I turned, happy to find my best friend in Diagon. We had agreed to meet up today when we parted for the summer, but with everything that had happened since then, I'd not really expected to see him. I, however, was surprised to find that rather than Hermione, Ron was standing with a full-grown Ostrich.
"Uhm…" I said nodding toward the gigantic bird.
"Oh, this is Jambes," Ron said with a sigh. "Jambes, this is Harry, my best friend."
"Hello," the Ostrich said in a disturbingly human voice, "I'm sure we'll be great friends."
I'd never been close to an Ostrich before, but I was fairly sure they couldn't talk… and I don't remember ever seeing any pictures where they had blue eyes either. Was this some odd magical variant of the bird?
"It turns out that I can't go to lunch with you, Harry," Ron explained apologetically. "A commitment I can't get out of has come up. But we can still get out Hogwarts shopping out of the way."
"Shopping can be fun," Jambes agreed.
"Uh, sure," I said, more confused than normal as I followed the odd pair back into the alley, where they did not appear to be attracting much attention. I started assuming that this was yet another thing I'd never heard of that 'everyone knew'. I'd encountered that a lot in the six years I've been part of the Magical world. "Is Hermione coming?"
"We don't talk about Hermione, Harry," the Ostrich sniffed.
"We had a bit of a misunderstanding," Ron explained without explaining. "She said she'd see you later today if you're still in the Alley."
Ron and his friend led me into Madam Malkin's, where the owner herself spotted me.
"Harry Potter!" she called out, clearly making sure that everyone in the shop was aware that I was in her establishment to buy my robes. "Welcome and thank you for what you did in July!"
I felt my face warm telling me that I was blushing. "Thank you," I said quietly, hoping she would take the hint. "Here for new… well, everything, really. I lost everything in the attack," I explained.
Before I finished explaining she had me up on the little platform and was measuring… everything. Ron was next to me; the way Malfoy had been before first year. "Everything for me, as well," he said happily. "Unlike short, dark, and speccy over there, I've grown a bit."
"A bit?" Madam Malkin echoed incredulously looking Ron up and down. "What is Molly feeding you anyway? Your sister was here yesterday, she barely grew half an inch, while you've managed almost four."
"You know Molly," Jambe interjected, "her prescriptions for growing boys is always lots of good food, and plenty of chores to keep them from getting bored."
"And rightly so," Madam Malkin laughed as she finished with Ron's measurements. "After 6 sons, you have to assume she knows what she's doing."
She put away her equipment and made notes on a pad. "Both of your orders will be ready by the end of the day. Harry, your money is no good here, it's the least I can do to repay you for everything you've done. Are you ready to settle up, Ronald?"
People just giving me things had become so common place I didn't even argue anymore by that point. But a completely new wardrobe would be a healthy bit of coin for the Weasleys. I reached for my money bag, but Ron laughed and waved me away. "Ready now Madam, how much?"
"12 Galleons, 10 sickles," she said as she moved to her till.
"12 Galleons, 10 Sickles," Ron repeated as he dug in his trouser pocket and pulled out a handful of coins without looking and placing them on the counter.
"12 and 10," Madam Malkin nodded approvingly as she sorted the coins into piles and then into the till. "As I said, they'll be ready by the end of the day, or you can pick everything up tomorrow if that's more convenient."
I waved goodbye as I followed Ron and Jambe from the shop and we headed across the street to get our books.
"Have you seen the book list this year Harry?" Ron asked. "Hermione will be happy, but I think we'd best get new bookbags to handle the load."
"Probably a good plan," I agreed as we entered the shop. Given that I had lost my entire trunk and all my school things when Tom destroyed #4, I needed a new bookbag anyway. Luckily, Flourish and Blotts had a display of bookbags just inside the door. I selected one made of brown leather with lightening charms integrated into the design. Ron on the other hand had found one that was a garish orange. Like Hermione would leave that uncommented on.
