Author's Notes: See previous chapters for disclaimers. I apologize for the tardiness of my update, and the shortness of this chapter. Hope you enjoy! Of dinner parties with unwanted guests...
Of dinner parties with unwanted guests...
"Why's there four places set?" Ron called into the kitchen, sitting down at the table with a bewildered look upon his face. "Is Ginny coming over?"
"No, no, she's busy with all the work your mother's given her," Hermione called back. Ron bit his lip.
"George bringing over a girl?" He asked a redundant question; George barely spoke to his family, let alone to a girl he may or may not be interested in. He frowned at Hermione's dismissive snort. She came in carrying a pot of stew, and she paused to glance at him.
"C'mon… who's left?" She asked smartly, placing the stew onto the table. He continued to stare blankly at her, and her fists kneaded their way into her hips as she smirked. He glared at her.
"Percy?" He questioned stupidly, before he groaned. "Oh, don't tell me that you bloody invited him!"
"Yes, yes I did, and it wouldn't kill you to be civil, you know!" She raised her own voice to match his frantic call. She disappeared back inside the kitchen and was fussing with the dishes rather loudly.
"Actually, it would!" He called back, stabbing a potato out of the stew. He ate it and glared at the door she had disappeared behind. It swung open again to reveal a red-faced Hermione carrying a basket of buns.
"Why can't you simply forgive him?" She snapped, slamming the basket down on the table and causing the buns to fly into the air. They landed haphazardly in and around the basket, but she ignored them and instead regarded Ron.
"Because, 'Mione—Ginny's my baby sister!"
"And your baby sister is of age!" She shouted, exasperated. "She can make her own decisions, Ron, and she can surely deal with her own emotions!"
"I told him, though!" Ron insisted, standing up to tower over her as he did in all of their more heated arguments. "I told him—I warned him, more like it! I told him that if he broke her heart—"
"But he didn't!" She interrupted him with a high-pitched squeak. "She broke up with him—it was her own decision!"
"But he said it was his fault—!"
"And do you want to know why, Ron?" Hermione challenged in a low voice, glaring at him so fiercely that her eyes were nearly closed. "Do you want to know why he thinks it's his fault?" She leaned forward, as if to tell him some large secret, before she shouted into his ear, "Because Harry always blames himself for something he never did in the first place! She broke up with him because she couldn't deal with him always leaving her behind and never including her!"
"So you see—it is his fault!"
"When did you talk to Ginny during that year we were gone? Did you divulge any of our plans in her, either?" He hung his head guiltily, and Hermione sighed. "Do you see it now?"
"Still… it wasn't as if I had any choice, you know. Couldn't talk to her without alerting the entire family I was home," he said softly, and Hermione made to continue, annoyed with how stubborn he was being when George called his hello from the fireplace.
"In here, George," Hermione called, sitting down at their dining room table. George appeared a moment later, and offered them both his own closed-mouth smile. They nodded their salutations, and he took his normal seat next to Ron.
"Another person?" He motioned to the fourth seat beside Hermione. "Ginny—?" He questioned somewhat anxiously; Hermione smiled and shook her head.
"Harry," she said simply, and Ron rolled his eyes. George shrugged.
"Can we start without him?"
"I don't see why not," Hermione shrugged, and they each doled out their food. Just as Ron was taking his first bite, however, there was an incessant taping on the window. He turned to see a Ministry owl outside their window. He was up and there in a second, grabbing the bird and retrieving his letter.
"Is that—?" George started, and Hermione beamed.
"Well—open it!" She nearly shouted with her excitement and anticipation for the news. Ron's hands shook as he clumsily broke the seal and tore open the envelope. His blue eyes widened as he read the first few lines, and he dropped the letter a moment later.
"I'm in!" He shouted, and Hermione grinned. She stood up and hugged him tightly. He kissed her hair and beamed at George, who had picked up the letter a bit disdainfully. He let go of Hermione, who turned to find out what could have possibly upset Ron. "You… you okay, George?"
"Hmm—? Oh, yes, I'm fine," he shrugged, dropping the letter beside Ron's plate. "Congratulations," he offered dishearteningly. Ron sighed, sitting down.
"I'm still going to help out at the shop, you know," he muttered to his brother. George perked up at this, but he shrugged it off a moment later.
"You won't have the time—I understand."
"C'mon, George, a promise is a promise," Ron shrugged, taking a large bite of his food. "'M yer brova, ye know," he said with his mouth full, earning a groan from Hermione and a chuckle out of George.
"Really? Never knew I had a brova," George joked quietly, and Ron smiled. He glanced at Hermione, who shared in his smile. "Yes, yes, I made a bloody joke… finish your dinner and stop staring at each other before I lose my own appetite." Hermione blushed and Ron chuckled.
"Yes, Mum," he muttered, and George nudged him with his elbow. The table fell silent again as they ate, before Ron spoke up again. "Where's Harry?" He asked curiously, looking at Hermione.
"I… I don't know—I told him six," she shrugged, looking at the clock on the wall.
