Arriving downstairs, Harry and Ginny were greeted with a spectacle even a wizard would find unbelievable. The kitchen had been magically expanded to keep everyone that was there for the party in the cool of the house, and everyone was there. Bill and Charlie were in one corner, talking with two witches Harry didn’t recognize, and besides Mrs. Weasley, were easily the oldest people there.
Several of the Gryffindor boys in Harry’s year were interspersed amongst the crowd, including Neville, Seamus and Dean. Neville was closest and quickly greeted Harry with a hearty handshake. “Brilliant party, Harry!” he said before wandering to sit next to Luna Lovegood. She wasn’t the only Ravenclaw, either.
Scanning through the crowd, Harry saw that Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst, Anthony Goldstein, and to his great surprise, Cho Chang. Looking directly at Cho, whose head was turned as she spoke to Anthony, Harry noted that the perpetual sadness was no longer present in her eyes. However, he also observed that at every previous encounter with her, his stomach would lurch unexpectedly. This was no longer the case.
Magical streamers were strung across the rafters, turning different colours and letting off small bits of glitter, which fell to the floor. There were tables and chairs along the outside wall, one holding presents, others holding different snack foods and drinks. In the middle, was a long table, almost as large as one of the tables in the Great Hall, filled with dishes and different kinds of luscious food. In the centre of the table was a large two-story cake with sixteen burning candles perched on top. Floating in the middle of the room was a large sign that read:
Happy Sixteenth Birthday Harry!
It was all quite overwhelming for Harry, as he had never had a proper birthday party in his life. To see the results of what must have been loads of work for the Weasleys, caused a new feeling emerge within him. With a burning behind his eyes, he fought the sudden emotions back down and resumed looking at the crowd.
There were also several Hufflepuffs mingling amongst the partygoers. Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchly and Hannah Abbott were by the punch bowl. Harry did a double take as he noticed Hannah and Ernie holding hands as they chatted with two boys he didn’t recognize.
Conspicuously absent from the crowd were Fred and George Weasley, who Harry was slightly apprehensive about seeing again. Budding businessmen they may be; he knew that they would always have a prank ready for a party, especially a party like this.
As much as Harry would have liked to continue observing The Burrow’s new guests, it was not to be. Ginny, who had been standing next to Harry for the minute he had been people-watching, now continued on to the table holding the presents. This movement caught Mrs. Weasley’s eye and she turned to spot Harry.
“Oh! You’re here!” She waved her hand to bring him closer. “Come on. Come over here.” With a mournful glance at Ginny, he sidled up to the head of the elongated kitchen table, heavy with delicious food.
“Attention, everyone!” Mrs. Weasley shouted through cupped hands. The conversation immediately stopped and she continued. “I wonder if you could all give me your attention for a moment.”
The crowd quieted and Harry exchanged a wave or two with some of his friends as they bustled over to hear Mrs. Weasley.
“All right, now. The birthday boy is here, so we can get started.” She raised her wand, like a conductor’s baton and the crowd burst into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.
He was once again overcome with emotion, as he listened to the song, and his vision blurred slightly. So intent on schooling his feelings, he didn’t see the cake levitate over to him. When the song was done, he scrunched his eyes and made a wish, just like he’d seen his cousin, Dudley, do many times. He then blew out the candles and opened his eyes to see his friends clapping loudly for him.
Ron and Hermione appeared beside him and Ron clapped him on his back. “Happy Birthday, mate!”
Hermione grabbed him in a hug and said happily, “Happy Birthday, Harry.”
“Thanks,” he said simply, looking them in the eyes. It was just too wonderful for him to articulate anything more profound.
They seemed to understand and let it go at that. Mrs. Weasley was busy serving the cake with a magic spatula, sending plates of cake to different spots on the table. The crowd slowly made their way to their seats and began to tuck in.
Harry remained standing at the head of the table, still feeling a bit emotional. Ron and Hermione walked over to their chairs and Harry thought he saw their hands brush together as they did so.
