The First Annual Weasley Brothers' Halloween Extravaganza, Chapter 1
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter Universe belongs to J. K. Rowling.
A/N: Written for the Autumnfest challenge on LiveJournal. The requester wrote: I really enjoy get-them-together!fics, so perhaps something Post-Hogwarts AU (in that Harry and Ginny never got together during school)? Weasley antics! Hermione! And if Neville or Luna (or both) could be worked in there that would be awesome. Spotlights on friendships and close familial relationships would be more than welcome, as well.
Requested autumn/fall elements: Halloween parties, costumes, pumpkin carving, harvest festivals, sweaters, leaves.
Constructive criticism cheerfully accepted. Praise greatly enjoyed. Flames haughtily ignored. And, as always, thanks to my betas, rosiekatriona and sassyfrass_kerr, without whom the sun wouldn't shine, the stars wouldn't twinkle, and my life would be much emptier.
She was the most stunningly gorgeous Inferius Harry had ever seen. Not that he'd spent a lot of time rating the beauty of undead corpses. But this one, well, she just oozed beauty. She was, in a word, perfect.
He surreptitiously retreated back into the shadows. Moving slowly, he circled the room, watching out for the three or four amorous couples who had taken advantage of the shadows to become unwitting obstacles to his progress.
Finally he made it to the wall directly behind her. Surprisingly, from back there, he could also hear her voice. She didn't sound very much like an Inferius, either. Which was good, Harry supposed, although if she were like the other girls he'd met, he probably wouldn't be able to stand her personality long enough to get tired of her voice.
Apparently her name was Ginny,as she turned at hearing the shout from someone who had to be her brother-he was dressed as a vampire, but had brilliant red hair that matched hers.
The boy, or young man, or . . . whatever he was (vampires tend to look ageless, and this one had obviously gone for that same impression) stood there chatting for long enough that Harry grew impatient. Wishing he had the audacity to interrupt the siblings, he decided that at the very least, he could casually move closer.
Ginny was bored. Sure, the Twins usually threw a great Halloween party-the puking pastilles were out in force, she noted-but the people in attendance were . . . were. . . Well, she wasn't sure exactly how to describe them. They were certainly dancing and partying, but it felt a little off. The Twins themselves were acting absolutely barmy, so they were probably all right, but the rest. . . . Many were standing around in groups, drinking punch, and talking quietly. Some, she could see, were taking advantage of the dark corners. But wherever she happened to walk, the whispering quieted down, and she was . . . was lookedat. She'd expected to be looked at-after all, she had gone to a lot of trouble with her costume. But they weren't happily admiring the grubs in her hair. If she didn't know better, she'd say they were afraid of her.
The few times she had tried to enter a conversation, the group she'd approached had gone silent almost immediately, and no-one had even responded to her with more than a stiff chuckle and an "I better go get some more punch. . ." Really, if this was what the Twins had meant by "this'll be the most brilliant party ever, Gin! You can't miss it!" then she was never going to anything planned by them again. Ever.
"Hey, Ginny!" Ron's voice came across the room. Ginny smiled slightly. At least Ron could be counted on to talk to her. She looked past him and saw that he'd brought Lavender with him.
Ginny couldn't help it-she sniggered at the costumes they were wearing. Obviously Lavender had decided that they should be a couple, and with Ron as a vampire, Lavender had chosen to be a maiden sacrifice. It had the obvious advantage of allowing her to dress as beautifully as she knew how, and only have to put fake bite marks on her neck. Although they might have practiced that part.
Thankfully Lavender peeled off from Ron to visit with her best Hogwarts friend, Parvati Thomas. Ginny didn't mind Lavender, but everyone's strange behavior tonight had put her into a mood, and Lavender would probably have gotten offended at some imagined slight, and then Ron would be upset. Maybe Lavender's fascination with Divination had endowed her with at least a little bit of the Sight, and she had seen what would be the most likely ending for any prolonged Ginny/Lavender conversation, and decided to be tactful. Whatever the reason, Ginny was grateful to not have to make small talk.
Happy to finally be able to talk to someone, she didn't even mind when Ron started talking about his relationship with Lavender, although she managed to head off his rhapsodizing about her lips by commenting that it looked like the nascent Quadpot league was off to a good start.
