Ginny looked around the Great Hall in curious detachment. It was her last night as a Hogwarts student, and it didn't quite feel real. For one thing, the end of year feast was actually an end of year feast and not a funeral. The previous four had been akin to nightmares, hard on the heels of several deaths: Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore… Then the battle…
This year, it seemed as if the students had heaved a collective sigh of relief. Aside from the usual bumps and bruises from Quidditch games, explosions in Potions or Charms, or random gash from a bowtruckle, the year had been relatively uneventful.
It was as boisterous as the one Ginny remembered from her second year. A group of boys whooped loudly from the Hufflepuff table, and Ginny caught McGonagall studying them with an odd, wistful expression on her face, before a rare smile curved over her mouth. McGonagall swirled the wine in her goblet, seeing the ghosts of students past, and friends long gone, before she gave a sketchy salute to only someone she could see, then drained the goblet.
Hermione stretched languorously, for once unencumbered by the stacks of books she seemed to carry around with her all the time. 'Heard back from Charlie yet?' she asked Ginny.
'Hmmm?' Ginny tore her gaze from its perusal of the Hogwarts Headmistress and gave Hermione a slightly quizzical look. 'Did you say something?'
Hermione rolled her eyes. 'Has Charlie written back to you yet?'
'Oh. Yeah. He sounded a little odd, though,' Ginny mused.
'How can you tell?' Hermione quipped. Charlie's terse letters were almost legendary.
Ginny's eyes widened. 'He said something about the two of us having dinner with a friend.' She pushed her plate away, and rested her folded arms on the table. 'George said something about some witch at the reservation, but I thought he was trying to pull a fast one on us.'
'Could be just a friend,' Hermione observed, toying with a spoon.
'Could be,' Ginny allowed. 'But Charlie's a bit of a loner outside the family. He must like her or something.'
Demelza slid into the seat next to Ginny. 'Right,' she breathed excitedly. 'You have to tell me everything about your try-out with Holyhead.'
Ginny frowned a little. 'You're not having a trial with Kenmare?'
Demelza shook her head. 'Fell through,' she said shrugging. 'They signed a reserve Chaser with more experience.'
'Bollocks to them, then,' Ginny sniffed.
Demelza brushed off Ginny's outrage on her behalf. 'It's fine. I'm not sure I want to play professionally.'
'Did you have anything else planned?' Hermione asked.
'I applied for a position with Which Broomstick. I'm the assistant to someone's assistant. Sort through their post, arrange their schedule, fetch tea… Your basic entry-level position.' She reached for an apple. 'Eventually, I want to test the brooms they try to sell to the Quidditch teams and review them.'
'Do they get a lot of those?' Hermione asked curiously.
'You'd be surprised,' Demelza replied, polishing the apple on her sleeve. 'Less than half of everything that's tested finds its way into Quality Quidditch Supplies. Most of what's tested goes into the version we send to Quidditch teams,' she said knowledgably.
'Why?' Hermione asked blankly. Quidditch was something she merely tolerated.
'Why…?' Ginny prompted.
'Why have a different version for Quidditch teams?'
Demelza chuckled through a bite of apple. 'Most teams provide brooms for their players. Broom manufacturers make different variations of the same broom for each position. Seekers' brooms are slightly more streamlined than say, a Beater's broom that has to handle the extra bulk of most Beaters. A Keeper's broom has elongated foot rests to make it easier to stand. Handles on Chasers' brooms are slightly broader. Speed's pretty much the same for all of them, but Chaser and Seeker brooms are a bit faster than the others.' Hermione blinked at the barrage of information. Demelza laughed, delighted at finally being able to rattle off more information about anything than Hermione. 'Then, there are the brooms that are sold for general use, like school brooms. Racing brooms. Brooms for long-distance travel…'
'I had no idea,' Hermione said faintly. She'd never glanced at a Which Broomstick longer than a second or two when Ron shoved one under her nose expounding on the virtues of a Cleansweep over a Comet. Being able to travel with the usual Muggle methods, as well as Apparition, had somewhat limited Hermione's knowledge of other means of magical travel. She did know broomsticks were used for routine travel, having used one to get from London to the Burrow two years ago, but the many alternatives where a hitherto unknown topic to her.
