He was a tall young man in his early twenties, his shoulder-length hair was black, and his nose distinctly Roman. He was staring out of the restaurant window, watching two young women who were walking past. His colleague, a short, rotund and swarthy man in his late forties, glared at him. This had no effect so, in an attempt to attract the young man's interest, the older man hit the table with his fist.
'Pay attention, Alessandro,' ordered the older man, as he carefully adjusted the cutlery and rearranged the napkins on table twelve. 'I leave for Palermo tomorrow, and I will be away for three weeks. I will be gone, and you will be looking after my tables. You need to know of my regulars.'
'Si, Beppe,' Alessandro nodded, but Beppe saw the young man's eyes flickering back towards the window and another passing female. Beppe threw out his hands imploringly. Alessandro was young and inexperienced, and he seemed unable to read the customers. He was informal with everyone, even those who preferred formality; worse, on occasions he was simply offhand. However, as the young Neapolitan was Antonio's nephew, he was likely to be working at the Ristorante Antonio for some time.
'Table twelve, this table, we have a regular booking,' said Beppe as he examined the place settings with a critical eye. 'Seven o'clock, every other Wednesday for two years, a party of four has booked this table. Are you listening, Alessandro? This table.' Beppe again thumped the table to emphasise his point. 'They are young, no older than you: two couples. You willtake good care of them while I am away. They are good customers, very generous tippers, and they occasionally use the ristorante for private functions.'
'Sì, Beppe,' said Alessandro, shrugging disinterestedly.
'There are four of us! What on earth made you think that we'd only ordered three primi piattis?' asked Ginny in disbelief.
'Your beauty must have distracted me, bella signorina,' said Alessandro, smiling.
Harry saw his girlfriend bristle. It was only days after the Summer Solstice, and it had been one of the hottest days of the year. When he'd met Ginny outside the England training ground, she'd been so exhausted that he'd suggested contacting Ron and Hermione and cancelling the meal. She was, to the delight of the waiting cameramen, already dressed to go out, and she had insisted that they meet their friends as usual. But now what Ginny needed was food, good service, and an apology, not more fatuous flirting.
'We've got this table booked for the Wednesday after next. Will Beppe be back?' asked Harry hastily, before the waiter said something else to annoy Ginny.
Harry was ignoring the chifferi with wild goat ragu and pecorino which this easily distracted new waiter had, rather haphazardly, almost managed to place in front of him. The annoyance in Harry's voice was obvious, and many of the diners at the adjacent tables had fallen silent. They were all watching the incident as it unfolded.
For a moment, Alessandro, who was still holding the single bowl of tagliatelle with porcini, butter and sage, smiled unconcernedly at the furious redhead, her black-haired and bespectacled boyfriend, and their two friends. However, it didn't take long for the force of their combined glares to percolate through his skull.
His smile vanished as he registered their displeasure and finally recognised the threat in Harry's question.
'No, signore,' said Alessandro in a vague attempt to apologise. 'Not until the following week.'
He turned to address the two young women and gave them his best smile. 'I am sorry for the delay in your order, signorina. I can only assume that there was a mistake in the kitchen.'
'A mistake in the kitchen?' Ron snorted in disbelief. 'We've been coming here for years, and there's never been a mistake in the kitchen before.' He was staring hungrily at his pumpkin risotto with amaretto.
'Just eat yours before it goes cold, Ron,' Hermione told him at the same moment Ginny addressed the waiter.
'And you've already admitted that you were distracted by my … beauty ... so it's a bit late to try to blame the kitchen staff,' snapped Ginny acerbically.
Hermione, too, looked angrily up at Alessandro. He gave both young women another brightly shining smile, but they remained unmoved.
'You have forgotten one of the primi piattis,' said Harry firmly. 'You were slow in taking our order, then you brought the wrong wine, a house rosé instead of the red we asked for.'
'It wouldn't have been so bad if you'd apologised and corrected your mistake,' said Hermione, her voice rising. 'But instead of bringing the right wine, you tried to persuade us to accept the rosé. And even thenit took you ten minutes, and a reminder, before you finally brought the correct bottle.'
'But…' the waiter began to protest.
'Bring us another plate, and Ginny and I will share the tagliatelle you've brought,' said Hermione. Her voice was continuing to increase in pitch. It was like a kettle approaching boiling point, and even Alessandro had recognised the danger signs.
'Of course, signorina, at once,' said Alessandro. However, instead of placing the bowl of tagliatelle in front of Hermione, he leaned across the table and placed it in front of Ginny. As he did so, he knocked Hermione's glass of wine into her lap.
'Damn it!' shrieked Hermione as she, and her voice, finally reached shrilly steaming anger. She pushed her chair back and looked down. Her cream camisole was soaked, and the wine was dripping onto her beige skirt. The deep purple-red of the Nero d'Avola they were drinking would be a difficult stain to remove, even with magic.
'Don't you dare,' she squealed as Alessandro picked up her napkin and moved to rub her wet chest. Ron was immediately on his feet, his fists clenched. An almost funereal silence fell across the entire restaurant as the drama unfolded.
'Scusi, signorina,' said Alessandro distractedly, his eyes wide. He was staring at her top, which was now clinging wetly to her chest. Hermione snatched her napkin from his hand and used it to cover herself. Ron was making a low growling noise.