"Maybe he decided to disappear again," Ron shrugged nonchalantly, hiding a horrible smirk. "Perhaps I should check my pillow for another shitty note."
"Or maybe McGonagall held him back to talk with him privately," Hermione glowered at Ron. "Or perhaps he went around the school… none of us have seen it since that night."
"Suppose so," Ron shrugged, regarding Hermione thoughtfully. "How'd it go today, anyway?" He asked her conversationally, grabbing a bun from the basket. He tore off a piece and ate it as she thought about it some more.
"All right, I guess. I don't think McGonagall liked the idea of changing the castle from what it once was…" Hermione trailed off as both Ron and George's jaws dropped.
"It's impossible to rebuild it to what it previously looked like. To rebuild it, we have to use new magic on it," she said defensively, pausing mid bite. She placed her spoon back in the bowl and looked from one to the other. "New and old magic don't do so well together. To rebuild, we have to add onto what's currently there."
"Oh," Ron shrugged, and Hermione ended the conversation, seeing as both were completely uninterested. As the awkward silence become nearly suffocating, it was broken by someone's arrival through the floo.
"Hello, Harry!" Hermione called into the living room, "we're all in here!"
"Sorry I'm late," Harry muttered, nodding at Ron and George. He passed a bottle of firewhiskey to Hermione. "I got my Ministry letter, so I assumed you got yours," he waved his letter up to them all with a shy smile on his face. "So… I went out and bought something to celebrate with."
"You were accepted, too?" Hermione gushed with a grin. "Oh, how wonderful! Harry—"
"Actually… I haven't opened mine, yet," Harry said nervously, shrugging off his cloak and attempting to avoid meeting Ron or George's eye as they glared at him.
"But you feel like you're a guarantee?" Ron muttered darkly, quirking a brow. Harry shook his head.
"No, I figured you were," Harry said quietly, watching Ron carefully. Gesturing to Ron's open letter, he grinned, "Suppose I was right, too."
"Well, open yours!" Hermione persisted, shooting Ron a look. "I'm sure you're accepted, too," she continued as Harry opened it, "I mean, the Ministry would have to be full of total morons if Harry Potter wasn't accepted… not saying that you should get special treatment, but—come on… you did defeat the darkest wizard of our time!" She continued rambling nervously as Harry read the first few lines of his letter. "Like I said—no special treatment, but you really are a guaran—"
"No special treatment whatsoever," Harry shrugged, his face falling. "I… I didn't make it in."
"Are you serious?" Ron asked, totally dumbfounded. He couldn't, however, drop the smirk from his face. Harry let it go, however, realizing that this must be a large boost to Ron's self-esteem… and ego. "Wow, never thought I'd see the day…"
"Don't gloat, Ron, it's not very attractive," Hermione said firmly, turning to Harry apologetically. "I'm sorry, Harry—perhaps you could take your N.E.W.T.s and then—"
"No, no," Harry shook his head. "You know… maybe this is all for the best… I mean, I've had enough fighting evil wizards for a while. Perhaps I should think of something else to do," he shrugged, taking a bit out of his stew. "This is delicious, Hermione."
"Yeah," Ron reiterated, leaving Harry's letter beside his own and taking another large mouthful. He chewed and swallowed before continuing, "You've come a long way from mushroom gush and berry mash." He joked lightly, but Hermione wasn't paying attention.
"Harry, this is what you've wanted to do since you heard about the job!" She stressed, completely disregarding her own stew. "At least go and talk to Kingsley about it," she suggested lightly. Harry nodded, really only agreeing so they could change the subject.
"So, how's the shop going?" He attempted, offering Ron and George a small smile. Ron shrugged, turning his attention fully onto his dinner. He sighed and turned to George, who made a similar move.
Harry sighed, deciding to delve into his supper as well. The awkward silence was nearly suffocating as they continued, Hermione's own attempts being equally shot down. Harry felt sorry, knowing they were only doing so because she had been the one to invite him. After fifteen more minutes, Harry couldn't take it anymore. "Hermione, this has been lovely, but..." he looked between George and Ron before turning back to Hermione, "I should be going."
"No, Harry--stay," she interjected quickly, standing up and moving to block his path. "Really--we haven't even had dessert yet!"
"Hermione, it's fine," Harry smiled reassuringly, standing up. "Really... I'm going to go talk to Kingsley... like you said I shoul--"
He paused as someone was coming out of the fireplace. His breath hitched in his throat, as a large knot settled in his stomach. He hadn't seen Ginny since his return, and he wasn't really ready to see her yet. He looked down quickly, and bent down as if to tie his shoe. "Hello!" An airy voice called, and Harry both sighed with relief and groaned with anticipation.