As far as our books went, Flourish and Blotts had the required book lists available in year sets, so we each grabbed a set, lightened for our convenience, and headed to the counter. The bookstore was one of the few places that would take my money, so I pulled the 22 Galleons, 14 Sickles from my money bag and received 16 Knuts in change, before looking to Ron. I truly wanted to help my friend, but again he waved me away before fishing in his pocket and withdrawing the money needed for his own purchase.
That struck me as odd. Not just that Ron had the money, but that in both of the purchases I had witnessed, he had pulled the exact amount from his pocket without needing to count it.
Weird. But I wasn't going to ask him about it… Not in front of Jambes… for reasons I couldn't explain to myself.
The same thing happened at Mr Mulpepper's Apothecary, when we refilled our Potions kits, and again at Scribbulus Writing Implements when we got our writing supplies. Neither shop would take my money, but Ron handed the shop assistant the exact amount both times, without having needed to count.
Both Ron and I stopped in front of Quality Quidditch Supplies to lust after the new Viteză broom that had come out from the company that Viktor Krum was heading. The Viteză was rumored to be the fastest broom in the world, and the tests shown in the latest issue of What Broom magazine backed that claim up to the hilt.
"A seeker's broom," Ron noted. "But I'd love to give one a try, just once to see just how fast it can go."
"Yeah," I agreed. "Me too, but really, my Firebolt is all I really need."
"For now," Ron laughed. "Just wait until you get drafted into the League. Maybe then I'll get a chance to try the Viteză. All of you seekers will have one in a couple of years."
"Boys and their toys," Jambes laughed. "We have to go, it's almost time for our lunch date."
We made our way back to the Leaky, where Ron and his… friend settled into an empty booth, with Jambes sitting in the back of the booth fluffing her feathers to fit. I joined them on the far side across from Ron.
"Welcome back and thank you for everything you've done, Mr. Potter," Tom the barman said, surprising me from behind. "What would you like?"
"Are the chips fresh?" Ron asked.
"Fresh out of the frier," Tom assured him.
"I'll have a butterbeer, and a large plate of chips," Ron ordered.
"That sounds lovely," Jambes agreed. "I'll have the same."
"And you Mr. Potter?" Tom asked.
"Just a butterbeer, Tom," I said, "I'm not staying long."
Ron waited until we were alone before speaking again. "Good job with Voldemort, Harry, sorry I wasn't there to help."
"No worries, mate," I sighed. "There was no reason why you would have been at #4 when Tom came calling. I'm just glad that Mad-Eye and Tonks were guarding the house that day instead of Dung on his own. Just make sure you're never on Mad-Eye's bad side, After Tom destroyed #4, Madeye did things to the front garden that pretty much sliced and diced Tom and his Death Eaters into mince, so all they needed me for was to hex Tom a couple of times to make sure he stayed dead."
"That's not what the paper said," Jambes noted.
"The Prophet got something wrong?" I asked sarcastically, "someone should alert the media."
"Yeah," Ron laughed. "So, why did you need to deliver the coup de grâce?"
"It's the whole 'Hand of the Other' nonsense," I said, waving my hands dismissively. "Moody wanted to make sure he stayed dead this time. So, what's going on with you and Hermione?"
"Hermione and I don't hang out much anymore," Ron sighed.
"She's just jealous," Jambes said, rubbing her head on Ron's shoulder comfortingly.
Familiar laughter reached my ears. Hermione? I looked around the room to find Hermione and Pansy Parkinson of all people leaning against each other laughing so hard they were crying, both of them pointing at us.
"Oh," I said, trying to figure out a way of asking what the hell was going on without flat out asking.
"Your orders," Tom said, appearing out of nowhere balancing a tray on his left hand at shoulder level. He placed the bottle in front of me and Ron and Jambes' meals and drinks in front of them.
"I've got this," I said, going for my pockets for some coins.
"Nope," Ron said with a grin, "My treat. How much is it, Tom?"
"Sixteen Sickles, and nine knuts," Tom replied.
Ron dug in his pocket and removed a handful of coins that matched Tom's count exactly.
"Okay," I said after Tom left the table, my curiosity finally getting to me. "you've been handing people the exact amount of money they needed all day. How are you doing that?"