'Wow.' Ginny's eyes widened theatrically. 'We finally found something that Hermione doesn't know anything about,' she told Demelza in a hushed voice.
'Ha-bloody-ha,' Hermione intoned sarcastically. She glanced around the Great Hall, then took several long looks. Dinner was over, and their plates were replaced by trays of biscuits and pots of tea and chocolate. It looked as if the celebration would go on longer. Younger students moved among the tables, no longer feeling bound to sit with their respective Houses. Two tiny Hufflepuff girls dragged a surprised-looking Slytherin boy from his table and towed him to the Ravenclaw table, where a third-year student produced a wizarding chess set from his robes. A few Gryffindor students pulled out several sets of Exploding Snap cards and scattered amongst the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. A few Slytherins joined other tables, but like the first one, only when cajoled or coaxed by another student. They seemed to not know what to do with themselves. Hannah skipped toward them and grabbed a handful of biscuits from the tray, then sat across the table from Hermione. Ginny began to beckon Luna to join them, but she was surrounded by a bevy of first-years, listening wide-eyed to her stories.
'Do you realize we've spent nearly half our lives here?' Hannah asked idly, pouring a cup of tea for herself. 'I've spent more time here than I have with my dad.'
'I think it's deliberate,' Demelza added.
'Oh?' Ginny took the teapot from Hannah.
'Well, think about it. When we leave here tomorrow, most of us will start lives on our own, live apart from our families,' Demelza said, with a nod toward Ginny. 'We've had to make our own decisions since the age of eleven, basically, then deal with the consequences.'
Hermione sat quietly, accepting a cup of tea from Ginny, and thoughtfully cradled it between her hands. She hadn't given too much thought about her living arrangements past school, assuming she'd live in Oxford with her parents for a few months while she got settled with her job with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in the Werewolf Support Services. Hermione wanted a break from being an adult, even if all it meant was that she slept in her childhood bedroom for a while longer.
'I can't wait,' Ginny declared. 'I'll finally get some space to call my own.'
Demelza shook her head. 'You're mad,' she stated. 'Playing professional Quidditch… It's not the easiest life for people without a support system at home.' Her head tilted to the side, as she twirled a lock of dark hair around a finger and studied Ginny. 'But I thought you knew that.'
'How is it any different from what we do now?' Ginny challenged. 'So you train four days a week,' she said with a shrug. 'Not much different than what we do now.'
'Not all day,' Hermione murmured.
'Don't forget – the professional leagues play three games a month from September until June,' Demelza reminded Ginny. 'We only play 3 games over nine months.'
'And we do have someone to organize our meals and sort through our laundry. Make our beds,' Hannah added.
'Pfffft.' Ginny waved off their concerns. 'Yeah. Hi. We can use magic.'
Hermione regarded Ginny with a sober expression on her face. 'I would think the prospect of being on your own like that might be a bit… well, scary…'
Ginny shook her head. She pointed to Hermione, then Hannah. 'Neither of you have brothers or sisters,' she stated, then turned her attention to Demelza. 'And you're the eldest. None of you have any idea what it's like to have someone constantly hovering over you. For the first time in my life, I will be able to make my own decisions without having to justify them to anyone but myself.'
'Regardless of whom those decisions might affect, hmmmm?' Hermione asked.
Ginny started a little guiltily. 'Harry will understand,' she murmured.
'You're sure?' Hermione persisted. Ginny's eyes dropped to the cup of tea in front of her and she hitched one shoulder in reply.
'You know what the life is like for a professional player, don't you, Ginny?' Demelza asked quietly.
'Of course I do,' Ginny snapped, slightly annoyed. 'Training six to eight hours a day, four days a week, then the game And training five to six days a week when you don't have a game that week. And the off-season training. So?'
'Do you want to get married, have a family?' Hannah interjected.
'Then you'll know most professional Quidditch players rarely marry or have children. Especially the women,' Demelza said. 'Or they quit playing at their peaks.'