'For your information, "la ragazza dai capelli selvaggi" speaks some Italian,' said Hermione, her voice rising to its ultimate eardrum-shattering peak. 'And I did not appreciate your comments while you were taking the order. I had decided that I wasn't going to say anything to my friends, because I didn't want to spoil our evening, but as you've so expertly managed to spoil it for us anyway, I've changed my mind. I can tell you that "la bella ragazza dai capelli rossi" will be even less happy than I am when I tell her what you said about her. I want to speak to the manager.'
'Sì, signorina. Le mie scuse, signorina.' Alessandro fled.
'Raggy cap elli selli what?' Ron asked, as he sat heavily back down in his seat. He glared at the back of the departing waiter with so much venom that it seemed to penetrate the young mans rhinoceros-like hide. The waiter turned fearfully and hastened his retreat.
'What did he say about me?' demanded Ginny.
'You really don't want to know,' said Hermione as she half-heartedly tried to dry her top with the napkin.
'I do!' said Ginny forcefully.
'So do I,' said Harry, bristling.
Hermione didn't look up, but simply continued to mop up the mess. 'I should have realised that he wasn't paying attention when he took our order, Ginny. He was much too busy looking down the front of your dress. That's why he put the tagliatelle in front of you, and not in the centre of the table. He was leaning over for a better look.'
'I'd noticed,' said Ginny. 'But he's not the first bloke to talk to my boobs instead of my face, and I don't suppose that he'll be the last. It simply shows how shallow he is. Now, what did he say about me, Hermione?'
Hermione sighed. 'When he came back with the wine, he spoke to the other waiter–Francesco. He asked whether… Well… I'm not really sure exactlywhat he said, because despite what I told him my Italian isn't very good, and he was talking very rapidly and using a lot of slang, but I caught the word seni–it means boobs, Ron–and a reference to … to something very crude.'
'I thought Francesco looked shocked,' said Ginny, gazing thoughtfully at the usually smiling grey-haired waiter. Francesco had been at the restaurant for years, and the quartet knew him almost as well as they knew Beppe.
Francesco had been summoned over by the manager, Roberto. The elderly waiter was extremely angry. He was speaking in rapid Italian and was making his points with flamboyant, arm-waving passion. Whatever he was saying was resulting in Alessandro looking even more panic-stricken. The dark-haired young man was making desperate calming gestures towards the older man.
Roberto, the manager, was busily thumbing through the restaurant's reservations diary while half-heartedly trying to calm the elderly waiter down.
He's probably reminding himself that I've recently made a booking for thirty people for Harry's birthday party, Ginny thought.
'It's your fault, Ginny,' said Ron between mouthfuls of risotto. 'If you didn't wear such low cut tops, you wouldn't get all those leers and rude comments from blokes. You encourage them.'
'I do notencourage them,' said Ginny angrily. 'And it isn't my fault. The trouble isn't me; it's most blokes! Bloody hell, I should be able to dress however I like, but I can't. You know what the papers are like! Sod the on-pitch performances; appearance is the only thing they seem to care about. I've either put on weight, or I've lost it! And whatever I wear gets photographed and commented on. If I'm in jeans and a baggy old sweatshirt I'm "scruffy", or I've covered up because I have something to hide: a scar, a bruise, a tattoo, or even a pregnancy! If I don't cover up I'm "sexy", unless they've decided they don't like me, in which case I'm "tarty", and if I aim for the middle ground…'
'Dowdy,' supplied Harry, nodding in agreement, and trying to silently tell Ron to shut up. He'd heard his girlfriend's complaints many times before, and the last thing he needed was for Ron to make Ginny even angrier than she already was. Harry glanced across at Hermione. She was still silently seething, and if Ginny exploded, too…
He reached under the table and gave his girlfriend's knee a squeeze of reassurance.
'Exactly!' agreed Ginny. 'That's why we spend most of our time in the Muggle world, remember, Ron? It keeps us out of the papers. But even here a lot of blokes, like that idiot waiter, are lechers. Sometimes I think that all blokes are the same, Ron! You want girls to look good, and you're rude to us if we don't. But some of you can't stop dribbling or, Merlin help me, pawing us if we domake an effort to look good.'
'Not me, Ginny,' protested Ron.
'I'm wearing this dress for me, and for Harry, and if that stupid waiter can't deal with it, it's his problem, not mine!'
The manager, Roberto, arrived at the table in time to overhear Ginny's final few words.
'Whatever it was, it is my problem now, signorina,' said Roberto firmly.
'Yes it is,' said Ron. 'That other waiter has messed up our order, ruined my girlfriend's outfit, and insulted both her and my sister.'
'I know, Mr Weasley, I know. Be certain that I will speak very firmly to Alessandro. Antonio himself will hear of this incident,' said Roberto. 'Miss Granger, if you present us with your cleaning bill when you next come here, we will pay it. Until then, there is little I can do, I am sorry. There is a hot air dryer in the ladies room, if you wish to dry yourself.'
'I will, thank you,' said Hermione.
'Ah, here is Francesco,' said Roberto. 'He will take care of you for the remainder of your meal.' The manager moved aside as the grey-haired waiter approached.