Ron was explaining, in detail, how Quadpot was an acceptable, though inferior, substitute, in spite of its humble beginnings as mere spectacle-for-the-masses, when a loud crash sounded from directly behind Ginny.
Honestly, Harry only wanted to get a little closer to this Ginny and her brother. It wasn't really his fault that there was a chair in the way, which he didn't see. Nor did he see the poor girl who was using the chair at the time.
The clattering of the chair, and the affronted cries of the poor ghost, er, spook, um, banshee-girl, whom he had knocked over and fallen on, sounded unnaturally loud, due to that most amazing of all coincidences, the untimely break between songs at a dance, when no-one is talking, during which someone does something incredibly, and noisily, embarrassing.
Harry jumped to his feet, apologizing profusely, but even his bright green eyes failed to forestall the slap he received. Granted, his costume was hiding said eyes, but still!
"-and stay away from me, you stalker!" the girl finished yelling. With one last supercilious sniff, she flounced across the room, headed for the loo to fix any possible damage to her costume.
Harry was left by himself, with the eyes of most of the room pinning him to his spot. He could feel his cheeks turning bright red, and thanked his foresight in choosing a costume that hid most of his face from the others.
After some giggling and whispers from the rest of the room, most of the other party-goers resumed their interrupted conversations, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
A premature sigh, as it turned out.
"Did you see that?" Ron asked. "That was one of the funniest. . . Ginny?"
The redhead in question had left Ron's side, unnoticed, and was headed towards the poor young man who'd tripped over the ghoul-girl.
"Are you okay?" she asked, concern creasing her brow. "That was some fall, are you hurt?"
The young man jumped in surprise, then looked at her, but didn't seem capable of speech. Or, Ginny thought, with a wry smile, maybe he was just stunned by her beauty. But since she was currently losing her left ear, or at least appeared to be, she figured that that wasn't it.
"Are you bleeding?" she asked, wondering if he spoke English. The long pause after her question didn't answer her question, or her wonderings. "Okay, then. Um, I guess I'll go. . . well, look! There's punch!"
As she turned away, she was startled to find he had taken hold of her arm. Gently, of course, but that was still rather forward for someone who hadn't even had the courtesy to answer her questions. She turned back to him with the intent of loudly demanding her release, but when she saw him, the small smile on his face, contrary to what she had expected, calmed her down. Nevertheless, she glared at him until he started talking.
"I'm sorry, Miss Ginny. What I meant to say was that I was all right-no blood, and while I'll probably get a bruise from the chair leg, it won't be a problem." He let go of her arm, and she felt relief from that, but also a curious prickling from her arm, where it seemed as though the fine hairs there were standing up and stretching, perhaps to get closer to his hand again.
"Wait," Ginny said. "How do you know my name? Are you really some sort of stalker?" She tried to sound prim and proper, but the corner of her mouth betrayed her inner amusement.
"Oh, well, um. . . I don't know about stalker, necessarily, but I was kind of. . . um. . . watchingyou for a bit. That's kind of why I tripped over that . . . hag?"
"Oh, I don't think she'd appreciate you calling her a hag, especially since, as everyone can plainly see, she's dressed as a ghoul."
The boy smiled, and Ginny couldn't help but think it might have been his first real smile of the evening. "Oh, of course. How could I have mixed the two up?"
Ginny smiled a bit, but that died away as the boy watched her. She had been watched by boys before, certainly. Colin had always been a little too excited about taking pictures of her, until she put him in his place. And that Dean guy had tried to show her a drawing that he'd done of her. She'd hexed him, and set the drawing on fire-honestly, no-one needed to see her all sweaty and dirty after a Quidditch game. The Corner bloke had stared at her all night at the Yule Ball. Thankfully Neville had seen the problem, and, correctly interpreting Ginny's body language, refused to let the other boy dance with her.
But this watching, well, this watching wasn't causing centipedes up her spine. Or rather, it was, but the centipedes were dancing lightly in ballet slippers, rather than stomping around in dirty boots.
Either way, she wasn't sure she liked it, or maybe it was that she wasn't sure she was interpreting things correctly. "What are you looking at?" she asked, in as aggressive a tone as she could manage.
The boy grinned at her. "Well, the best-looking Inferius I've ever seen, for one."
