared at her. "Harry had to leave early."
"Why? It wasn't work already…"
"It was Ron." Ginny stabbed at her lunch.
Now Hermione was paying attention. "Ron got drunk. Harry had to take him home. Didn't want Mum finding out. Told her Ron probably had flu and had to rest or he'd miss work."
"That's the worst lie ever. Your mother has a charm for flu."
"Ron doesn't deserve a charm."
"I never got to say one word to Harry."
"Why did Ron—"
Ginny returned home to the Burrow after lunch and found her mother in the kitchen. No surprise there. After the war, Mrs. Weasley had gone from strategic commander for the Order back to being a concerned mother of seven. With a vengeance. Mr. Weasley had gained a good ten or fifteen pounds since the fall of Voldemort.
"Hi, Mum. I'm back." Ginny kissed her mother on the cheek and snagged a cookie from a baking sheet.
"Careful, those are hot. How's Hermione?"
"Ginevra, that's not nice."
"Mum, if nobody shoves those two together, they'll end up alone. Or worse, Ron will find some brainless bimbo and Hermione will end up with a Ministry prat."
Molly faced her daughter, hands on her hips. Her war stance, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Weasleys would know. "You're a fine one, young lady."
Ginny mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. "What'd I do?"
"What are you planning to do about your wizard? Or do you think you have all the time in the world?"
"You let a splendid opportunity slip by yesterday. He was right here, and you looked so lovely…"
Ginny got up and took another cookie. "Well there's a once-in-a-lifetime. Thanks, Mum."
"It's not my fault Ron got dr— sick."
Molly tried a cookie. "Champagne-itis, I believe."
"Fred and George—"
"Yes, yes, I know. But it was because of Hermione."
They were silent for a while. Ginny waved her wand at the teapot. Flames leapt underneath.
"What am I to do?" Molly sighed. "I had such hopes of Hogwarts. He was with her day in and day out. And then the war. Off together, all alone…"
"With Harry," Ginny said.
"Oh, I'm sure they could have ditched Harry."
"You know what I mean." Molly poured tea. "You don't think your brother is… is…"
Ginny snorted cookie crumbs into her tea. "No, Mum, he's not gay. He's just a big idiot. I told him so yesterday."
Molly sighed. One of her patented, heart-rending sighs. The kind of sigh only a mother can manage. "And now they're apart. Hermione's an Unspeakable, Ron's an Auror, they live across London from one another, their paths will never cross, and I'll end up with a brainless bimbo for a daughter-in-law and never see Hermione again." Another sigh. Worse than the first. "My grandchildren will be idiots."
A long silence. The oven opened. Ginny retrieved a batch of hot cookies. She and her mother had demolished the first.
"I'll come up with a plan, Mum," Ginny said at last.
"You only have a month until your training starts," Molly mentioned. "You haven't found a flat yet. You haven't even packed."
Ginny wasn't listening. Wheels were in motion. "It might be underhanded."
"I may have to tell a few lies here and there."
"I might have to abuse Fred and George just a bit." It would be good to work it in on general principles.
"Ginevra, you may lay waste to entire regions if it will land me Hermione as a daughter-in-law."
"Will do." Ginny headed for the stairs. Paused "About Harry…"
Molly waved her off. "Harry just needs instruction. All men do."
Hermione Apparated into Harry and Ron's miserable little flat mid-afternoon Sunday. Why Harry put up with this place when he didn't have to, she'd never know. Friendship was one thing. Tiny, unfurnished squalor was something else.
The first thing she spotted was the plume of ash spread across the floor from the fireplace. It was smudged everywhere, obviously by someone who had lain on the floor for a while. Someone tall.
She walked down the hall. The first small bedroom was empty but for a few scattered blankets. The next was occupied.
Ron lay curled toward the dirty window, snoring softly. He was still in his ash-streaked uniform, his hair tangled every which way, and even in his sleep he had to be miserable. Hermione sighed and took out her wand.
"Scourgify," she whispered. "Bacchus reversus."
He sighed in his sleep and relaxed. Hermione returned to the living room. Found Ron's cape draped over the kitchen counter, rumpled and covered with ash. She fingered the heavy material. The silver trim at the collar.
Another Scourgify cleaned his cloak. A final one, the floor. Hermione Disapparated back to her lovely, spacious, empty flat.
Which wasn't empty, as it turned out. Ginny was in the kitchen. Hermione jumped. Had her wand out in an instant.
"Don't shoot," Ginny said, handing her a cup of tea.
"You're lucky I didn't curse you!" Hermione's hand shook as she took the cup.
"I'm moving in," Ginny announced. "My things are in the guest room."
"Just until I can find a place of my own," Ginny brushed past her into the living room. "It's hard to hunt for a flat from the Burrow. It'll be easier in town. Mum sent cookies."
Ron woke as the sun was setting. For a moment he didn't move, hopeful that his first order of business would not be vomiting. Thirst finally forced him to roll over.
He felt great.
He took inventory. Vomiting? No, hunger. Headache? Gone. Dizziness? Nope. Eyeballs about to fall out and roll across the floor? He blinked. All in working order. He didn't even feel sweaty and filthy anymore.