Francesco was carrying a tray containing a single wine glass and a second bottle of Nero d'Avola. In one smooth movement he placed the empty glass in front of Hermione's seat and removed the glass which Alessandro had knocked over. The waiter then placed the new bottle of red wine next to the one already on their table. Picking up the original bottle, which was still about one-third full, he filled the clean glass and topped up Ron, Harry and Ginny's glasses, emptying it.
'Thank you, Francesco,' said Roberto. He turned to address his customers. 'We spill a glass of wine; we replace it with a new bottle, on the house. I tell you now that there will be no charge for your meal this evening. It is the least we can do for you. Please accept my most sincere apologies.'
'We asked for a second plate because there were supposed to be two tagliatelle,' said Hermione sharply.
'Yes, madam,' said Roberto. He seemed surprised, but only for a moment. Hermione wondered if the young waiter had actually told him about the missing starter. 'If you intend to clean up, I can promise that your tagliatelle will be ready by the time you return.' He turned to the waiter. 'Francesco!' he ordered.
'I will see to it personally, Miss Granger,' the grey-haired waiter promised. He rolled his eyes in the direction of Alessandro. 'Perhaps I should check the rest of your order, too.'
'Perhaps you should,' said Hermione. She stood, still clutching the napkin, and left.
'I'll come with you,' said Ginny, hurrying after her friend. 'You might need some help, Hermione.'
'Amaretto,' announced Francesco as he returned to the table he'd just cleared. He was carrying a tray on which stood four tall liqueur glasses. 'On the house. The manager, he insists.' He placed the drinks on the table, and handed the bill to Harry.
'Great, thanks,' said Ron, grinning tipsily.
'We've already had three bottles of wine, Ron,' Hermione reminded him.
'Not quite,' said Ron, trying to sound reasonable. 'There was one glass spilled, remember.'
'I'm not likely to forget,' snapped Hermione, glancing down at her wine stained top.
Harry glanced at the bill, which was for only the third bottle of wine. It was the only thing they had ordered since the incident with their original waiter. 'Thank you, Francesco,' he said. 'And thanks for sorting everything out for us.' He pulled a twenty pound note from his wallet and handed it to the waiter. 'And this is for you,' he added, handing over an additional ten pound note.
'Thank you, Mr Potter,' he said. 'It was my pleasure to serve you. We are proud of the service we provide and I hope that you will forgive this lapse. Beppe will be extremely angry when he returns.'
'Does Beppe get angry, Francesco?' asked Ginny curiously. 'He seems like such a lovely man.'
Francesco looked at her in amazement. 'He is Sicilian,' said the waiter firmly, throwing his hands in the air in resignation. It was apparent that, to Francesco at least, no further explanation was necessary.
'Shall we order a taxi to Grimmauld Place?' asked Harry, taking a sip of the liqueur. 'Are you coming back for coffee, Hermione?'
'I should really go home,' said Hermione, waving her hands across her wine-stained clothes.
'You've got clean clothes at Grimmauld Place, too, Hermione,' Ron reminded her hopefully.
'True,' she said. 'But nothing smart, Ron. I have an important meeting tomorrow morning; I'll need a suit.' She, too, sipped at the Amaretto.
'I'm sure we'll be able to find something for you to wear,' said Ron.
'I know that you won't,' said Hermione sharply. 'I'm going home.'
'You could come back for a coffee, before you go back to your place,' suggested Ron, refusing to give up. 'We can at least find something for you to change into, and it's only a little after nine o'clock. The night is young.' He smiled hopefully at her.
'I suppose I can come back for coffee,' said Hermione.
Ron grinned at her, and downed the liqueur in a single gulp. 'Great. I was expecting a late night because Harry and me aren't at work until tomorrow evening.'
'I hate night shifts,' said Harry.
'Tomorrow is a rest day for me, too,' said Ginny. 'In fact I have the rest of the week off. No more training until Sunday, so we could stay in bed all day tomorrow, Harry.' She leaned across to her boyfriend and whispered something else in his ear.
Ron tried to close his eyes to the contortions on Harry's face. It was a look he recognised; it was his friend attempting not to look too happy.
'When is Luna due back from Peru?' Ron asked, diverting the conversation back onto more mundane matters.
'At the weekend,' Ginny told her brother. 'I've arranged to meet her for lunch in Diagon Alley this Saturday. My first under-twenty-one's game isn't until the following Saturday. I'm sure that she'll have a lot to tell me.'
'Perhaps she'll have found a Snorkack,' said Ron, grinning.
'She's been to Peru, Ron. Snorkacks are native to Sweden,' Harry pointed out with a smile.
'They aren't native to anywhere! They don't exist, Harry, you should know that!' said Hermione dismissively. 'Doesn't she realise that she's wasting her life looking for non-existent mythical creatures? She's only just started going out with Michael, and she's abandoned him and gone halfway around the world.'
Ginny looked curiously at her friend, and wondered if, like Ron, Hermione was a little drunk. They'd all had a lot more to drink than usual. They usually shared one bottle of wine with their meal, sometimes two, but this was the first time they had shared three, and they'd also had a large digestif each. Ginny had, she knew, less to drink than her friends. After the incidents before Easter, which had resulted in a match ban, she'd decided that getting very drunk wasn't much fun after all.