Ginny's mouth dropped open. "Wha- Oh." She had honestly forgotten that she was in costume. Although she shouldn't have-it's not like this curiously impertinent, but very interesting, boy was wearing a normal suit of clothes. In fact. . . "What are you dressed as?"
The boy smiled again, even bigger this time, lighting up his face. "You can't tell? I'm Batman!" he proudly proclaimed. To a totally silent room. Again.
Ginny's giggle was the next thing heard, followed by what sounded like a whole stadium full of giggles, some of them surprisingly less-feminine than they perhaps should have been.
Thankfully, the music started up again, and the tittering and whispering of the audience were covered up by the muted wailings of the Banshee Boyz.
The bottom half of the boy's face turned bright red, and Ginny couldn't help breaking out into real laughter. Thankfully, the boy didn't look too upset, although he seemed to be muttering imprecations beneath his breath.
Ginny finally calmed down, and reached out to touch his arm. "I'm sorry, really. I shouldn't be laughing at you, but it was just. . . just . . ."
"So funny?" he asked, wryly.
"Yes, that. But also, you were so happy to be this . . . this Bat-person, or thing. But I have no idea who he is, and then the silence right when you said it. . ." Her voice trailed off at seeing his crestfallen expression-well, the bottom half of it.
"You mean you really don't know who he is?" he asked incredulously.
"I'm sorry, I really don't. Um, don't take this the wrong way, but are you Muggle-born?" she asked. Seeing his expressive mouth (why am I focusing on his mouth?) start to frown, she hastened to add, "Not that it matters, but that might explain why I haven't heard of this Batboy before. . . "
Harry couldn't help it. "Batboy?" he asked, then laughed out loud. "I'm sure the Caped Crusader would be less than pleased to hear himself being referred to like that. Batboy. Although, now that I think about it, it would have been a much more fitting name for his sidekick than Robin, right?" he asked Ginny.
Ginny just stood there, looking slightly perturbed at his laughing at her. "Well," she finally said, "I'm sorry I don't understand all there is to know about this. . . this. . . "
"Batman?" Harry suggested.
"Right. But you don't have to laugh at me about it!"
"Ginny, Ginny! I'm sorry, all right? It's not you, really. It's just, well, it's just funny that I managed to pick a costume that no-one will recognize. Kind of a first for me, really," he continued, "but it's nice. And, yes, I was-well, not really Muggleborn, but raised by wizards who really like Muggle television, so kind of the same thing." He took a chance and motioned towards a group of chairs that seemed to be unoccupied. "Would you like to sit for awhile? This hasn't really been a lot of fun-"
"What!" she exclaimed. "Are you calling me boring?"
"No!" Harry answered. "No, nothing bad about you. I just, well, Fred and George told me I absolutely had to come, that it'd be the best party ever! But it was certainly turning into a rather depressing affair until I, um, found you. . ."
His shy smile was what really did it for her. Of course, it's not like she could see anything else-although there was an intriguing hint of green through the eyeholes in his mask. But something about him just kind of . . . called out to her, or, she didn't want to be too soppily romantic, but he felt. . . familiar for some reason, as if she had, and she actually cringed at thinking it, known him before.
He noticed the cringe, unfortunately. The previously-uplifted corners of his mouth straightened out, and his shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, um. I thought. . . .well, never mind." He turned away, thinking that, of course this wouldn't have worked out for him-nothing else ever had. But his thoughts were interrupted by a firm (though small and warm) hand on his shoulder, which turned him around rather forcefully.
As he was turned to face the Inferius, he was caught by the intense look in her eyes.
No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't look away from her. Until there was an ear-piercing blast on what looked like the horn of a rhinoceros, although the deep creases, folds, and wrinkles in the horn made it rather evident that it wasn't any sort of normal horn.
Harry and Ginny both turned to see what was going on. On the stage, which Harry hadn't noticed before, were Fred and George. George was holding the horn, and Fred was motioning for everyone to come in closer.
"All right all you ghouls, ghosties, and goblins, gather round!" Fred yelled. "No hiding there in the back, Batman!"
Harry turned to smirk at Ginny-at least there was someonethere who recognized his costume. But she was still facing the stage with a questioning look on her face so Harry turned back to see what the twins had planned.