After a moment, Ginny walked over to him and in a soft voice, said, “Harry?”
He turned to face her, grinning. “Hey, Gin. Thanks for this,” Harry said as he waved his hand at the streamers and banner.
With slightly pink cheeks, she replied, “It’s Mum you should thank.”
“Don’t be modest, Ginny. You know it was your idea!” Fred and George had finally made their appearance and wasted no time in teasing their sister.
George wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulder and leaned heavily into her, nearly toppling her over. “Yeah, Gin-Gin. Didn’t you say you started planning this last year?”
“Right,” said Fred, who was on her opposite side, grinning widely. “And weren’t you the one who wanted the streamers to send off green sparkles?”
George fluttered his eyelashes dramatically and finished, “To match his eyes!”
Ginny had apparently had enough and elbowed George hard in the ribs. He doubled over, shaking with pain and laughter. She turned on Fred and quicker than anything Harry had ever seen, kicked Fred in the shin.
Hopping madly on one foot, Fred tried to scold his sister, “What was that all about?”
Ginny fixed him with her steely gaze. “You know darn well that Mum was the one who suggested the party for Harry last week.” Then turning on George, added, “And you know,” she gave him a kick in the shin as well, “That the streamers came that way!” Then she grabbed Harry’s arm and said, “Come on, Harry. You’ve a party to be at.”
With that, she led him over to the centre of the large table and sat him down next to Ron. Ginny sat down on his other side and promptly began talking with one the Gryffindor girls in her year.
Harry turned to Ron and noticed that he wasn’t as jovial as was normal and realized that they hadn’t really spoken since the pond incident. Wanting to clear the air, he tapped his shoulder and said, “Hey, mate.”
Ron didn’t look at Harry but said, “Hey.”
“Look...about the whole lake thing. I wanted to apologize about that.” He paused, searching for something to say that didn’t sound so lame. “It wasn’t my place to force you to talk to Hermione.”
Still picking at his food, Ron dropped his fork and turned to face Harry. “It wasn’t very funny, you know.” His voice was low and even. “I was starkers out there, and then you dropped my trunks right next to her.”
Guilt washed over Harry as he looked on Ron’s serious face. But as soon as he started to form a contrite reply, a smirk formed on his friend’s face and Harry started. “You’re having me on?”
“I was angry,” he said, still smiling. “But after you left, I realized that besides being mortified in front of Hermione....”
“What about me?” interrupted Hermione, whose impeccable timing was as consistent as ever. She sat down next to Ron in a huff and said, “Someone thought it would be funny to enchant the punchbowl to spray punch at the girls.”
“It’s not enchanted to do that, Hermione. Mum’s not used it since Bill graduated from Hogwarts and it’s quite shirty about being in the attic for so long. I guess it has a thing against girls.” Ron failed to suppress a grin, but looked relieved that he didn’t have to explain why they were talking about Hermione.
“Well, I’ve sorted it out now, but not before it could get half the girls here. Luckily, your mum was able to clean us up.” She grabbed a chicken leg from the dish between her and Ron and started eating.
Ron seemed tense again when she sat down and was nervously digging his fork into his steak and kidney pie.
Presents were opened, friends were thanked, and the party went on quite well for several hours. No one had turned into canaries, developed enormous tongues, or spontaneous nosebleeds. It was as if the twins weren’t there at all.
Harry was enjoying another piece of cake, much to Mrs. Weasley’s delight, as he sat in a chair near the garden door. His eyes rested on Ginny. She was talking animatedly with Dean Thomas about Quidditch from the hand gestures she was making. Then he remembered that she had said she was dating Dean on the train ride home last month. Dean was laughing at something she said and gave her a very appreciative look. One that triggered an irrational desire in Harry to punch him in the mouth.
“Something the matter, dear?” came Mrs. Weasley’s voice through his thoughts.