Ron found Harry in the kitchen. "The mummy strikes!" cried Harry.
"We have anything to drink?" Ron asked.
"Not funny." He found orange juice in the newly-stocked fridge.
"Glass," Harry reminded.
"Where'd all this come from?"
"Thought I was shopping for your wake. You okay?"
Ron paused in the middle of his glass of juice. "Yeah, it's strange. I feel great. Bloody hell, is it still Sunday? Did I miss—"
"Relax. Kingsley won't have to kill you yet. It's Sunday."
"But how did I—"
"Rejoin the living so fast? Dunno." Harry watched him closely. They both had plenty of hangover experience. The two months between the end of the war and the beginning of their training were still fairly blurry. Formal celebrations turned into late-night pub crawls. Night after night. And hideous hangover after hideous hangover.
Ron noticed his cloak. Clean, pressed, the silver trim shining. "Harry?"
Harry smiled. "Hermione."
"Hermione, it can't be that bad," Ginny insisted, as Hermione retrieved the morning's Daily Prophet from the desk in her study. And she believed it, until Hermione dropped it in her lap. "Wffff…" Ginny said.
"Don't spill your tea."
Ginny set her cup on the coffee table without looking. On the cover was a large picture of Harry and Ron at the graduation. Stern, manly poses gave way to roguish grins. It was terrible. It was brilliant. Ginny clutched the paper to her bosom, or somesuch, then ogled it some more.
"Colin took a great picture." Hermione sighed.
"Yeah, I always wondered about him."
"Hermione wouldn't just come here, fix me up, and leave," Ron said.
"Yeah, well, your Mum surely wouldn't. She wouldn't miss the yelling part."
"That's her favorite," Ron muttered, inspecting the clean floor.
"Gotta play to your strength."
"Hermione would have stayed for breakfast," Ron insisted.
Harry pointed at the darkened window. "Dinner."
At Hermione's flat, tea had given way to Chardonnay. "You mean in all the time you were out there hunting what's-his-name that you and Ron never…"
"Not once," Hermione said, refilling her own glass to within a millimetre of the rim.
"Surely he seemed… interested," Ginny asked carefully.
"I thought so. Several times. But he didn't…"
Ginny frowned. "Well, I suppose with Harry right there…"
"Oh, we could have ditched Harry."
"You know what I mean."
Ron and Harry surveyed their empty flat. "Come to think of it," Ron said. "I can think why she wouldn't want to stay."
"Change your clothes," Harry said. "We're going out. Time to get a sofa."
"Harry, it's Sunday night. Nothing's open."
"Ron, my friend, have you ever heard the phrase 'dumpster diving'?"
And in that manner Ron and Harry furnished their flat.
Hermione had left for work long before Ginny woke up Monday morning. Ginny's first order of business was going out for a coffee and about a hundred copies of the Sunday Daily Prophet. They were sold out in the first three places she tried, but she finally found two copies in a tiny apothecary near the British Museum.
It was a very effective use of her day, thought Ginny.
Ron and Harry received their first assignment. They tore open the envelope, which looked distressingly like a Howler, right in the briefing room, once the rest of the morning shift of Aurors had shuffled out.
"Missing cauldrons?" Ron said. "That's it?"
"Break in at MacAloo's Fine Potions Supply. Gretna Green."
"At least tell me there was violence."
"Front window was broken," Harry noted.
"Oh, whoopee," said Ron.
Hermione was an Unspeakable. How she spent her Monday was, well, Unspeakable.
"Who would throw a hedgehog through a window?" Ron demanded for the fifth time, carefully cradling the creature in his gloved hands. "It's just cruel."
"I don't know, Ron," Harry said for the fifth time, writing their report. The shop owner of MacAloo's Fine Potions Supply had offered no explanation. Only the statement that his front window had been smashed in the middle of the night and seven expensive cauldrons were missing. The only evidence was a hedgehog found snuffling around a corner of his shop the next morning.
"I don't think a hedgehog would even go through a window," Ron said, hefting the little bundle. "Doesn't weigh enough, really."
"Uh-huh." Harry scribbled away. They were in a small wizarding pub in the late afternoon.
"What kind of place is it, anyway, where it's easier to find a hedgehog than a rock?"
"Well, people don't come here for the hedgehogs."
Harry vanished his quill and rolled up their report. "Gretna Green, Ron. We're right on the border. People used to come here to get married."
"Law's more relaxed in Scotland. Age of consent was lower. Didn't need parental approval, that sort of thing. Folks used to elope here. Probably still do."
"How do you know all that?"
Harry rose. Tossed a few Galleons on the table. "Television."
They walked, squinting, into the sun. Passing witches and wizards gave the two Aurors a wide berth. Harry and Ron didn't notice the pointing fingers. The lingering gazes from most of the witches. And several of the wizards. "We should get one of those," Ron said.
"Television. Sounds wicked."
"We'll get a radio. Can't get Quidditch on television."
The hedgehog had curled up in Ron's hands. "Where do you want to let our evidence go?" Harry asked.
Ron held the critter a bit closer. "We can't let him go. He's evidence."
"Well, we can't fingerprint him. Even magically."
"What if he's hurt?" Ron asked. "He's been through a window."