"First of all," Fred announced, "we're glad you all could make it to the First Annual Weasley Brothers' Halloween Extravaganza!"
George stepped forward and blew on the horn again, and most of the audience applauded.
"Thank you, thank you very much. Moving on, we hope you've been enjoying your time here-I see from the state of the refreshment table that even if nobody's been dancing, you've at least salvaged the night by eating."
This brought another round of applause and laughter-mostly because Ron was standing by the aforementioned table, with his mouth half-full of beignet.
"And for those of you who've been enjoying the punch, I promise you'll lose the furry and floppy ears by midnight!"
Fred's announcement also brought a round of applause.
"Now," continued Fred, as George put down the horn and started marking out lines on the stage. "We figured that any Halloween contest worth its salt has a costume contest. However, this year, to celebrate our freedom from old Tommy-boy Riddle-" a rather enthusiastic "Woohoo!" interrupted him, but he just smiled and carried on. "Yes, as I was saying, for our costume contest tonight, we have something special."
Murmurs ran through the crowd, and although Harry and Ginny were standing too far away to hear what the murmurers were saying, Harry had a bad feeling about this. Fred and George had made a point of insisting he come, and now, with their comments about the end of the war, and how they should celebrate, he was starting to think that his presence there might not go as unnoticed as he'd hoped.
"That's right! Or rather, some of you might be right! On a completely unrelated matter, have you noticed how many people here are wearing our insanely popular Harry Potter Disguise Kit (on sale now through the end of November for half-price)?"
The crowd starting turning to each other, and scanning for the tell-tale messy hair and black glasses that were de rigueurfor the conscientious Harry-Potter-imitator.
"Now, if my amazingly handsome and available twin has counted correctly, we have at least seven Harry Potters here tonight!" George took the opportunity to conjure up and throw a squishy purple dinosaur at Fred, who ducked (on general principles), and let the toy hit, as luck would have it, the ghoul whom Harry had tripped over.
"Right!" George took over. "So, let's get all the Harry Potters up here on stage, shall we? Come on, now, don't be shy. You all look great, so don't be afraid to come up and show us how Harry Potter you really are!"
It turned out there were really nine people dressed as Harry Potter there, including, Harry saw, two females.
"Any more out there?" called George, shading his eyes with his hand to look over the crowd. "Any really short ones, hiding behind you half-giants out there?"
Harry slowly shifted so he was standing behind Ginny, although he wasn't sure that was going to be a good enough hiding place, as he was about 4 inches taller than she.
Fred got into the act now. "Are you absolutely sure there're no more Harrys?"
An Irish voice from the side called out, "Oi, I'm hairy, but I'm not standing up there!"
"That's all right, Seamus!" George replied. "That caveman outfit is already showing us too much hair!"
His date flushed bright red at all the attention, but the bloke named Seamus laughed good-naturedly.
The twins spent a few more moments scanning the crowd to see if there were any other contestants to rope into the contest, but soon gave up and got the contest started.
Harry couldn't remember when he'd felt so uncomfortable. He'd thought, for a moment, that Fred or George were going to call him up on stage. He certainly hadn't planned on doing anything like that when he agreed to come to the party. They'd promised him, crossing hearts and hoping to die, that they wouldn't tell anyone who he was, but Harry wouldn't have put it past them to decide that the joke was worth the inevitable fight that would ensue.
And, while it was true that they hadn't broken their promises (for which he was eternally grateful), he still couldn't imagine standing there watching while nine people competed to be the most like him. And the applause that the two girls had gotten, and the wolf-whistles, and the hubba-hubbaswere, quite frankly, even more disturbing than having been called on stage would have been. Harry had a rather quick and nausea-inducing image of himself kissing one of the female copies of him, and decided that he couldn't take it any more.
He backed away from Ginny and turned to find the closest door. Luckily, there was one right behind him, and he headed to it in what he would have described as a dignified walk. The walk seemed to take forever, and Harry wasn't sure he'd be able to make it without throwing up. Every step he expected to hear the Twins castigate him for daring to leave. Arriving at the door was one of the most incredible feelings-he'd escaped!
The door was locked.