The useless waiter had spoiled what was usually a very pleasant catch-up meal, a time when the four friends discussed things they couldn't, or wouldn't, talk about at their other regular meeting place, The Burrow. This evening had been different, and their conversation had remained stilted and sporadic until they had started on the third bottle of wine. Now, the relaxed banter the four friends usually enjoyed was finally flowing.
They continued to chat and joke as they made their way from the restaurant. It took some time before they found a taxi, but even so, they were still discussing Luna, and laughing at some of her more eccentric ideas, when they arrived in Grimmauld Place. Harry paid the driver, and waited for him to drive away before leading his friends up to the front door of his magically hidden home.
'She'll never find one,' said Ron as they walked along the hall and up the stairs to the sitting room. 'I like her, but she's bonkers. Hermione's right; there's no such thing as a Snorkack. She can't see the obvious, even when it's staring her in the face.'
'She's not bonkers,' said Harry. 'And although Luna might not always see the obvious, she sees a lot of stuff other people don't. Did I ever tell you that she recognised me at Bill and Fleur's wedding?'
Ron snorted with laughter. 'Of course she recognised you, mate,' said Ron. He patted Harry on the back with mocking sympathy. 'I'll let you into a little secret. You may have forgotten, but you're the famous Harry Potter. Look in the mirror. Black hair, glasses, lightning scar on the forehead, the clues are all there.'
'He wasn't, though,' Ginny reminded her brother. 'At Bill's wedding he was cousin Barney, remember? I didn't like Barney. He didn't ask me to dance with him.'
'You will never let me forget that, will you?' said Harry as he sat down in a large leather armchair.
'Definitely not,' said Ginny, winking at him and sitting on his knee.
'Oh, yeah,' said Ron as he thought back to his brother's wedding. 'So how did Luna recognise you if you were Barney?'
'I wasn't, at least not to Luna,' Harry said. 'She walked in, walked up to me, and said "Hello, Harry." I panicked; I thought that the Polyjuice must have worn off. It hadn't. I've often wondered how she did it.'
'That's easy. She's bonkers,' said Ron, grinning.
'Oh shut up, Ron,' Ginny ordered.
'Well what other explanation is there?' Ron asked. 'Polyjuice is Polyjuice, Ginny. If Hermione took Polyjuice to look like you, I wouldn't be able to tell you apart, and neither would Harry.'
'Actually,' said Harry, as he carefully considered the possibilities, 'I think I would. Perhaps that's how Luna did it.'
'How?' asked Hermione. She sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to her.
'Huh,' said Ron, shaking his head dismissively. 'I bet you couldn't do it, Harry.' Instead of sitting next to Hermione, he took two paces across the room and pulled a stray hair from his sister's head.
'Oi,' Ginny protested.
Ron opened his Auror-issue wallet, stuck his hand deep into it, and pulled out a small phial.
'Polyjuice potion,' said Ron, waving the phial. He unstoppered it and dropped Ginny's hair into the liquid. The potion flashed brightly, turned red, and began to bubble like lava. He handed the potion to Hermione.
'Prove it, Harry,' Ron demanded.
Ginny sprang to her feet and gave Harry a wicked grin. 'I bet you can't tell us apart, Harry. If you can't, you've got to take me to Paris for the weekend, sometime in August, after the England match.'
'If I can, you've got to take meto Paris for the weekend,' said Harry promptly.
Ginny laughed, and they shook hands to seal the bet.
'If you can't, you've got to wear Cannon's colours to the next Cannons/Harpies match,' said Ron. Ginny hissed angrily. 'And you can't make the opposite bet, Harry,' Ron added hastily. 'You can't ask me to wear Harpies colours, because if you do, Ginny will do something to help you to recognise her, just to make me suffer.' He glared at his sister.
'I wouldn't, Ron,' she protested, 'because I want to win my bet, too. But I wouldn't be making you suffer. I'd be easing your suffering because, for the first time in your life, you'd be wearing the colours of the winning side.'
'I've seen the Cannons win,' Ron protested. 'Only last year they…'
'It's okay, Ron,' said Harry hastily interrupting his friend. 'In that case, if I win, you can take that Cannons cannon off your desk and chuck it in the bin.'
'I told you, Harry, it helps me think.'
'Firing a toy cannon might help you think, but it simply annoys me, especially when I'm writing a report.'
'But, Harry…' Ron began.
'Come on, Hermione, let's leave them to it,' said Ginny, dragging her friend from the room.
Not long after Ron and Harry had moved into Grimmauld Place, in the weeks after Hermione and Ginny had gone back to Hogwarts for their final year, Harry had renovated the entire house. Hermione looked curiously around Harry's bedroom. It was remarkably bright. The ancient wallpaper was gone; the walls had been painted a bright Gryffindor yellow, and the curtains, carpet and bedclothes were all Gryffindor red. It was not, Hermione thought as she assessed the room, a choice she'd have made. But then, she reminded herself, it was actually more tasteful than Ron's choice of unremitting bright orange for his own room. Apart from the huge four-poster bed, the old furniture was gone, too. It had been replaced by a modern mix of black and chrome.
Since she'd left school, Hermione had rarely been up to the third floor; there had been no need. Ron had his own bedroom–it was on the second floor directly below Harry's–and because of that she'd never been inside Harry's redecorated bedroom.