"Looks fine to me."
"I think we should get him a doctor."
Harry stared at him. "Why do I hear Kingsley shouting in my head?"
Tuesday morning's Daily Prophet featured a story on a potential hedgehog-related crime wave and urged shopkeepers to be cautious. It was reported that the Auror Department was on the case, and that arrests were expected soon.
It was not the official policy of the Auror Department to release the names of specific Aurors in charge of investigations, but an exception had been made in this case. By personal order of Kingsley Shacklebolt, Head of the Auror Department.
Which was how Harry and Ron managed to get their pictures in the paper twice that week, this time with a hedgehog. They were snapped coming out of a Magical Veterinary Clinic in Guilford, Ron holding the discharged patient.
It was only page five, but still.
Ginny knocked on Ron and Harry's door Tuesday evening, Daily Prophet clutched in her hand. Ron opened the door and sighed.
"I've come to see the baby!" she cried.
"Oh, shut it."
She pushed past him, straight to the large cage in a corner of the room, ruffling Harry's hair as she passed. Harry was sitting on the couch, which was a good thing or he might have fallen over.
Harry leapt up and brushed crisp crumbs off his jumper. "Hi, Ginny."
"You're sure it's not an Animagus?"
"Oh, yeah, Kingsley already—"
"Mum said you can let him go at the Burrow. She's hoping he'll scare off the gnomes."
Ron watched the hedgehog burrowing about in shredded copies of the Prophet. "Dunno. Those gnomes can be right mean."
"He's covered in spines, Ron."
"I'm just saying."
She glanced from Ron to Harry. Harry stood up a bit straighter. "So what's his name?"
"Er," said Harry.
"Oh, uh, you know, we haven't…"
"Percy," said Harry.
"Percy!" Ginny laughed. "Perfect."
Harry smiled at her in what he hoped was not a stupid manner. "Er," he said.
"Hermione didn't want to, you know, come over?" Ron asked. He didn't do nonchalant very well. "To see the, uh…" He pointed at the cage.
"She's working late."
"And I have to run!" Ginny turned and left.
Harry bumped into the sofa trying to follow. "You can't, you know, stay?"
"Places to go, people to see. Happy parenting!" Ginny whipped out her wand and Disapparated. Harry sagged.
Ron was still studying Percy the hedgehog. "Not sure I like the idea of him living at the Burrow. Not now he's got used to a flat."
"So is Ginny, uh, seeing someone?" Harry asked. He thought it sounded pretty casual until his voice cracked.
Ron didn't notice. "Dunno. Probably."
"Shouldn't you keep track or something?"
Ron didn't answer.
Harry sat back down. "Could've stayed for a bit."
"Just as well," Ron said. "I don't think we've got all the stink out of that sofa, mate."
Ginny reappeared at the Burrow just in time for dinner and stayed on for her mother's cherry cheesecake.
"How's the hunt for a flat going?" her dad asked, over his second slice of cheesecake.
"I'll probably just move into student housing at St. Mungo's," Ginny said. "Not like I can afford much else."
Arthur Weasley pondered. "Don't know why you'd move now, then. Or move out at all. Not with your mother's cooking!"
"More dessert, dear?" Molly asked.
"Just a sliver." Arthur passed his plate. "So what did they name the hedgehog?"
Ginny was back at Hermione's flat with a sack of leftovers just before eight o'clock. She found Hermione in her study.
"No time," Hermione said, not looking up from her paperwork.
"Seen The Daily Prophet today?"
Ginny grinned. "There's cheesecake."
Hermione dropped her quill.
In the kitchen, Ginny unloaded the leftovers while Hermione picked at a small piece of cheesecake. "So," Ginny said, sorting the meagre contents of the fridge, "Ron brought someone home last night."
Hermione set down her fork. "I knew it. A woman."
"Actually, I'm not sure." Ginny looked up. Spotted the look on Hermione's face. Snatched her mangled copy of The Daily Prophet out of the sack. "Sorry." She dropped the folded page beside Hermione's plate.
"What on earth…" Hermione scanned the page. "Oh. Oh, how sweet."
"Dad says Kingsley read them the riot act. They're the joke of the entire Ministry."
"That's not fair! What were they supposed to do?"
"Gee, I don't know." Ginny snatched a cherry off the cheesecake. "Let it go?"
"They couldn't! It might have been hurt."
Ginny rolled her eyes and reached for another cherry. Hermione pulled the cheesecake away from her. "Hey!"
"Sorry, but after that little joke? The cheesecake's mine."
Turns out it's possible to transfigure almost every piece of standard-issue Auror equipment, every office supply, every wad of spare parchment, into a hedgehog. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The briefing room was close to overflowing with fake hedgehogs Wednesday morning. Harry and Ron waded through the snuffling, prickly morass to their seats at the back.
It was a perfectly ordinary briefing from that moment forward, but for the snickers from the other Aurors and the fact that several of the pseudo-critters seemed to have been charmed to climb up Harry and Ron's pants legs.
They opened their day's orders in the Auror changing room.
"Another hedgehog?" asked Harry, staring at the page.
"Good thing we bought the big cage," Ron said.