He rattled the door, hoping that it was just stuck and that he'd be able to shake it loose. All he accomplished was some rather loud sounds, drawing more imagined attention. He rattled some more, and tried turning the knob even harder, but even his hardest efforts didn't seem to make any difference.
He was just about to give up and attempt to walk over to the other door, in spite of its being on the other side of the room, thereby ensuring that everyone in the room would see him, when a quiet voice sounded behind him.
The latch clicked, and Harry's hand, seemingly of its own accord, turned the knob easily and pushed it open. He turned to see who his savior was, but Ginny just pushed him slightly and said, "If you plan on leaving, you should do it now; Fred and George aren't going to be this oblivious forever."
Up on the stage, however, Fred and George knew exactly what was happening. One of them always had an eye towards the back of the room where Harry had taken up residence. When Ginny followed him to the door, the twins quickly glanced at each other, exchanged a small smile, and returned to the Harry Potter Look-Alike Contest.
"I can't believe I forgot Alohomora!" Harry was saying as they walked through the hall towards the outdoors. "It's, it's a child's spell! Everyone knows it! I'm such a moron!"
Ginny chuckled a bit. "You're not a moron, all right? It happens to the best of us-we forget something silly, and our friends help us out."
Harry stopped. "Um, friends?"
Ginny blushed. "Well, I just assumed. I mean, I followed you out of Fred's and George's First Annual Weasley Brothers' Halloween Extravaganza, after all. I wouldn't ditch my brothers for just anybody, you know."
Harry smacked his forehead with his hand. "They're your brothers? Why didn't I guess that? I mean, I figured that Ron bloke was a brother, but I'm pretty blind to not put two and two together and guess you both were related to Fred and George. They told me they had a sister and a few more brothers-I guess I'm just not thinking too straight tonight."
Ginny laughed at him, but it was a kind, friendly laugh. It encouraged him to be a little bolder than he was used to.
He smiled at her, and said, "Well, I'd really like to be your friend, Miss Ginny. Would that be acceptable to you?"
Ginny rolled her eyes, and tugged on Harry's arm. "Well, I don't know. I only have a limited number of friend slots that I can use, and if I add you, then I'd have to bump Lavender, and Ron would be so upset!"
Harry's smile died, and Ginny huffed. "You really are an idiot, aren't you? I'm teasing you!"
Harry's smile came back. "I'm so glad, thank you. I don't have that many friends, and I could definitely use an Inferius as one of them."
"How would you use me?" Ginny asked, then blushed as she realized what she'd said. "Not, mind you, that I think you're really into Inferi, right?"
Harry was surprised that she didn't make a bigger fuss about her unintentional flirting-in his experience, any girl that talked with him turned into some sort of brazen hussy. Ginny was rather refreshing in that she didn't seem to be even slightly bothered that he was. . . Oh. She didn't know who he was.
"Excuse me?" she said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Why?"
"You just seemed to kind of, I don't know, go into some trance or something. And your mouth got very sad."
"My mouth?" he asked, not believing what he was hearing.
"Well, yeah-it's about the only part of your face I can see. Well, okay, your shoulders kind of slumped too."
"Oh, well. You see, I was just thinking how fun it's been to talk with you, and then I remembered that I hadn't even told you my name or anything. But I'm kind of afraid to, you know-what if you don't like who I really am under my Batman outfit?"
Ginny laughed. "I'll have you know," she said, after she calmed down. "I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I think you're a pretty decent guy."
"But you don't know anything about me! How could you think I'm anysort of guy?"
They had to interrupt their conversation, as they'd reached the outer doors of the building. He opened one and held it for Ginny as she came out.
"Wow, it's gotten a lot colder, hasn't it?" she said, as her breath frosted out in the evening air.
Harry pulled his wand and did a couple of quick Warming charms.
Ginny thanked him, but couldn't resist adding, "I'm glad you remembered how to do those-I'd hate to have to teach you anotherfirst-year spell."
Harry blushed slightly, but didn't dispute the fact. "Well, I thought your costume, while being very authentic, let me add, looked a little too cold for comfort."
Ginny smiled mischievously at him. "Want to know a secret?"
Harry nodded, and she continued. "I've actually got a rather nice jumper under the costume-it's disillusioned so as not to be too obvious, but Mum wouldn't let me come out without making sure I was all bundled up. You know how it is, right?"