The only decorations on the walls were four Quidditch posters. There were both of the official Harpies 1999/2000 squad posters. In one of the team posters, the players were lined up. Three rows of players plus the team manager, trainer, and healer gazed out at her. The other was the action poster; in it, all fourteen players swooped and dived through the air. There was also the poster of Ginny in her Harpies kit. It was, Hermione knew, one of two posters vying to be the best selling Harpies solo poster of the year. The other possible best-seller was that of Ginny's teammate and flatmate, the Harpies first-team Seeker, Olivia Aikenhead.
The fourth poster was new. Hermione knew that it had only recently been released. Ron had one, too. It was the only non-Cannons poster on Ron's bedroom wall and was of Ginny in her England Under-21s kit. Hermione didn't like it, as she found it unsettling to be watched by even a photo of Ginny when she was in Ron's room.
Hermione stared at the Ginnys, all of whom were waving, and wondered how Ginny coped. 'Isn't it a little off-putting?' she asked.
'Ron has lots of pictures of you in his bedroom,' said Ginny sharply, looking up from the drawer through which she was rummaging. 'What's the difference?'
'Those photos are small and discreet,' said Hermione. 'These…' she swept her arm past the posters, 'aren't.'
Ginny laughed. 'Ron! Small and discreet? Don't be ridiculous.' She shook her head in disbelief. 'The photos are simply photo-sized, Hermione. It's nothing to do with "discreet". And he's got more Cannons posters on his wall than Harry has Harpies posters in here. If you played for the Cannons, Hermione, he'd wallpaper the room with your posters, you know he would.'
Hermione momentarily lost herself in that wild fantasy, only to be brought out of it by Ginny's howls of laughter.
'These posters are everywhere, Hermione,' Ginny reminded her friend. 'It's a good way for me to get used to that fact. I try not to think about it, but I know that Harry's not the only Harpies fan with my poster on his bedroom wall.' She grinned. 'Although he isthe only one whose bedroom I visit.' She stared thoughtfully at her friend. 'Who knows what the other posters have seen!' she added impishly.
Ginny turned back to the drawer, missing Hermione's beetroot blush, and pulled out a baggy and rather shapeless Harpies sweatshirt. Picking up the pair of faded jeans already on top of the chest of drawers, she threw the bundle of clothes towards her friend.
'Can you cast Geminioon these, please, Hermione?' she requested, unzipping her short summer dress and letting it fall to the floor. 'I want to win this bet, so we should wear identical clothes.'
'Okay,' said Hermione, pulling out her wand and doing as she'd been asked. Once she'd duplicated the clothes, she glanced across at Ginny, whose underwear, what little of it there was, seemed to be entirely spun from black gossamer threads. It actually covered more than the bikinis Ginny had worn when they'd gone on holiday but appeared to cover less. Hermione stared.
'Harry likes black lace, Hermione,' said Ginny in a matter-of-fact way. 'I think Ron probably would, too. You should try it.'
'Actually, Ginny, I know what Ron likes,' said Hermione sharply as she pulled off her stained camisole top and unzipped her skirt. It fell to the floor, revealing a pair of rather unflattering bright orange knickers emblazoned with the double-C logo of the Chudley Cannons. She was rewarded by an astonished and disbelieving head shake from her boyfriend's sister.
'I don't think I want to know anything more,' said Ginny, her face carefully blank.
'Are you sure this is a good idea?' Hermione asked.
'A chance to go to Paris with Harry is a very good idea,' said Ginny. She carefully appraised her friend. 'You'll need one of my bras, too,' she added, turning back to the drawers.
'No, I'll be okay, I'll simply magically adjust mine,' said Hermione. She carefully re-examined the red wine stains on her top and skirt and frowned. 'I liked this top, but I think it's ruined. I think I may be able to save the skirt.'
'Ron liked it, too, Hermione. Why don't you leave it here? I'm pretty sure that Kreacher will be able to get it clean,' suggested Ginny. 'He enjoys a challenge. Leave the skirt, too.'
'I couldn't,' began Hermione.
'You could,' said Ginny forcefully. 'I know that you want to improve conditions for house elves, Hermione, but forcing them to do things they don't want to do isn't the answer. You need to listen to what they tell you, not simply tell them what you think is best for them. Gwenog always says you've got to guide a team, not herd it. They've got to want to do what you want them to do. Otherwise, you're no better than Voldemort; you're simply forcing them to obey.'
'That's what Kingsley said, too,' admitted Hermione. 'He said that I need to persuade the house elves before I can persuade the Wizengamot. And that I need to rethink my strategy.'
'He's right, and you know it, so I'm sure you will,' said Ginny, nodding her approval. 'But now we need to get ready. You need to look like me, but you need to act like me, too.'
'Act?' asked Hermione as she pulled on the jeans and sweatshirt. The jeans were a little short in the leg and rather ample around the hips but that, she knew, would change when she drank the potion. Alongside her, Ginny had already wriggled into an identical set of clothes.
'Act,' said Ginny firmly. 'You walk differently to me, Hermione. You walk like this.' Ginny imitated her friend's straight-backed walk as she moved across the room and opened the door to one of the wardrobe, revealing a mirror on the back of the door. 'I swing my hips a lot more than you do. This is the only mirror in the room, Hermione, come on.'