Harry glared at him.
Ginny woke up late. Knew better than to dig in to the cheesecake. Spent the day roaming the neighborhood around St. Mungo's. She would be spending the next four years there, after all. Might as well know the restaurants.
It was another day well-spent.
"You're absolutely sure nothing was taken?" Harry asked.
The proprietor of Honeyduke's, Ambrosius Flume, looked around his shop. "I can't be absolutely sure, now can I? But none of my jars are missing. Nothing's broken but the window. Nothing much different except the hedgehog."
Which Ron was holding. "Probably a good thing they can't climb. I bet candy's bad for them."
Harry rolled his eyes.
"I wasn't expecting Aurors to show up, to tell you true," Flume said. "But with what the missus seen in the papers… Ministry says to be careful…"
"You know, Harry," Ron began, gazing at the walls of candy. It was a familiar look. "Since we're here…"
There was an editorial in the Thursday edition of The Daily Prophet, speculating that the hedgehog crime wave might be the act of rogue Death Eaters who hadn't been killed or captured in the defeat of Voldemort.
Things had gotten a mite slow over at The Prophet since you-know-who bit the dust.
Arthur Weasley looked up from his close inspection of a disassembled electric shaver that morning to find his daughter standing in his office door.
"Ginny! Was I expecting you?"
She kissed her father's cheek. "Nope. Just in the neighborhood."
"Up to some mischief, I imagine. Or just here to visit your old dad and check on the two fearless hedgehog slayers?"
"Not slayers, surely." Ginny dropped into the single chair across from his cluttered desk.
"No, adopters, apparently. I'm afraid there has been some teasing."
"Strange, don't you think?" she asked.
"Oh, I'd expect some teasing along the way."
"I meant the hedgehogs."
"Yes, of course."
Ginny leaned forward. "I'm a little worried, Dad."
"Can't think what's so dangerous about a hedgehog. Unless you step on one, of course. Or sit on—"
"Sorry. I doubt there's anything to be worried about."
"I'd just feel better if someone could take a look at the hedgehogs."
"Ron said he'd taken them to see a healer."
"Someone who knew something about magical creatures."
"But hedgehogs aren't magical creatures."
"So far as we know."
Arthur quirked a speculative eyebrow.
"Potter! Weasley! You've got a visitor in the office," Kingsley shouted to them at the end of their morning briefing.
Harry and Ron slumped off through the fake hedgehogs that still clustered around their feet.
In the wide and crowded general office of the Auror Department they found Hermione Granger.
"I've been ordered to inspect your hedgehogs," she announced.
Harry noticed the delight in Ron's face and muttered under his breath. "Is that what the young people are calling it?"
"Oh, you'll love them!" Ron said. "They get on just fine. Both eating. Got 'em a nice cage. Easy to keep, really."
Harry cleared his throat. "Why don't you and Hermione go, Ron. I'll finish up the paperwork from yesterday."
"Cheers, mate." Ron led Hermione to the door. "Harry likes to do the paperwork. He says my handwriting's too bad."
With that they were gone. Harry sighed. "Ron, you big idiot."
There were a few chocolate frog wrappers on the scarred coffee table. "Honeydukes?"
"Yeah, that's where we picked up Myrtle," Ron pointed to the cage.
"Which is which?" Hermione crouched down beside the cage to inspect the flat's newest residents. They lay curled in a corner of the cage, partly buried in shredded newspaper.
Ron noticed the way her skirt— "Uh… Dunno."
"Ron, that's no way to maintain the chain of evidence."
"I'm sorry you missed the party," he said suddenly, stepping closer.
She stood. Stepped back. He loomed over her, silver trim on his cloak shining in the dusty light from the dirty window. She steadied herself. Work. This was work. She grasped her wand. "If you could take the hedgehogs out, please?"
"Did I say something, Mione? Do something wrong?"
Hermione swallowed. He was so tall. Somebody had finally figured out how to cut his thick hair. His blue eyes looked so, so blue and so sincere. And that uniform… "Ron…"
"I thought we were friends," he said.
She glared at him. "Take the hedgehogs out."
He sagged. Turned away. "I'll just get the gloves." He disappeared down the hall.
Hermione stared after him. Sighed. "Ron, you big idiot."
Ron slouched back into the office an hour later and dropped into his chair. Harry looked up from his paperwork. "What are you doing here?"
"She said the hedgehogs are just hedgehogs and left."
"Oh, well done, Ron."
"Well, what was I supposed to do?"
"Ask her out."
Harry goggled at him. "Why not? You wanted to when we were at school."
"That was school."
"What changed?" Harry stared at Ron. The pain in Ron's face was obvious. "Ron? I know you still want—"
"Forget it, Harry."
"Did she say something?" Harry asked. Hermione wouldn't—
"She asked what smelled like cabbage."
"We have got to do something about that sofa."
The highlight of the morning briefing in the Auror Department on Friday was the delivery of the mail, in which Harry and Ron received, in a plain brown envelope, a pair of witches' knickers covered in tiny, smiling hedgehogs. Kingsley spotted them at once.
All in all, it was a long week.