Ginny sighed impatiently. 'Yes, I do. But I'm not even eighteen. I don't have to think about those things just now.' She reached for a biscuit and broke it in half. 'And I know it's a hard life, especially for women. I read the Prophet and most of the time female players are viewed with more than a little suspicion, or they're thought to be licentious. And one of the main reasons I chose to sign with the Harpies is they're rarely in the paper or in Quidditch Quarterly for any other reason besides their game.' She nibbled one half of the biscuit. 'Why do people insist on treating me like I don't know my own mind?'
'Nobody's doing that, Ginny,' Hermione soothed.
'Fine,' Ginny sighed. 'Now start treating me that way.' She let her shoulders slump a little. 'I don't see anybody questioning you lot for your decisions…'
'Fair enough,' Hermione murmured, well aware working for the Werewolf Support Service wasn't exactly a career choice that would put her in regards with most of the wizarding world. Most witches and wizards would have believed she didn't know her own mind, either.
Most of the other students had left, and only a few seventh-year stragglers were left, knowing there would be little time for prolonged farewells tomorrow. One by one, Demelza, Hannah, and Hermione drifted to their dormitories to finish packing or go to bed. Luna lightly skipped to the table where Ginny sat staring into yet another cup of tea. 'Trying to read your tea leaves?' Luna asked.
Ginny shook her head. 'When are you leaving?' she asked.
'In two weeks.' Luna propped her head in an upturned hand. 'The expedition is going to start in eastern Europe at the end of July, but the naturalist I'm going to assist with research wants me to get a head start.'
'Aren't you scared?' Ginny asked quietly.
Luna gathered her straggly hair in one hand and pulled it over her shoulder, combing her fingers through the candy floss-like strands. 'A little,' she confessed. 'I mean I'm leaving Daddy by himself, and there won't be anyone to look after him and make sure he remembers to eat meals…'
'Being by yourself in a group of people you don't know very well, if at all, doesn't frighten you?' Ginny snorted.
Luna's large eyes blinked slowly and she began to nod. 'Ah… I see. You can't really be alone.' At Ginny's bemused look, Luna continued. 'You can never really be alone, as long as you have your family – or at least their memories. One can always make new friends.'
Ginny's confusion melted into outright skepticism. Luna had always been quite comfortable living on the fringes of any and all cliques. 'I suppose…'
Luna steepled her fingers together under her chin, her elbows resting on the table. 'But this isn't about me.'
'Maybe it's not,' Ginny acknowledged.
'And you're supposed to be brave. Like all Gryffindors.' Luna's eyes crinkled with humor. 'There's nothing wrong with having a healthy apprehension of what life might bring you. It's not as if you've always known you wanted to play Quidditch and what to expect.'
Ginny took a sip of her tepid tea. 'It's the women,' she confessed in a hushed whisper. Luna's brows rose, making her look even more surprised than usual. 'Aside from you, Hermione, Demelza, and Hannah, I don't really get on with most girls. And when I dated Michael Corner, then Dean, then threw myself at Harry…' Ginny felt the flush creep up her cheeks. 'I heard the rumors. From other girls. I just don't have the best record with other girls…'
'It won't be like school,' Luna said hopefully.
'Familiarity breeds contempt,' Ginny shot back. 'It could be exactly like school. Or worse.'
The lamps burned softly in the quiet shop. The wireless played in the corner, the raucous sounds of the Weird Sisters filling the rooms. George caught Katie's hand as she passed, and drew her to him, twirling her in a ragged circle. She threw her head back and laughed, winding an arm around George's waist, their movements turning a bit suggestive, until Ron cleared his throat. 'Go do that at home, would you?' he sighed. Ron wearily rolled his head in a couple of slow circles, smiling blissfully at the loud pops it emitted.
George planted a smacking kiss on Katie's cheek, then released her, looking around the shop. 'Think we're good for tomorrow?' he asked Ron.