Hermione smiled to herself. Ginny was, she realised, as familiar with Harry's bedroom as she was with Ron's. She again looked around the room and was struck by the lack of discarded clothes on the floor.
'Sometimes, I wish that Ron was more like Harry,' Hermione admitted as she walked across to stand next to Ginny. 'Ron's room is never this tidy.'
'That's because he's Ron,' said Ginny. She looked up at her friend and frowned. 'You just walked across the room, Hermione, but you didn't even try to walk like me. If you're going to forget to impersonate me seconds after I've asked you, we need another plan. Perhaps if you just act naturally, and I'll try to act like you, that will fool Harry.'
'You don't really think that Harry could tell us apart simply by the way we move, do you?' asked Hermione.
'Watch,' said Ginny, sighing. 'Who is this?' She pinched her lips tightly together, put her hands behind her back, and glided silently across the room.
'Professor McGonagall,' said Hermione immediately.
'And this is Ron,' said Ginny. She loped back across the room with Ron's loose-limbed and gangling stride. 'Luna isn't stupid, Hermione, and neither is Harry. Harry has never mentioned the fact that Luna recognised him at the wedding, but I bet he's been wondering about it ever since Luna saw through the Polyjuice. I think that he's figured it out. I know Luna. She sees things differently; she looks with her brain, not her eyes. She sees more than simply appearances. You know what she's like. Looking like someone is easy; acting like someone, especially someone the person you're trying to fool knows well, is not!'
'I don't understand,' said Hermione.
'Think of it this way, Hermione,' said Ginny. 'Let's assume that someone drinks Polyjuice to look like you–we'll say that it's Pansy. She could walk into the Ministry, provided that she could get past the new security system the boys have installed, which I doubt. But, if she got inside, she could probably talk to most of your workmates and get away with it. If she walked into the Auror Office, do you really think that Ron and Harry wouldn't spot that something was wrong? She doesn't walk like you, and she certainly doesn't act like you. She swaggers, and she looks down her nose at everyone.
You're right, Ginny,' agreed Hermione. 'I should have realised. I made a lot of mistakes when I was trying to be Bellatrix. If it weren't for Ron and Harry…'
'Yes, being someone else isn't easy,' said Ginny. 'Ron would know it wasn't you, Hermione. He'd spot it in an instant.'
'Do you really think so?' Hermione asked, rather pleased by Ginny's assertion.
'Certain,' said Ginny. 'Bloody hell, he can even tell when you're worried and keeping secrets from him, Hermione. He'd definitely spot that something was wrong.' She gazed thoughtfully at Hermione. 'It might take him a while to figure out exactly what, but he'd suspect.'
'Unless she was very clever,' said Hermione.
'That assumes that somebody other than Pansy was impersonating you,' said Ginny, lifting her head and giving a very Pansy-like sneer.
Hermione giggled and nodded in agreement.
'So if we want to fool Harry, we're going to have to be very clever,' said Ginny. 'Perhaps you should just act like yourself, and let me deal with the deception.'
'Okay.' Hermione nodded, and the two young women looked anxiously at each other in the mirror.
'We're dressed identically, Hermione. We're as ready as we'll ever be. Now all you have to do is drink this.' Ginny handed Hermione the still bubbling phial.
Hermione took the slender glass tube of red liquid and drank it in one large gulp. 'Blimey, you're hot and spicy,' she said as, for the first time since her impersonation of Bellatrix Lestrange, she felt the potion take effect. Hermione watched herself in the mirror. Her hair straightened, lengthened and changed colour. Her features shifted, and freckles sprouted across her face. As she watched her reflection, she felt herself shrinking by three or four inches, and she grew outwards in other places. Hermione stared into the mirror, but two Ginnys stared back.
'Two Ginnys!' said Hermione, putting an arm around her friend's shoulder. 'Can the world cope?'
Ginny laughed, and hugged her. 'We're almost there, but you're not me yet,' said Ginny. 'I want to win this bet, so here's what we're going to do.'
Harry and Ron were in the middle of a good-natured discussion about Quidditch tactics when the sitting room door opened.
Harry stopped in mid-sentence and watched carefully as the two Ginnys walked in. Each wore black jeans and a baggy Harpies sweatshirt. The one on the left had tied her hair back with a white ribbon. The one on the right had tied her hair back with a black ribbon.
Black-ribbon-Ginny was the first to enter. She looked across at Ron, smiled, and then turned her attention to Harry. For a fraction of a second, Harry was elated; he was convinced that it really would be that simple. Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed when white-ribbon-Ginny did exactly the same thing. The two Ginnys stood just inside the door and waited.
Harry stood in silent thought. He had been certain that it would be easy because he knew both of them so well.
While he'd been waiting for them to return, Harry had been running through the likely scenario in his head. They would walk in; Ginny would smile at him first, and turn to look at Ron. Hermione would smile at Ron first, and turn to look at him. In his head, it had been easy; he had simply walked over and correctly separated his girlfriend from his girl friend. Now, however, he needed a new plan. He scrutinised both Ginnys carefully.
Neither of them was standing like Ginny. They were identical in appearance of course, and they were even dressed identically. The sight was disconcerting to the point of making him feel uneasy. Ginny was his girl; he should know! It should be obvious.