Ginny and Hermione sat at a small café near Diagon Alley and enjoyed brunch on Sunday. Well, enjoyed may have been overstating the case. The food was excellent, but the mood was grim.
"I can't believe he used the F word," Ginny said.
"Friends." Hermione sighed into her latté.
"Well, it wasn't the most romantic setting. That's a horrible flat. Hedgehogs can't help."
"They're so cute, Ginny. The way they curl up when you—"
"Hermione? Snap out of it."
"So what's your next move?" Ginny asked.
"I'm all out of moves." Hermione fixed her attention on her eggs benedict. "I doubt I had any to begin with."
On Monday morning Hermione went to work early. Although it was hard to say it was early, since she always went early.
In any event, she was long gone before Ginny stirred. She enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then headed over to St. Mungo's to arrange for her student housing. She made note of the bedding she'd need, which the Burrow and her mother's compulsive knitting would easily provide.
It was a very pleasant and productive day.
Ginny visited her mother on Tuesday. Molly did, indeed, have more than enough bedding stashed here and there around the Burrow to supply an entire class of healer trainees. Ginny piled her favorite selections on one end of the kitchen table and sat down for tea and scones.
"Mum, was Ron ever dropped on his head?"
"C'mon, Mum. I won't tell."
"Feels hopeless, then?"
Ginny picked at her scone. "I don't know. I know he loves her. He just won't do anything about it, and I don't know why."
"He was a Gryffindor. He fought Voldemort." Mrs. Weasley waved her arms. Let them drop. "He even faced spiders. How is Hermione so much worse than spiders?"
"I'm getting desperate, Mum."
Sometimes Mrs. Weasley's sigh was the only comfort. She patted Ginny's hand. "I'll ask your father if he ever dropped Ron on his head."
By Wednesday night, Harry and Ron owned four hedgehogs. Harry sat on the sofa, which continued to smell of cabbage despite their efforts, and despaired.
"We used to fight dark wizards, Ron. Do you remember?" Harry asked.
Ron added freshly shredded paper to the home of Percy, Myrtle, Filch, and the Hedgehog to be Named Later. "We're close to solving this one, Harry. We've got evidence."
"Evidence? Ron, we've got four hedgehogs. That's not evidence. It's a non-petting zoo."
"We've got the shops that were broken into. The potions place, Honeydukes, that Quidditch supply in York, and the pub in Plymouth. Surely there's a pattern."
"How is this even a crime? Except for the potions shop, nothing's been stolen. A simple Reparo fixes the windows."
"Yes, but why the hedgehogs?"
"Harry, mate, you've got to relax. Go get your gloves. I'll let you play with Myrtle. She likes you."
"I'm solving this, Ron. I'm solving it if it kills me."
Hermione and Ginny sat in Hermione's flat and stared at the flames flickering in the fireplace. They had sworn off wine some days before.
Ginny was enjoying a rather persistent fantasy in which the flames turned green and Harry stepped out, wearing his uniform, cloak swept to one side, and snatched her up off the couch and away. Or even just down the hall. Leaving poor Hermione brooding on the couch.
She remodeled her fantasy. What if Harry and Ron both stepped out of the green flames? Perhaps Ron swept Hermione up in his arms and carried her back into the green flames and away. Because Ginny's fantasy couldn't quite reach to include Harry and Ron's grotty little flat. No, she and Harry would stay here, and Hermione and Ron could—
"Lloyd asked me out," Hermione said.
"Guy from work. Bit older than I am. Told him I'd have to think about it."
"Thirty-seven, I think."
"He's very nice. He's in charge of… well, I can't tell you."
"You can't say yes! What about Ron?"
Hermione set her teacup down. "It's time to move on, Ginny."
"Ginny, I was wrong, okay? I've analyzed the situation, and I was just wrong. I may have thought… I always assumed…" she took a deep breath. Rose. "Just because I always thought Ron would be mine doesn't mean he will be. It's past time I moved on."
"I'm going to bed. And next week I'll go out with Lloyd and that will be that."
Hermione left. Ginny stared after her. Hermione Granger had Made Up Her Mind.
This meant war.
On Friday morning Harry sent samples of all their evidence to the Department of Mysteries for more intensive analysis. Broken glass from the windows, images from the crime scenes, impressions of the footprints from the floors, fingerprints from all surfaces.
He made Ron write detailed descriptions of all four hedgehogs.
At noon Ginny Apparated into the middle of a lonely lane in an empty stretch of Cornwall. A ten-minute walk took her to a small farmhouse built along lines nearly as chaotic as the Burrow. But it was a Muggle farmhouse, so it had to follow some rules for habitable construction.
Ginny found a tiny elderly lady puttering in her garden. "Mrs. Melstrom?"
"Oh, oh, hello, dear!" the old lady called with a wave. "Help you with something?" She waded through her delphiniums to hug Ginny. There weren't many people who made Ginny feel tall, but this woman managed it.
"I asked in a pet shop," Ginny said. "They gave me your address. I hope it's all right."
"Oh, that's fine, dear. Just fine." Mrs. Melstrom shuffled away toward her back door. "Well, come in for tea and we'll see what we can do for you."
Ginny walked into the farmhouse, past row after row of cages stacked on every table, chair, and inch of available floor.