Ron nodded. 'Yeah.' He eased a hip onto the tall stool behind the counter, wincing at the pounding in his feet. 'I can't look at anything in here anymore,' he groaned. He glanced at one of the displays. 'I keep thinking I've missed something…'
George cast an expert eye over the shelves. 'Everything is… fine,' he pronounced. 'Not a bad job for your first end of school sale.' He prodded Ron's shoulder. 'You did a great job organizing all this, little bro.'
The corners of Ron's mouth tipped up. 'Thanks,' he said a little bashfully. 'Be nice if I could have a lie-in tomorrow, too,' he yawned, stretching his arms over his head.
'Get your own place,' George retorted.
'Uh… Speaking of that…' Ron suddenly sat up, alert. 'Could I have a quick word?'
'I'm happy where I am, Ron,' George intoned. 'Katie's a decent cook, and she can actually fold laundry with magic.'
'Thanks ever so, George,' Katie drawled, rolling her eyes.
George shook his hair from his eyes. 'I'm not sharing some scrotty flat with you, just so you can get out of the house,' he told Ron.
Ron flushed dully. 'That's not what I was going to ask,' he muttered. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth, but no words came out.
'Well, come on,' George huffed. 'Out with it.'
'I want the flat upstairs,' Ron blurted.
George's mouth snapped shut. 'I…' The words died in his throat. Ron looked so hopeful, but George couldn't answer him just yet. His whole demeanor changed, and he seemed to shrink inside himself. Without saying a word to Ron, George stumbled away from the counter and out of the shop into the swiftly falling summer night.
'Shite,' Ron hissed. 'Stupid…' He caught Katie's puzzled eye and shook his head. 'Not George,' he hastily corrected. 'Me.'
Katie's expression quickly smoothed into something less bewildered . 'Sorry,' she sighed. 'You're not being stupid.'
'It's wasted space,' Katie said softly. 'If it's not being used,' she added practically. 'Why do you want to live there particularly?'
Ron pushed the ledger books under the counter, and slid the stool back. 'It's convenient, for one. The cost of letting it shouldn't be too dear, and it's large enough for Hermione and me. If she wants to live there with me. And if she doesn't…' Ron shrugged. 'No matter.'
'Liar,' Katie scoffed gently. 'It will matter.'
Ron chuckled tiredly. 'Yeah, it will.'
She bit her lip, studying Ron. 'I'll talk to him.'
'Yes.' Katie waved her wand at the lamps, and they began to slowly fade. 'Go home and have a nice sleep,' she ordered. 'And I'll try and get George to see things your way.'
'He won't like it,' Ron cautioned.
'Of course he won't,' Katie agreed. 'But I don't intend to change his mind,' she whispered conspiratorially.
'Then why bother?' Ron huffed.
Katie smiled at Ron, with a faintly pitying sort of look about her. 'You ought to know. You can't change a Weasley man's mind.' She held the door open for Ron. 'He has to think it's all his own doing.'
Ron opened his mouth to protest, but realized Katie was right. Hadn't he meant to leave the shop after tomorrow? But no, he was making plans about what to do in the shop when students began coming in to get their things for school, what they could do for the summer hols, and how they could try and open a shop in Hogsmeade. And it had been subtle, so subtle, that even Hermione might not have noticed George carefully making Ron see that he was an integral part of the shop now.
Katie's laugh rang out in the quiet street. 'You see?' She lifted her hair from her sweaty neck. 'Don't worry. It might be December before George lets you live over the shop, but we'll get him to see reason.' She walked up the street to her building, leaving Ron alone in the middle of the street.
Harry attempted to lift Teddy from Ginny's arms, but they tightened around the toddler. 'Let me,' she whispered. She walked through the flat without tripping over the hearthrug or waking the baby and carefully walked into the small room on the other side of the flat. She laid him in the cot and stroked his wispy turquoise hair back from his face. 'I can't believe how much he's grown,' she marveled.
Harry's arm snaked around her waist. 'I can't either…'
They stood for several moments, watching Teddy sleep, then Harry softly tapped the lamp with his wand and it dimmed, leaving a bare glow in the room. He led Ginny from the room, leaving the door partially open. 'What a day,' Ginny sighed, propping her feet on the coffee table.
'What time did you tell Molly you'd be home?'