'I used the Geminiospell to duplicate a set of my clothes, to make it more difficult for you, Harry,' said white-ribbon-Ginny.
'She did,' agreed black-ribbon-Ginny. 'Except she's Hermione, so they were my clothes she duplicated, not hers.'
'No I'm not. I'm Ginny, and you're Hermione,' said white-ribbon-Ginny.
Ron looked at the girls, then at Harry, and began to laugh. 'I knew it. You've no idea which is which, have you, Harry?'
Harry simply ignored him and continued to carefully observe the two girls. Neither was looking directly at him. He'd been confident that he could do it, but that confidence had been based on the fact that Ginny would act like Ginny, and Hermione would act like Hermione. Unfortunately, they weren't. This was going to be a lot more difficult than he'd thought, and he knew why; it was definitely Ginny's doing.
Hermione was clever, but Ginny was sharp and she was Luna's best friend. If anyone knew how Luna's mind worked, it was Ginny. She had realised what he'd been planning, and she was trying to win the bet. He should have expected it. His girlfriend was a marvellous mimic, too. Her impression of McGonagall was frighteningly accurate. Now, she was impersonating Hermione, and she was doing a very good job. Nevertheless, there were so many little things, little clues, which would give the game away, eventually.
'Come on, Harry. Which witch is which?' asked Ron, chuckling.
Harry kept his eyes on the two Ginnys, hoping for a clue. But when Ron spoke, both girls looked at him, and both gave him the "Hermione" look. That indulgent smile with a hint of exasperation which Harry had often seen on Hermione's face, and which she gave exclusively to Ron, had appeared on both girls' faces, and from Ron's expression, he had noticed it, too.
Harry could not identify his girlfriend. All he'd managed to do was confirm his suspicions. Ginny was making things difficult for him; she was acting like Hermione.
'This is a bit creepy, mate,' Ron said, looking worriedly from one Ginny to the other. 'I'm beginning to think that this was a bad idea.'
'Just give me a minute, Ron,' Harry said. 'This isn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped.'
The two Ginnys looked at each other and smiled. 'It's working, Ginny,' said black-ribbon-Ginny. 'That was a good idea of yours.'
'Fooling Harry is easy, Ginny,' agreed white-ribbon Ginny.
Harry pounced on that exchange; black-ribbon Ginny had given white-ribbon-Ginny the credit. If he was right, and this was Ginny's idea, then it was likely that white-ribbon Ginny was the real Ginny. He assessed the evidence. White-ribbon-Ginny had been the second into the room; she had been copying black-ribbon-Ginny. He was almost certain he was right; all he needed was a final confirmation. He thought quickly, moved to the window, as far away from them as he could get, and tried again.
'Could you walk towards me one at a time,' Harry asked. 'White-ribbon-Ginny first, please.'
After a moment's hesitation, and nervous glance towards her twin, she moved forwards. He'd hoped for a slip, a tiny clue, but she walked exactly like Hermione. Strolling up to stand alongside him, she turned and faced the other Ginny. Harry was assailed by doubt, could he have been wrong?
He looked across the room and nodded. 'Your turn,' he told black-ribbon-Ginny.
She, too, was walking exactly like Hermione. She was halfway across the room when he swore in frustration. The moment he uttered the oath, black-ribbon-Ginny glared disapprovingly at him. That was it; he'd accidentally done something to provide himself with final confirmation. He had been right, after all. That disapproving look was Hermione; there was no doubt. He'd seen that look on Hermione's face on innumerable occasions over the years. Usually, it was Ron who swore, and Ron who was on the receiving end, but it was such a Hermione-like expression that there could be no doubt.
Harry saw Ron shrug in resignation and knew that his friend, too, had seen the look and figured it out. The purse-lipped Hermione glare was unmistakeable and very different to the teeth-bared and hands-on-hips stance Ginny used when she was annoyed.
Harry grinned at black-ribbon-Ginny. 'Hard luck, Hermione,' he said. Stretching out an arm, he placed a hand on white-ribbon-Ginny's hip, turned, and pulled her in to him.
'Nice try, Ginny,' he said, sliding his hands down onto her backside and bending down to kiss her. She opened her mouth, and he covered it with his own, but only for a moment.
White-ribbon-Ginny was stiff and tense in his arms, and she was trying to push him away. At first, he thought she was teasing, but he soon realised that she hadn't opened her mouth to kiss him; it had been the beginnings of a scream.
'Bloody hell, Harry,' she squealed, slapping his grasping hands away. 'Get your hands off me you… you…' She turned away and fled.
Black-ribbon-Ginny was laughing, 'Merlin, Harry, I hoped that you'd lose our bet, but I didn't think you'd do it by groping Hermione.'
'What the…' Ron began. He was interrupted by white-ribbon-Ginny, who ran up to him, threw her arms around his neck, and tried to pull him down for a kiss. Ron grabbed her arms and desperately tried to pull himself free. He held the wailing girl away from him, almost fighting her off. 'No! I … I … look … Merlin ... sorry… Even if you are Hermione, I can't… sorry… you look like Ginny.'