Mrs. Olivia Melstrom was better known as the Hedgehog Queen of Cornwall.
Kingsley Shacklebolt finally ordered his Aurors to cease and desist with the fake hedgehogs late Friday. He ordered Harry and Ron to remove all the faux critters from the Auror Department, which kept them in the office until well after midnight. They Apparated back to their flat after a very, very long day feeling somewhat dejected about their first two weeks as Aurors.
Ron went straight to the hedgehogs. Harry went straight to the firewhiskey.
"Uh, Harry?" Ron said, leaning over the cage.
Harry raised the glass to his lips. "Not now, Ron."
"Right now, Harry."
Harry put the glass down and stomped into the living room. "This better be front-page hedgehog news."
Harry peered down into the cage. One of the hedgehogs was rooting around in its food dish. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was that some of the hedgehog's quills seemed to have changed colors.
Turned purple, specifically. In a pattern.
"WWW," said Harry.
"Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes," said Ron.
It wasn't exactly a stampede, but there were seven hedgehogs milling about Diagon Alley in the immediate vicinity of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. The front window was smashed, and a quick Lumos revealed any number of hedgehogs rooting around inside the shop. All the hedgehogs featured prominent purple "WWW" logos on their prickly little bodies.
Harry and Ron were alone outside. Well, except for the hedgehogs. "Ron," Harry said firmly, "I want to get one thing perfectly clear up front. These little guys? Not going home with you."
Ron was trying to herd the hedgehogs in the street into a group. It was working about as well as it sounds like it would. "That's not fair, Harry. We can't just—"
"Just round those up and stick them in the store. We've got to go."
"We've got to arrest your brothers."
The holding cells in the Auror Department were down the end of a long curving hall that seemed to circle back upon itself but didn't. Harry and Ron found a large room with empty cells on both sides, and stuck Fred on one side, George on the other. It was three in the morning and Harry had had just about enough.
"You know nothing," Harry asked.
"Honestly, mate," said Fred, "How hard is it to believe?"
"You have not now, nor at any time, been in possession of a hedgehog."
The doors flew open. In marched Kingsley Shacklebolt with Arthur and Molly Weasley.
"Fred, George!" cried Mr. Weasley.
"Hey, Dad," said George, with a little wave.
"Mum," said Fred, "I'd like to talk to you about Ron."
"Not now, Fred," she said.
"Mum?" whispered Ron, hoping Kingsley wouldn't hear. "You're not upset, are you?"
Kingsley heard. "Not now, Weasley. Tell me where you found the suspects."
"They live right above the shop!" said Arthur. "They must have heard the window break."
"Um…" said Fred.
"Well…" said George.
"They weren't at home," said Harry. Oh, this was going to be good. Years of being turned into canaries, turned blue, green, orange, and once, memorably, plaid, came back to him. He read from his notes. "We found Frederick Weasley in the residence of one Angelina Johnson and George Weasley in the residence of one Katherine Bell."
"FRED! GEORGE!" Mrs. Weasley shrieked. Really shrieked. It echoed in the stone-walled room.
"So they have alibis?"
"ARTHUR WEASLEY!" she shouted.
"Girlfriend alibis aren't the best, Arthur," Kingsley said.
"Besides," said Harry, "we estimate that the window was broken some hours prior to the arrests."
"I am appalled!" she continued. Harry was trying desperately not to smile.
Fred and George had the good sense to look cowed. Ron smirked. He knew it was an act. "They do claim to have an alibi, Mum. But we have to check it out."
"Yeah, we didn't do it," George insisted.
"Whatever it was." Fred said.
Harry consulted his notes: "'Breaking and entering, theft, vandalism, criminal mischief, disturbing the peace, restraint of trade, and practicing inappropriate charms on a hedgehog.' Sorry, 'on several hedgehogs.'"
"We haven't counted them all yet," Ron added. "If it's more than twenty-three, there's a prison term involved."
"Prison!" Molly clutched her husband.
"What's your alibi?" Arthur asked in desperation.
"We were with the Minister," said Fred.
"Well, not with just him, exactly."
"You're right, George."
"But we were at his party."
"You were at the reception for the American Secretary of Magic?" Kingsley asked slowly.
"You see, sir, what it is—" began Ron.
"We will check with potential witnesses in the morning," Harry said.
Kingsley loomed above him. "You bet you will. Now how did you two get an invitation to the reception?"
"I think I'm insulted, Fred."
"Too right, George. I think I'm done talking."
"Sorry, Mum. If you must know, George and I made a bit of a donation to the Ministry's building fund last month."
"Got a very friendly letter from the Minister himself. Invited us to come and meet the Secretary."
"Guess this means you're planning to expand into America."
"Very good, Ronnikins. They'll make an Auror of you yet!"
"That's enough, George."
Mr. Weasley looked pale. "You boys didn't… do anything to the American Secretary, did you?"
"Honestly, Dad, don't worry. Americans have a great sense of humor."
"Yeah, afterward he said—"
Kingsley looked from Fred to George in a threatening way that few could manage since what's-his-name snuffed it. "If your alibi doesn't pan out, I'm throwing the book at you both. That means Azkaban."
Mrs. Weasley whimpered.