Ginny glanced at her watch. 'Sometime before dawn.' She groaned softly leaning back against the overstuffed cushions of the sofa. Her parents, Harry, Teddy, Bill, Fleur, and Percy met the train, along with Hermione's parents, and then spirited them off the Leaky Cauldron for a "welcome-home-from-school" dinner, where they met Ron and George. Ron and George swallowed their meals without tasting them, then rushed back to the shop. Hermione and her parents left, followed by Bill, Fleur, and Percy. Molly and Arthur left, taking Ginny's things back to the Burrow with them. Harry and Ginny lingered over their puddings, chatting desultorily of this and that. Teddy had managed to fall asleep on the ride back to Soho. It was now after ten.
'Long day, eh?'
Ginny nodded. 'Been up since six.' She yawned, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. 'Then the train…'
'I always had a hard time settling down when school let out,' Harry commented, one hand burrowing under Ginny's hair to massage the back of her neck. 'Either not wanting to let it go, or trying to process it all.' He sat up. 'I've got something to give you.'
'Oooh. A present?' Ginny's face lit up.
'Stay right there.' Harry darted into his bedroom, and returned with a bulky, wrapped package. 'Here.' He thrust it unceremoniously into Ginny's arms.
Curiously, Ginny peeled back the wrapping paper, revealing an empty drawer from Harry's bureau. She stared at it blankly. 'What's this…?'
Confused, Harry stammered. 'A… a… drawer… For you…'
'Why?' Ginny sat up slowly, suspicion dawning over her face.
Harry sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. 'Do I have to spell it out for you?'
'I think you'd better.' Ginny set the drawer aside.
'I want you to live here,' Harry said, in a fit of boldness. 'With me.'
Ginny's jaw tightened. 'Why?'
'Why wouldn't you?'
Ginny stiffened. 'Because I might want to live on my own for a while first?' she hissed, mindful of Teddy sleeping in the next room. She surged to her feet, pacing restlessly. 'Why is it all right for you to live on your own, but not me?'
'That's not what I meant,' Harry whispered heatedly.
'Everybody always wants to look after me!' Ginny stormed. 'You, Mum, Dad, Ron… Demelza, Hermione, Hannah…' She spun on one heel and stomped softly to Harry. 'I can take care of myself, do you hear me?'
Stung, Harry drew back a little. 'I hear you. And this has nothing to do with your ability to look out for yourself…'
'I just thought…' Harry shrugged. 'I thought you might want to live here…'
'Did you think about discussing it with me first before you bought furniture with me in mind?' Ginny scoffed. 'Yeah, I knew what you were after when we went on that shopping spree in April. You wouldn't buy anything or arrange it in here without my opinion. If I hadn't liked the flat, I'm willing to bet my broom you'd have given it up.' She folded her arms across her stomach. 'Moving in with you? That's a "someday" sort of thing to do. Not a "day I leave school" thing to do.'
'Gin…' Harry began.
'Bloody hell, Harry, we haven't even…' Ginny trailed off, embarrassed, and made a vague gesture.
'Yes, I know,' Harry said tartly, keeping his voice low.
Ginny let her arms fall to her sides. 'Moving in here… That's a commitment. More of a commitment than sex. And if I –we – aren't ready to have sex with each other, then how on earth can you believe we're ready to live together? Even Ron and Hermione haven't gone that far yet?'
'At least we'll do something they haven't done,' Harry murmured, in a flat attempt to interject some humor into the tense moment.
Ginny threw her hands up. 'That's just it!' she whispered. 'I don't want to do something because either everyone else is doing it, or they haven't gotten there yet.' She grabbed her jacket from the hook by the door and stabbed her arms into the sleeves. 'I want to do it because we want to. When we're both ready for it!' she snarled. Ginny yanked the door open and stalked onto the landing, barely refraining from slamming the door shut, lest she wake Teddy. She clattered down the stairs and retreated to the Leaky Cauldron to use their Floo connection to go to the Burrow.
Harry shoved his glasses up and savagely pinched the bridge of his nose. 'Well, that could have gone better,' he said to the forlorn drawer.