She couldn't miss the sadness in the set of his jaw, and how quiet he'd become.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. Are you okay?" she asked, hoping she hadn't opened too large of a wound.
Harry looked down for a bit, making sure he could talk without betraying too much emotion. Finally he looked back up into her concerned eyes. "Yeah, I'm all right. It's just, well, my parents died when I was very young. I was raised by my godfather and uncle-well, I call him my uncle, but he's really just a good friend of my dad and godfather."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't know! Well, of course I didn't know. But if I had I certainly wouldn't have said anything so insensitive! You must think I'm the most brainless-"
Her rambling apology was abruptly cut off when Harry gently placed a hand over her mouth. "Ginny, stop it. There was no way, well, almost no way you could have known. I promise I didn't take offense, okay?"
She nodded her head.
"And if I take my hand away, will you stop trying to apologize?"
She cocked her head to the side and thought, then slowly nodded again.
"Okay, here goes. . ."
"I know I promised not to-"
Same hand, same mouth.
"Do I need to flaunt my awesome knowledge of spells by casting Silencioon you?"
She shook her head.
"All right, one last chance," and he took his hand away.
"I'm sorry!" she blurted out. Then rushed ahead with, "I'm not apologizing for bringing up my family when you obviously had a less-than-wonderful upbringing. But I'm sorry for . . . "
"What, Ginny? What are you sorry for?" Harry asked when she didn't continue.
"Um, I'm not sure?" It was definitely a question, not a statement.
"Then don't apologize, okay?"
She nodded in agreement, and they started walking again.
The walkway was lined with some very large trees, the kind that you'd expect to see a huge tree-mansion in, or maybe be inhabited by dryads. The important thing about them right now was that there were drifts of leaves lining the walkway also. Ginny veered away from Harry to scuffle through the leaves, and he had to chuckle seeing how much delight she got out of crunching them under her feet.
Ginny noticed his amusement. "It's one of my favorite times of year, autumn. Although I guess we're getting close to winter now. But the Burrow, that's my home, is surrounded by trees, and we'd all go out and play in them. You know, have leaf wars, and make huge piles and jump into them. Although that kind of stopped when Fred and George started putting spells on the piles-they'd turn into huge leaf monsters and start chasing anyone who dared disturb them. Mum yelled at them a bunch for that, but we've never really gotten back into the habit."
"I can certainly imagine the twins' doing that," Harry commented, thinking that it would be a lot of fun to jump into leaf piles with Ginny.
"Oh, yeah. I was going to ask you-where do you know the twins from?" Ginny inquired.
Harry shrugged one shoulder uncomfortably. "Well, it's just. . . I've been in their store an awful lot, that's all."
Ginny stared at him, unconvinced. "Really," she commented. "Fine, be the man of mystery-I'm not going to badger you into telling me if you don't want to. I'm not Hermione," she commented quietly.
"Hermione? Hermione Granger?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, that's the one-wait how do you know her?" Ginny was starting to feel an odd sort of deja vu with this mystery man-the fact that he knew the twins, and obviously as more than just acquaintances, and now his reaction to Hermione's name. There had to be some sort of connection, if she could just suss it out.
Harry sighed. "Okay, well, I guess I kind of know the Twins better than just through their shop." He stopped talking and looked at Ginny. "Come on, it's getting colder."
"I'm not leaving until you tell me what's going on. It's too much of a coincidence." Ginny illustrated her stance by stamping her foot, which immediately made her feel rather silly. It didn't help that her companion laughed at the childish defiant gesture.
"I promise I'll tell you, okay? It's just that I don't have any warm Molly Weasley jumpers to wear."
Harry's face, if it could be seen, would have frightened Ginny with how white it had gotten. Oh blast! he thought to himself. Now he'd really done it.
Ginny's wand was out and pointing at him. "What are you? Some kind of Weasley stalker? You are! You've been stalking me all night, and now I find out it's not just me! I have half a mind to-Give me back my wand, you. . . you. . . git!"
Harry took a chance and followed through on his threat to silence her. After which he also cast a modified shield charm around her, which impeded her rather furious and dangerous fists-while she could move her hands through the shield, it had to be at a slower pace, and Harry could easily counter her moves. "Ginny!" he commanded. "Stop! Okay? Just stop! I promise I'll tell you everything. Whatever you want to know, just. . . just calm down, all right?"