"And if it does check out," he glared at Harry and Ron, "I'm killing both of you." Kingsley turned on his heel and marched out.
An hour later, Fred and George were free on bail and in the custody of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley at the Burrow. Harry and Ron were up to their knees in hedgehogs.
That was a bit of an overstatement, actually. Harry was on the sofa drinking firewhiskey, and Ron was tending to one cage and four cardboard boxes full of hedgehogs. Well, not full. But at capacity.
"Thirty-one, all fed and watered," announced Ron.
"Kill me now," said Harry.
Mrs. Weasley Flooed to Hermione's flat first thing Saturday morning, looking for Ginny. She found her asleep in the guest room.
"Ginevra! What is the meaning of this?"
Ginny sat bolt upright. It was so close to her favorite nightmare that for a moment she wasn't sure her mother was really there.
"Is this your doing?" she dropped the morning's Daily Prophet on the bed. There was the broken front window of Weasley's Wizaring Wheezes. There were the hedgehogs.
Yep, her mother was really there.
"Let me explain."
Hermione went to work on Saturday morning, which is how she missed Mrs. Weasley's agitated arrival. As she was an Unspeakable, nothing can be said about the file she found on her desk. Or about her desk. Or that she had a desk. Or…
Ten minutes later she was pounding on Harry and Ron's front door.
Harry opened the door after a long delay, obviously roused from a deep sleep. The less said about the condition of his hair, the better. "Hermione?"
"Where are they?" She pushed past him.
"Please, do come in." He closed the door.
"Incredible!" she whispered, peering into the first box. "This is just incredible!" She pulled a pair of gloves from her back pocket and put them on. Fished a hedgehog from the box.
Harry collapsed onto the sofa. "I wonder if it's too late to try out for the Cannons?"
Ron shuffled into the living room, holding up his threadbare pajama bottoms with one hand. "Hermione!"
"Do you have any idea what this means?" she asked, hedgehog in hand, radiant smile spreading across her face.
Ron was awestruck. Harry tried burying his face in the sofa cushions. The smell was too much. "What?"
"No one has ever successfully charmed a non-magical animal before!"
"I thought Dumbledore's brother—" Ron began.
"He was only practicing inappropriate charms on that goat," she said, inspecting the hedgehog closely. "He didn't succeed."
"Fair play to the goat," said Harry.
Hermione was practically glowing with excitement. "This means either this is a whole new branch of magic, or… or…"
"Or?" Ron asked, transfixed.
"A new magical creature!" she cried.
"Did you see her face?" Ron asked for the third time.
"Yes, Ron," Harry said for the third time.
"She was so excited. If only I could—"
"Do not finish that sentence. I beg you."
They had gone in to work. On Saturday. Which was not supposed to happen. But then, Harry thought, what part of the last two weeks had gone according to plan? Besides, Hermione wanted to take a box of hedgehogs back to the Department of Mysteries, and Ron had insisted on carrying it, at least as far as the unmarked door.
"She was so happy," Ron said, staring into space.
He missed Harry's glare as Harry dug through the paperwork that piled up on their desks day and night.
"This could be a big thing for her, Harry. Imagine, discovering a new magical creature. Of course, I don't know if they're magical hedgehogs or if hedgehogs are just magical, of course. The healer didn't say if— Hey!"
Harry had chucked a small envelope at Ron's head. "What did you do that for?"
"It's your first pay memo. Make sure they got your vault number right." Harry was already looking at his. He folded it and shoved it back in its envelope. Tossed the envelope aside.
"Typical," Ron sighed. "They goofed mine."
"Vault number wrong?"
"Amount. Too bad, really. Paid me four times more than last time."
"Ron, last time we were trainees." Harry snatched the page from Ron's hand. "This is right."
Ron stared at him blankly.
"Ron? You knew full Aurors got paid more." Harry laughed. "Come on, when we were in training we lived in the dorm and ate in the dining hall and had no life. We're lucky they paid us at all."
Ron grabbed the memo. Stared at it, unblinking. "But, but, this is a lot of money."
"Dangerous job. Ron, stop kidding around. You knew—"
"And they'll pay us this much every month?"
"Every two weeks."
Ron went pale. Paler. He squeaked. "Two weeks?"
Harry sat back. "You had no idea, did you? The crappy flat. The rancid sofa, all of it, you—" Harry had a horrible realization. "Hermione."
Ron ran a hand through his hair. Didn't look at Harry. "Hermione."
"Oh, Ron, tell me that wasn't all about money."
"She deserves… She deserves everything, Harry. I couldn't give her anything."
"Harry, I am such a big idiot."
Hermione got home late. Very late. Ginny usually left the lights on for her, so finding the living room all lit up wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise was finding Ron standing in the middle of the room. In uniform. Holding a dozen long-stemmed red roses. Her heart started to pound.
"Um," said Ron. "Hey, Hermione. Ginny said I could wait for you."
"Ginny?" Who's Ginny? Ron was wearing the cloak and all the ribbons and—
"She went to bed a couple of hours ago." He stepped forward. "These are for you." He thrust the flowers at her.
"They're beautiful." She wasn't certain this wasn't some horrible Polyjuice prank. "How are the hedgehogs?"