Looking up at her, he realized that his emotions must have shown on his face and he shook his head. “No. I’m all right, just a bit full from this wonderful cake.”
“Well, I’m glad you like it. Be sure to tell Ginny, then.” She motioned her wand at the dirty dishes she was carrying and then marched them off to the sink to be washed.
Harry returned to gazing at the youngest Weasley, wondering when it was that she had found time to make him a cake. More importantly, why? Unable to find a satisfactory reason, he decided to find Ron and Hermione, who had wandered outside. But before he could get up, he was shocked to realize that the girl he had been looking at was now looking back at him. And she was smiling.
Without a single thought about it, his lips curved upwards to mirror the look on her face. Something in his belly twisted in a funny way and he felt his palms go sweaty. It was a wonderful sensation, and the first thought that came to mind was to go over to her and kiss her. WHAT? His brain screamed at him. I mean, she was good looking, and smart, and very brave, and sure, she probably understands him better than anyone else...
Unable to stand the mental tug-of-war any longer, he stood abruptly and crashed into someone walking through the garden door.
“Ahhh!” he said as his cake plate went flying.
“Oh!” screamed the person, and was hit with the piece of unfinished dessert.
It was Cho.
Harry froze for a split-second in shock, then said, “I’m so sorry, Cho. Let me help you clean that up.” He grabbed a napkin from the table next to them and started to wipe the cake.
“That’s quite all right, Harry. I can manage....” So focused on the spill, he failed to notice the mortified look on her face and the giggles coming from the people around him.
Finally, she grabbed his hands. “Harry,” she said firmly. “It’s fine. Let me clean it up, okay?”
When Cho released his hands, Harry became aware of the particular area of her person the cake had landed on. The front of her robes were wet with chocolate frosting and cake crumbs. More specifically, the area around her chest.
Harry’s face flamed red and he began to stammer. “I-I-I...I’m so sorry. W-would you...”
She cut him off hastily. “Don’t worry about it.” Her voice was calm and even. “I’ll just go to the loo and get this fixed up.”
Ginny, who had witnessed the entire encounter, stooped to pick up Harry’s plate and walked over to him. “Here’s your plate,” she said quietly, but not avoiding his eyes.
He took the plate from her and said with relief, “Thanks. I’m pretty daft, huh?”
“Nah,” she said smoothly. “We all do stupid things around the people we love.”
Momentarily confused, Harry tried to decipher the meaning of her words. Did she mean that he was clumsy because he loved Cho or her? Thinking quickly, he decided to make the most of the situation. “I guess you’re right, Ginny.”
She hesitated for a moment, and then made a move to leave. Harry impulsively grabbed her arm, above the elbow and said, “But I don’t like Cho anymore.” He desperately tried not notice how soft the fabric of her dress was, or how the warmth of her skin seeped through it so easily.
Ginny gasped in surprise and turned back to face Harry. They looked at each other for a moment, and then Harry released her arm and walked towards the sink without a word.
The party broke up just after dinnertime, and everyone was so stuffed that they didn’t notice, even the perpetually hungry Ron. As the sun began to set and the stifling heat of the day decreased, Harry found himself outside, walking along the edge of the forest in the paddock. There were birds flitting in and out of the trees, calling to each other in a cacophony of noise.
Harry walked to a particularly large tree and climbed up to one of the low-lying branches. Being alone helped him deal with life, but there were times when being alone drained what little happiness he had. Life at The Burrow imbued a measure of peace, but sometimes the freshness of Sirius’ loss crept up on him, and he had to seek solitude in order to fight against the overwhelming feelings.
Looking out into the waning summer sunshine, he tried to focus on the happiness he had felt today. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny really went out of their way to make it unique, and for once, he actually felt special. Thinking about his party led him to think about his encounter with Cho and Ginny and how strikingly different the two girls were.