Harry hadn't ever been trained to read lips, but it wasn't really necessary to know that she was (with 90-percent probability) casting aspersions on his character, history, predilections, and most likely his dancing ability, although he wasn't as sure on that last one.
Figuring that he'd better start talking, he turned back towards the party and started walking, slowly, and talking, softly.
Ginny stood there for a moment, stunned at the audacity of this irritating, yet very charming man, then followed.
"I met Fred and George when they were making weapons for our side. You knew they did that, didn't you?"
She shook her head.
"Okay, well, um. . . You've seen what they can do for pranking, right? Well, we needed some specialized equipment to help immobilize the Death Eaters. The Muggles have this amazing invention called Silly String-I showed it to George one day, and within a week they had a magically-enhanced version that completely incapacitated whomever it touched. It's hard to be a Death Eater when you can't move, and your victims could fight back.
"That wasn't the only thing-their Skiving Snackboxes even came in rather handy. We had some of the house elves on our side, you see, and they could spike the DEs food with some of the more. . . annoying. . . of those. Imagine having eaten a Nosebleed Nougat, but you don't have the antidote available."
Harry could see she was listening very intently, but there was still a fire in her eyes that convinced him to not relax the spells he'd put on her.
"Their invisibility products-the No-See-Ems? Well, the ones they sell are about as effective as a Disillusionment charm. But they have an entirely separate line that works almost as well as one of the old invisibility cloaks. They even added some light-weight wards and shields to them. And they didn't restrict themselves to cloaks, or hats. By the end of the war they were creating full-body uniforms, so we were almost completely protected from minor hexes. The invisibility field extended out a few inches to cover hands and wands." Harry laughed a bit. "They even made invisibility bracelets that would fit on an owl's leg and render the owl undetectable. My owl, Hedwig-she's so smart that she's rarely seen anyway, but this way I could still use her, even though she's very recognizable."
Harry's attention was drawn to Ginny, who was frantically trying to say something to him, and motioning repeatedly, and increasingly rudely, for him to un-Silence her.
"Are you sure you won't hit me, or curse me or something?" Harry asked.
She nodded emphatically.
"Okay. Finite Incantatem!"
"I think I've seen your owl! She's a beautiful snowy owl, isn't she? Only, she came to the Burrow a couple of times-I never would have seen her had I not peeked in the Twins' room once when she was there. She's beautiful!"
Harry just about melted right there, in spite of the coldness of the evening. Complimenting his owl was one of the quick ways to his. . . well, if not his heart, then at least something close to that.
Harry looked down shyly. "If you want, I could maybe make sure you see her more often."
Ginny stared at him. "What? What would you. . . ." Her voice trailed off as she quickly thought up and discarded half a dozen ways he could do what he'd said, and arrived at only one real possibility. She stopped, and stopped him too. "Yes, I think I'd like to give her some work to do. Just make sure you don't write so much that she can't carry it safely."
Harry's head had snapped up quickly when she'd said "Yes". And the thought that this wonderful, warm, witty woman was willing to let him write to her made him warm all over.
Ginny could see the change in his demeanor. It puzzled her a bit-how could such an obviously wonderful person not be able to have as many friends as he wanted? She filed that away as something to ask later.
"So, yeah. I know Fred and George because they helped in the war, but I didn't have the chance to meet the rest of the family." He thought for a second, then laughed. "Well, that much is pretty obvious, isn't it? Since I never met you before. I think I would have remembered a beautiful red-headed girl."
Ginny felt a little warmth in her cheeks-He thinks I'm beautiful! "So, how do you know Hermione?"
"I don't really know her-" He opened the door for her. "But Fred talked about her a lot back when we were working together."
Ginny was shocked. "You're kidding!"
"No, really. He used to go on and on about her," Harry responded.
"When was this-do you remember?" Ginny asked impatiently.
"Oh, um, about a year and a half ago, I think? But don't hold me to that; I didn't exactly write it down."
Ginny burst out laughing. "That's just. . . just great! Perfect blackmail material!"
Harry looked confused, and they stopped walking for a moment.