He lit up immediately. "They're great! I think the logo's starting to wear off. Didn't seem to bother them at all."
Okay, she thought, this was Ron. "Ron, why are you here?"
He stood up a little straighter. Gave her the same smile she'd ogled in The Prophet. "I wanted to ask you out. To dinner. On a date."
Unfortunately, as they moved closer, there was a very ill-timed knock on the door. Ron just about yanked it off its hinges opening it. "What?"
It was Harry. "Evening, Ron. Hermione. I've come to arrest Ginny. Is she home?"
It came pretty close to her fantasy, Ginny had to admit. Except Ron and Hermione were in Hermione's lovely flat and she and Harry were in Harry and Ron's wretched dump. He paced back and forth while she admired the hedgehogs.
"It's only because you're a friend that I haven't charged you, you know," he said.
"Don't you use the F word with me, Potter."
"Honestly, how could it take you so long? Do you have any idea how much money I spent on hedgehogs? How much time it took? Even converting Galleons into that Muggle stuff. It took forever! I probably won't be able to afford my school books now."
"I… What… You… Why?"
"To get Ron and Hermione together."
She sighed. "Worked, didn't it?"
"Hermione will be famous for finding a new magical creature. Her career is made. Ron did that for her. End of story."
Harry sat down. Stared.
"Harry, that couch is revolting." She whipped out her wand and pointed it at the offending furniture. "Belaria!" Suddenly the odor of cabbage was gone. Harry sagged.
"I still don't—"
"Harry. When I was seven years old I broke a window. It was my first accidental magic. Mum wasn't home. I was terrified waiting for her. Fred and George told me I'd get in trouble. I was so scared that I never told anyone what I found in my room afterward."
"Rooting around under my bed. I set him free near the pond. Turns out Mum was so thrilled with the magic that she baked a cake and we had a little party that night."
"Are created whenever someone magical breaks a window. If they don't fix it fast enough. Most do, though, so…"
"You've studied this extensively, have you?"
"Harry, I grew up with Fred and George. We went through a lot of windows. Forty-two minutes after a witch or wizard breaks a window, a hedgehog appears."
Harry stared at her. She was so— "Why did you steal the cauldrons? From the potion shop in Gretna Green?"
"I was never in Gretna Green."
"Harry. Sometimes a hedgehog is just a hedgehog."
"That was an actual crime, Harry. The others were all me. I saw an opportunity, and I took it. I thought the places I picked would give me away for sure. Honeydukes, Quidditch supply, pub. Come on, Harry. All things you and Ron like. How obvious could I get?"
Harry blinked. "A criminal mastermind. I'm in love with a criminal mastermind. I wonder if the Cannons—"
In a moment she was in his arms. He forgot about the Cannons, the hedgehogs, the missing cauldrons, everything. His last coherent thought was that he was really, really glad she'd de-funked the sofa.
All four of them showed up for breakfast at the Burrow on Sunday, by owled order of Mrs. Weasley. She sat at the table, stared at her daughter, and demanded an explanation from Harry and Ron. Fortunately, she included the phrase "about Fred and George," or Harry would have started explaining something entirely inappropriate for breakfast table conversation.
"Fred said it was the best advertising they've ever had," Arthur Weasley said. His wife glared at him. He returned to his breakfast.
"They'll be paying a small fine and making reparations for the missing cauldrons," Harry said. "No harm done."
"No harm? Why did they have to steal?"
"They didn't, Mum," Ron said quickly. "We think someone else came along after the window was broken and stole the cauldrons. Just an opportunistic crime. We're still investigating." His lying skills were improving, Harry had to admit.
Mrs. Weasley kept an eye on Ginny. "They didn't actually throw those poor creatures through windows, did they?"
"No!" Ginny said immediately. "No, I mean…"
"We had the glass tested, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said. "Turns out it was broken with a modified version of the Bat-Bogey Hex. Report just came in last night."
For a long moment they all stared at each other. Nobody said anything. As one they turned their attention to their eggs.
Ron set the hedgehogs loose in the garden of the Burrow. They wandered off into every available hidey-hole. Suddenly the garden was alive with squealing, fleeing gnomes. Ron sniffed. Looked away from the waiting Hermione, eyes a bit moist.
She hugged him. He wasn't wearing his uniform today, of course. Just a faded T-shirt and an old pair of jeans. He was beautiful.
"You like Scotland, right, Hermione?" Ron said suddenly.
"Scotland? Yes, why?"
Ron's ears were scarlet. "Oh, just, me and Harry visited this place…"
Harry and Ginny walked hand-in-hand toward the pond. He tugged her to a halt and kissed her.
"Mmmmm… Yes, Harry?"
"If I ever do anything wrong…" He kissed her again.
"Or if I upset you in any way…" Another kiss.
"Or if there's ever anything you want…" Another.
"Promise you'll tell me first? In words? Give a mere wizard half a chance?"
Arthur and Molly Weasley stood on the porch and watched their children with their loves. Arthur put an arm around his wife and held her close.
"Perhaps it's best we didn't drop any of them on their heads, my dear," he said.
"Well, Arthur, about Percy…"