"Hi, Luna," Hermione said curiously, looking at her strangely. "How'd you get past the--"
"Ginny told me," she shrugged, her blonde hair bouncing as her shoulders rolled. She offered everyone a bright smile. "We went out to lunch today--she's so lovely," she said sweetly, her voice sounding like music as she walked into the dining room. "Oh, Ron--George!" She clapped her hands together. "I didn't expect to see you--are you doing well?" She turned to Hermione, "Ginny said Ron's been upset lately... you don't think any Japping Jaspbugs have infested your flat--which is quite interesting, by the way..." She looked around her as if just noticing the decor. "Not what I thought your flat would look like... where are all the books?" She laughed, which only made the slightly insulting compliment more uncomfortable.
"Are you here for dinner?" Hermione asked, not quite sure what to exactly do about Luna. She shook her head, smiling.
"No, no," she paused, looking at the stew. "I ate something already," she smiled, pulling a magazine from under her arm. "I came to give you this!" She handed it to Hermione. Harry stood up, feeling it was about time he showed his face. Luna grinned. "Harry! I didn't expect to see you here!" She hugged him fiercely, which only caused him to inwardly groan at the glares Ron and George were sending his way. "How are you?"
"Fine, Luna," he said, patting her shoulder awkwardly. She let go, still beaming. "And you?"
"Fantastic!" She giggled. "Hermione, do you like it?"
Hermione looked up from the cover, "Hmm--? What--oh, yes, it's a very lovely gift, thank you." Obviously distracted, she resumed her staring. Harry looked at the magazine in her hands back to Luna.
"I did!" She smiled. "My first order of business was to write an entire series about our research over the summer," she nodded, moving over to grab the magazine out of Hermione's hands. "Then, when I finished, I started accepting other entries--this entire magazine is devoted to the veterans... it's going to be a Quibbler series--for the next month or so." She flipped through the pages, "I've got letters from families of casualties... there's an article about the Final Battle that Neville wrote... a spread of pictures taken by Colin Creevey," she prattled off a few other features of the new magazine before she handed it to Harry. "But all the mail I keep getting is about you, Harry," she said quietly, watching him carefully. "They want to know about before the trip... about the year you three went missing."
"They do?" Ron suddenly piped up from his seat, breaking his wall of silence he had been holding against Harry. Luna smiled.
"Of course!" She turned to Hermione. "That's another reason as to why I'm here..." She quirked her head to the side, taking in Hermione's presence. "Would you like to write it, Hermione?"
"No, the other Hermione in the room," the sarcasm was lost on everyone, as Luna wasn't very convincing with it. They all awkwardly laughed to save face, while Luna howled with her own musical laughter. "Yes, you! I'd even pay you."
"I don't know, Luna... That year was... hard," she said, her hand going to the scar on her neck, her eyes darting to meet Ron's apprehensive ones.
"You should do it, Hermione," Ron said suddenly, in a quiet sort of voice. When everyone turned to look at him, his ears turned red as he sputtered, "I mean... you've been looking for a job for ages, now... and..."
"Yeah, Hermione," Harry added. "Write it."
"Please?" Luna asked, quirking her head to the side again. Hermione sighed, nodding her head anxiously.
"Fine. I'll write it."
"Good--I'll need the first portion by Sunday," she said brightly, patting on Hermione's arm. "Unless... you'll be too busy, what with the school and all..."
"Sunday would be... a stretch," Hermione relented, and Luna smiled.
"As soon as possible, then!" She said jubilantly, waving giddily at the four of them. She handed the magazine back to Hermione with a grin, patting her shoulder. "Well, I must be off!" She called, waving at Ron and George. She grabbed Harry in another awkward hug, before breathing a, "Farewell!" With a few more graceful steps, she was in the fireplace, and out of sight.
Unfortunately, the awkwardness between the feuding friends persisted. George cleared his throat, motioning for Hermione to show him the magazine, and Ron busied himself with finishing off his dinner, while Hermione seemed to not know what to do with herself. Harry bit his lip. "Well, I'm going to go as well," he nodded, remembering what he was going to do from the start. "G'bye," he nodded, moving towards the fireplace. He turned once he reached it and smiled, "And congrats again, Ron--you deserve it." He threw the powder into the fireplace and was off.
"Damn right I do," Ron muttered, breathing a sigh of relief as Harry left. "Cripes, Hermione, that was awkward."
"It didn't have to be," she snapped, taking her seat at the table. She viciously tore into her roll, and Ron backed off, mentally kicking himself for pissing her off. He turned to George.
"Anything interesting or all hogwash?"
"Wha--? No, very interesting," George closed it quickly, hiding the article about Harry from Ron's view. He didn't want to cause a stir. "She seems to have changed a lot about it. Good for her," he shrugged, diving into his dinner. Ron sighed, having already finished.
"Can I see it?"
"Later--don't read at the table," Hermione ordered, taking a sip of her tea. When Ron groaned, staring down at his plate, Hermione and George shared a secret look. This was something Ron needed to read by himself, without anyone around to talk with him about it. He would only want to argue, or rant, or complain, and neither Hermione nor George was in the mood for that.
To be continued...
Next Chapter: Luna's Article, Ron's reaction, and trouble brewing...