It was easy for Harry to offer girl advice to Ron yesterday, but trying to gain any semblance of clarity to his own situation was fruitless. As much as he wanted to sort out his feelings, they were just too muddled. Cho was the past, he knew that much--but what about the future? Did it include Ginny? Looking at her this morning and then at the party, he could think of nothing better. He even made that stupid remark about not liking Cho any more. While it was true, he was afraid of leading her to believe something that even he wasn’t sure about.
Sighing, he leaned back into the trunk of the tree and closed his eyes. His hearing became instantly more acute and he let his mind wander to the sounds of the birds and insects. A loud knocking noise signalled the presence of a woodpecker off to his right. The gentle twittering of swallows danced in the branches above him. Then a new sound alerted him to something unnatural. He perked his ears and tried to filter out the other noises. There it was again, something definitely man-made, almost like footfalls.
Soon enough, the breaking of twigs and shuffling of leaves became loud enough that he could tell that whatever, or whoever it was, was getting closer. Slowly, Harry pulled his wand from the waistband of his trousers without opening his eyes. It was definitely a person, and they were now directly below him. Running through a few different courses of action, he decided that his best chance would be to simply drop from the branch and tackle them.
Just as he was starting to roll over and begin the dropping maneuver, a voice called out to him. “Harry, are you out there?”
It was Ginny.
Already halfway through his roll, he tried to stop, but gravity had taken hold of his body. He twisted his torso back to the branch and tried to grab on with his free hand, which only served to jerk his body more vehemently. Instead of cleverly pouncing on his victim, or even falling gracefully to the ground, he landed in a heap, right in front of Ginny.
“Ahhhh!” she screamed in shock.
“Uhhhh,” he moaned into the soft dirt.
Ginny dropped to his side and turned him over. “You gave me such a fright! Are you hurt?”
Her breath was coming in short gasps, and it blew softly on his face. There wasn’t much light left, but it was enough that he could see her expression. Concern and love were plainly evident, and it struck something forcefully in his soul. Again, it occurred to him that Ginny Weasley was a very pretty girl. Her scent and warmth radiating from her body surrounded him and he revelled in its comfort. How did I not notice her before? he mused, still staring into her worried eyes.
“Harry,” she whispered, breaking him out of his reverie. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” was his quiet reply. I am now, he didn’t add.
Her hand moved to his forehead, as if to push his fringe back, but it stopped suddenly and withdrew. Ginny’s open expression closed and she leaned away. “We better head back. Mum doesn’t like us to be out after dark.” She stood up and held out her hand to him.
“All right,” he said, still not breaking eye contact with her.
He grabbed her proffered hand and stood up next to her. Ginny made to let his hand go, but he held it tighter. “Let’s walk back together,” he added, as if it weren’t obvious that they were going to do that anyway. But he needed to say something to keep her hand in his.
Ginny hesitated for a moment, as if having an internal debate, then replied, “I’d like that.”
They walked hand in hand out of the trees and into the paddock. Harry’s palms were sweating and he felt extremely awkward holding her hand like this. Last night, it just seemed natural, and he hadn’t thought a thing about it. Now there was a strange tension between them. Thinking of how to break it, he stopped short of the line marking the Weasley’s garden.
“That’s odd,” Harry said, suddenly sensing something.
Ginny cocked her head and looked at him sideways, “What’s odd?”
A minute passed before she said, “I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. What happened to the birds?” Harry pulled his wand out again and looked around to the trees where they had been.
“You don’t think something’s the matter, do you?” Ginny said with a bit of apprehension.
“I don’t...” but he was cut off by a loud shout from The Burrow. Then at once, the sound of several spells echoed through the air, along with more shouting.
Harry squeezed Ginny’s hand tighter and they took off towards the hill that overlooked the Weasley’s home. Red, blue and green light flashed in the distance as more spells were fired. Mr. Weasley’s distinctive voice could be heard shouting ‘Stupefy!’