Ron looked to Jambes who offered a head bob that I somehow took to be an avian shrug. "Just tell him," she said, "you know you want to, and it will make you feel better."
"Tell me what?" I pressed.
"It's really dumb," Ron sighed. "About the same time you were fighting Voldemort in Little Whinging, I met a Genie."
"A Djinn," Jambes corrected.
"Like there's a difference," Ron protested.
"Okay," I asked, trying to keep them on topic. "You met a Genie… and?"
"And I got three wishes. I used the first one to wish for my parents to have all the money they could ever need."
"For Arthur and Molly?" I asked, "Not for you?"
"Nah, I figured Dad would like to treat Mum with everything she always wanted this way, besides I had ideas for a wish for me."
"My Ron is generous like that," Jambes agreed affectionately.
"Ron is a prince," I agreed. "What was your wish for you?"
"I got thinking about how much hassle having lots of money would be," Ron explained. "I mean, I realized that I never really wanted to be rich, I just wanted to have spending money. I wanted to be able to buy things when I needed or wanted them. So, I wished that I would always be able to pull the cost of whatever it was I was buying from my pocket. Never any more, never any less. That's what you've been seeing this morning."
That was… ingenius. Unlimited wealth without having to worry about your fortune being maintained or stolen.
"That was brilliant, Mate."
Ron blushed at the praise, which seemed to make Jambes happy as well. "Tell him about your best wish."
"Best wish?" I echoed
"My third wish," Ron laughed. "Hermione and I had a huge fight that morning, and she suggested that we were done in a rather forceful way. I asked the Genie..."
"Djinn," Jambes corrected.
"Whatever," Ron snorted. "I asked him if he could find me a girl who would love me without question, never leave me, always support me, and help me be the best me I could be."
"Yeah?" I asked looking pointedly between Ron and Jambes.
"Djinn," Jambes corrected again.
"The Djinn asked what I would like this mystery girl to look like, and I said…"
"A tall bird with long legs!" Hermione and Pansy chorused from where they had approached without my noticing them, before the pair once again collapsed into laughter.
"Ignore them Ronnie," Jambes sniffed offering Hermione and Pansy an evil eye. "They're just jealous."
A loud honk silenced all conversation in the Leaky Cauldron, I looked away from the two laughing girls to spot Draco Malfoy entering from the Alley with an angry goose nipping at his bum.
"Oh, look Ronnie," Jambes said excitedly, "It's Abby and Draco, just in time for lunch. Harry could you be a dear and take these jealous harpies away so that they don't spoil our couples' lunch?"
In all honesty, I needed to get away from this latest example of magical weirdness to process the changes to my world view it had brought on. I nodded to the happy couple and rose from the booth, offering Hermione my hand to regain her feet.
Still giggling she rose before I repeated my action with Pansy. I guided the pair from the Leaky back out into Diagon, making sure not to make eye contact with Draco as we passed. I stopped on the Diagon side of the wall before trying to get the two giggling girls to focus.
"Okay, I've heard Ron's story. What is going on with Draco and the goose?"
"Draco has severe Mummy issues," Pansy snorted.
"He met up with the Djinn right after Ron had left, and got three wishes himself," Hermione explained.
"Okay," I said while wondering if Genii had some kind of wish based sales territories and quotas like Uncle Vernon had always gone on about.
"Draco's last wish was for a 'Bossy bird who would keep him in line,'" Pansy said before she and Hermione once again collapsed into laughter.
"And the two of you, who have hated each other since you first met, bonded over your ex-boyfriends ending up bonded to birds?" I asked pulling them both to their feet and leading them toward Madam Malkins', intending to pick up my robes.
"It's not just us, Potter," Pansy giggled. "That stupid Djinn was granting wishes to half the boys at Hogwarts."
"Most of the girls are looking for new boyfriends from the results," Hermione gestured across the street to where Seamus Finnegan stood holding a small platform upon which a tiny man, perhaps a foot tall was playing a piano.
I blinked. "Is that a…"
"Yes," Hermione agreed. "I've told Seamus repeatedly that he needed to work on his pronunciation."