'Ron, Ron!' White-ribbon-Ginny sobbed and began to cry. Ron immediately rounded on Harry. 'You bloody… You just groped my girl, and tried to snog her, Harry. Of all the bloody stupid ideas! Why the fu-'
'It was your idea, Ron,' shouted black-ribbon-Ginny. 'You grabbed my hair, you made the potion, and you made the bet. Don't you dare try to blame Harry.'
'It's your fault, Ginny,' screeched white-ribbon-Ginny, angrily rounding on her twin. 'You tricked Harry. He was looking at you when he swore, and you fooled him with that glare.'
'I was copying you, Hermione! That was the plan, remember?' shouted black-ribbon-Ginny.
There was now no doubt in Harry's mind that he'd made a mistake. Everything about white-ribbon-Ginny, from her angry screech to her tear-filled eyes was Hermione. He found it extremely disturbing to see Ginny having such histrionics, even if he now knew that it wasn't actually Ginny.
'Sorry, Harry; sorry, Hermione,' said Ginny. 'I didn't expect this to happen. Come on, Hermione, let's go back up to Harry's room until the potion wears off.' She took her still sobbing friend by the hand and dragged her out of the sitting room.
Harry and Ron looked at each other in uneasy silence. Ron collapsed onto the sofa, and Harry moved across the room and almost fell into his chair. Neither man spoke. Harry's mouth was dry, and he could not stop the image of Ginny screaming at him and trying to slap his hands away from replaying itself in his mind. He'd grabbed her bum! True, it had felt like Ginny's bum, but it hadn't been. He'd tried to kiss her, really kiss her, not the friendly pecks they exchanged, but a full on mouths-open snog. And she'd looked terrified. His lips were burning at the memory. Harry put his head in his hands and sighed.
'You tried to snog my girl, Harry,' said Ron quietly. 'And you grabbed her bum.'
'It was an accident, Ron,' said Harry. They stared at each other, and simultaneously realised the ridiculousness of Harry's excuse and of the position they found themselves in. They both began to laugh hysterically.
'I'm bloody glad we didn't do it the other way around,' said Ron when they had laughed themselves to exhaustion. He took a deep breath and shuddered, presumably at the thought of a Hermione who looked like Ginny trying to kiss him.
'You won,' said Harry. 'I'll get myself a Cannons supporter's kit for the next game.'
'I didn't Harry, not really.' Ron shook his head. 'I didn't think that you'd be able to do it, but now I know that you could. And so could I, provided that the impersonator wasn't as good as Ginny. I thought I could tell them apart, and I made the same mistake you did.'
'All bets are off, Harry,' said Ron firmly. 'To be honest, this entire evening has been a bit of a disaster from start to finish. We'd be better off forgetting all about it.'
'I've made us coffee,' said Ron proudly as Hermione walked back into her living room, still drying her hair with her wand. She was wearing the Chudley Cannons pyjamas he'd bought for her at Christmas, which was always a good sign. 'I used the electronical kettle, and I found the milk in the refrigionator.'
'Electric kettle and refrigerator,' corrected Hermione, accepting the cup he was offering her and taking a sip.
'I'm really sorry that I couldn't kiss you, before, when you were so upset,' Ron said. 'But…'
'That's okay, Ron,' she told him. 'If you'd been Polyjuiced into Harry I don't think that I could've kissed you, either.'
'That's good to know,' said Ron. He slipped his arm around her waist.
'Someone could still use Polyjuice to sneak up on you, you know,' said Hermione. 'I think Harry's right; you'd know it wasn't really me when you got up close, but…'
She got no further. Ron lifted the cup from her hand, placed it on the mantelpiece, and kissed her.
'You're definitely you,' he told her. He bent forwards, put a hand under her legs, and lifted her into his arms.
'Well, that was an evening to remember,' said Harry as he paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. Ginny was draped across the sofa, watching him prowl.
'Ron was right to cancel the bet, Harry,' said Ginny. 'If I hadn't given you the Hermione swear-glare, I'm certain that you'd have spotted which of us was which before the potion wore off. And you did spot her the moment after you tried to snog her.'
Harry stopped his pacing and turned to face her. 'I'm really sorry about that, Ginny,' he said abjectly. 'I'd like to take you to Paris anyway.'
'Don't worry about it,' she reassured him. 'And I'd like to take you, so we can take each other. Come here, and think positively,' she added, beckoning him towards her.
He shuffled forwards slowly. 'Positively?' he asked.
'Positively,' she confirmed. 'Look at it this way, Harry. We've discovered that you can probably see through a Polyjuice Potion, provided that the person who is being impersonated is someone you know very well.'
'I didn't,' Harry told her. 'You fooled me.'
'Yes, I fooled you,' she said. 'But Hermione couldn't have done it. I had to pretend to be her, and both you and Ron realised that. Plus, we now know that Hermione doesn't want to snog you and you don't want to snog her.'
'We do?' asked Harry, stopping immediately in front of her.
Ginny nodded. 'You should have seen your faces, Harry,' she said. 'Sheer horror at the thought, from both of you.' She grabbed his hand. 'Do you think that Ron will be back?'
Harry shook his head. 'When he takes Hermione back to her flat, he usually stays there for the night. Why? Is it bedtime?' He asked hopefully.
'If we know that Ron's not coming back, we actually don't need to climb two flights of stairs until we want to sleep,' she said, pulling him down onto the sofa.