As they topped the hill, the scene before them defied description. Several hooded figures were firing spells at The Burrow, which was now on fire in several places. At least one of the attackers was out of the fight, sprawled on the grass by Mr. Weasley’s shed. The eldest Weasley was in the doorway of the kitchen, firing fearlessly as he defended his home. The twins were also shooting spells from their windows and every once in a while, tossed something down which exploded and knocked several Death Eaters on their backsides.
“Have you got your wand?” Harry asked Ginny quickly.
She pulled it out of her dress pocket and brandished it in front of her. The look of cold determination on her face made Harry flinch. “All right,” he said, pointing to the shed on their right. “Do you see your dad’s shed?”
Ginny nodded, and he continued. “Let’s make for there, and we can catch them in a crossfire. It’ll give us some cover as well.”
Her face still grimly set, she said, “I’m ready, Harry.”
They squeezed each other’s hand for reassurance and ran together for the shed. Harry chose a route that put trees, bushes and other cover between them and the attackers. But it didn’t matter, the Death Eaters were too intent on the main building to turn around and check their flank. Big mistake, thought Harry.
Arriving on the side of the shed facing the drive, they crept slowly around to the side entrance and waited for Fred and George to set off another explosion. Like clockwork, another bomb appeared from the window and the air was rent with another loud BOOM!
Taking advantage of the chaos, they slipped inside the shed. Crouching low, Ginny hugged up to his side for support. “Here’s the plan,” said Harry. “You aim for the ones closest to us, and I’ll take the far ones. That way, they’ll all be distracted and maybe give your family time to get out of there.”
“Sounds good,” she said simply. Then she moved over to the other side of the doorframe and aimed her wand at the closest Death Eater. “Stupefy!” she yelled. The Death Eater crumpled.
Harry started to send hexes at the far group of attackers and eventually, spells were sent back to their direction. The shed was good cover, as it stopped most spells, but bits of wood flew around them as each bolt hit the structure and the roof was starting to smoke. Eventually, Death Eaters started to fall in the crossfire. Fred and George must have run out of bombs because no more explosions were heard, but it didn’t matter, the battle was all but over.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley emerged from The Burrow’s door as soon as the last attacker was stunned. They were followed by Ron and Hermione, who had been shooting spells from the kitchen window. Harry turned to Ginny and helped her off the floor. Her hair was mussed and there were beads of sweat on her nose. Harry didn’t think she could ever look more beautiful, than at that moment.
When he didn’t move immediately, she jerked his hand a little and said, “Earth to Harry?”
“Wha-Oh, sorry,” he said sheepishly, still openly staring at her.
“Come on.” She pulled his hand and they walked carefully out of the shed.
They picked their way through the unconscious and prone bodies of the Death Eaters, trying to avoid touching them. Some had their hoods askew enough that Harry could see their faces but he didn’t recognize any of them. As they approached the house, movement caught Harry’s eye and he turned quickly to see what it was, wand still drawn.
A Death Eater was moving towards Ginny, about three feet away. Acting fast, Harry sent a stunner at the man, but his aim was off. The hooded man lunged at Ginny, who had just discovered the threat, and grabbed her by the legs, toppling her to the ground. Hermione screamed, and Harry could see out of the corner of his eye that they were running to assist.
Not wanting to risk hitting Ginny with a spell, Harry dove on the man to try to remove him physically. “Get...off...her,” he yelled between laboured breaths. The man was strong however, and Harry was unable to push him far. Ginny was just barely able to rotate her legs before kicking the man squarely in the crotch. With a howl of pain, the man went down and Ginny scrambled to get out from under him.
Harry grabbed her hand to help, but she was still struggling when the Death Eater pulled an old shoe from his cloak and lunged one last time at the redhead. As soon as he had a handful of her dress, the Portkey activated, and because Harry was holding onto her hand with all his strength, he was pulled forward with a jerk as well, into the unknown.
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