Ginny took pity on him. "Well, you see, a year and a half ago Hermione was dating Ron. He's the one that was talking to me when you had your, um, ghoulish encounter. They had fought through most of their Hogwarts years, and we all thought it was a sign of their mutual attraction. They finally decided to try dating, and lasted for a couple of months before they realized that the only difference dating made was that their fights got even sharper. You know, more personal."
Harry nodded a bit, finally starting to see what she was talking about. "So, Fred had been-" he gave a quick smile, "-stalkingher while she was still going out with Ron? That must have been frustrating for him."
"Exactly-I mean, the rules for dating friends' exes are strict enough, but dating a brother's ex? They weren't too happy with each other for awhile-you know, after Hermione and Ron broke up and she started hanging around Fred more. Ron was kind of jealous, even though he knew that Hermione wasn't the right girl for him." She thought for a bit, then said, "The get along much better now-maybe Ron really is growing up."
They had walked almost all the way back to the party, but stopped before going through the door. Ginny placed a hand on his arm so he would look at her. "Well, kind sir, you've done a good job convincing me you're not a Weasley stalker. You know too much to have just found things out from watching us."
Harry gave an exaggerated sigh of relief and mimed wiping sweat off his brow.
"So," Ginny continued, "would you like to go in and dance?"
Harry hesitated a bit, then said, "Can we just walk for a little bit longer?" Seeing Ginny's questioning look, he said, "It's just so loud in there, it's hard to hear each other."
Ginny nodded, and they walked on past the door. After a few moments of silence, Ginny said, "So, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure I believe you."
Harry looked at her in surprise.
"That came out kind of wrong," she apologized. "I'm not calling you a liar, or anything, but you seemed a little bit too anxious to get away from the Harry Potter Look-A-Like contest. And yeah, the music's loud, but we didn't have any problems before. Anything you want to talk about? Were you upset that you hadn't dressed like Harry Potter? Or was it the two girls up there that bothered you?"
Harry became very interested in the floor around his shoes while he thought about what he was about to do, and whether he could get out of the implied obligation. Finally he decided to just trust his feelings.
"Ginny, do you know who I am?" he asked softly.
Ginny opened her mouth to answer quickly, but then closed it. She looked closely at the guy who had effortlessly captured her attention. What, really, did she know about him? Name? No. Eyes? Sparkling, but what color? Hair? Possibly none. Height? Probably around 5 feet 9 inches, although the costume could be hiding something. Scars? None visible. And yet. . . Kind? Yes. Voice? Soft, friendly. Hands? Gentle, though strong. Marital status? She took a quick look at his left hand. Unmarried, or not wearing his ring. Smell? Nothing unpleasant, that's for sure.
It all added up to. . .
Harry was shocked. How had she discovered his identity so quickly? And why was she not turning into a rabid fan? "But. . . how did you? I never told you my name!"
It was Ginny's turn to put her hand over his mouth. "Shh, okay? Let me explain."
Harry nodded his head, and Ginny removed her hand. "No, you haven't told me your name. But that doesn't really mean anything-well, it means something, but it's not the most important part of you. I know you're kind, and thoughtful. Chivalrous and rather considerate. Devilishly handsome in your Batboy costume-are those your real muscles?"
Harry hadn't heard anything past "not the most important part of you." Was it really true? Was he more than just Harry Potter, the Vanquisher of Voldemort? Sirius and Remus had tried to explain this to him, he now realized, but he'd never really been confronted with the actuality of it. And the luck of having it happen here, now, with Ginny, was somewhat astounding.
Harry was brought out of his reverie (again) by a small, warm hand lifting his chin. "Are you in there? You just kind of blanked out. Are you all right?"
Harry smiled. "More than I can tell you. Thank you."
Ginny smiled back. "My pleasure, kind sir. But, if we're to keep our friendship progressing, wouldn't it be a good idea for me to know your name? Otherwise I'd have to address my owl post to handsome bloke who dressed as Batboy for Halloween." Harry murmured a soft "Batman", but Ginny ignored him and continued. "Besides, you already know my name, and probably all about me from the twins. So, what do your few other friends call you?"
Harry laughed. "Okay, fine. I'll tell you." He reached back and unzipped something on his costume, detaching the mask and headpiece. As he lifted it off, he looked her in the eyes and said, "I'm Harry Potter."