"You are not going to Diagon Alley!"
"NO! And that's final! After what happened to your father, do you expect me to let you two run off by yourselves, Ginny Weasley? Certainly not!"
Ron rested his chin in his hand and stirred his breakfast disinterestedly. Ginny should know better than to argue with their mother; it did about as much good as a ghost playing Keeper. Or he himself playing Keeper, he thought wryly. He didn't want to go to Diagon Alley anyway.
"How are we supposed to buy Christmas presents?" Ginny persisted.
"Send the owls if you must. But you are absolutely not going to Diagon Alley." Mrs. Weasley turned to the sink, and the plates began washing themselves with particular ferocity. Ginny crossed her arms, staring darkly down at the table. Ron buttered another piece of toast.
There was quiet shuffling in the doorway, and Ron looked up to see Lupin joining them. His robes were more ragged than ever, his hair quite dishevelled from sleep. "I would be happy to take them, Molly," he said mildly, sitting next to Ginny. "I need to go to the shops for a set of books anyway."
Mrs. Weasley still faced the sink. "Well . . ." she said doubtfully.
"Please, Mum," Ginny begged. "We want to buy presents, and nothing would happen to us if Professor Lupin is with us."
"Ohhhh little town of Hooogsmeade!" boomed a voice from the hall. Ron grinned and shook his head as the enthusiastic singing was soon accompanied by Mrs. Black's screaming. "Siiiiilent night!" sang Sirius' voice, louder still. Lupin smiled, and Ginny giggled.
"He'll wake Harry," Mrs. Weasley sighed. "And Hermione, too, poor dear. . ."
"Can we go with Professor Lupin?" Ginny pressed.
"Oh, I suppose. Finish your breakfast, Ginny, it's getting cold."
So much for getting out of a shopping excursion. Ignoring Ginny's happy glances at him, Ron stirred his food a bit more. At least he had fifty galleons in his pocket, and his mind reeled at the images of things he could finally afford to buy for himself. Perhaps a broomstick servicing kit like the one Hermione had given Harry. Or perhaps a new copy of this year's Standard Book of Spells, since Charlie's copy was missing a cover and quite a number of pages. Then he realized with horror that he was thinking like Hermione. A broomstick servicing kit and a few dungbombs would be ideal.
Diagon Alley was as crowded as he had expected. He and Ginny pushed through the crowds, Lupin following closely behind them. Ron knew he was having a much easier time of it than Ginny, thanks to his height, and the thought gave him no small amount of satisfaction. They recognized and greeted several friends along the way before Ron spotted Flourish and Blotts.
"Oh, good," Ron said, stepping ahead of Ginny and reaching for the door. "We can buy all our presents here, then go home."
Ginny hesitated. "There are much better places to buy presents, Ron."
He stood there dumbly, staring at her, hardly noticing as people jostled between and around them.. "But--"
"We'll save Flourish and Blotts for last," Lupin suggested. "Books will be the heaviest things we buy, so we don't want to carry them around to the rest of the shops, do we?"
This idea won a grateful look from Ginny, but Ron scowled. "We aren't visiting that many shops, are we?" he asked warily.
"Why don't we begin with the Witches' Way?" Ginny said eagerly, ignoring Ron's question.
Ron frowned even more. "What in bloody hell is that?"
Ginny grinned. "The best row of shops for buying Christmas presents. Honestly, Ron, no wonder you never gave Mum a decent present."
"What! I--" Ron protested. "Professor, can't we--" Surely Lupin would come to his defense. Witches' Way did not sound promising, and the idea of trudging around to a million women's shops made him want to run to Grimmauld Place without looking back.
"Good idea, Ginny," said Lupin, and Ron didn't even bother to close his gaping mouth. "Then we can try Quality Quidditch Supplies," he added quickly, apparently noticing that Ron had turned several shades of red.
Ginny beamed and walked ahead, and Ron trudged behind her, muttering choice words under his breath.
"Ron," said Lupin in a low voice, "I should warn you that you're about to see a lot of... pink."
Looking up, Ron was surprised to see that Lupin was giving him an understanding sort of smile. "Do I have to..." He gulped. "Actually go into the shops?"
"I don't plan to," Lupin chuckled. "But then, I'm not shopping for a mother, a sister, and a girlfriend."
"Hermione is not my--"
"In the sense that she is a girl and your friend, she is your girlfriend. And what do you plan to buy for her?"
Ron looked away to hide the warmth in his face at the idea of Hermione being his girlfriend. "I was going to buy her a book she's been wanting," he said. "But Ginny wants me to buy something else."
"Hmm," said Lupin thoughtfully.
Ginny gave a small sound of delight and turned a corner. Ron had no time to brace himself before he followed her, and his senses were suddenly bombarded with sweet smells, lace, cooing girls and women, and... pink. Lots of it. Somehow his legs forgot how to move, and somewhere far away, he heard the sound of Lupin's laughter and felt a hand on his back, urging him forward.
"Come now, Ron, you're a Gryffindor," Lupin grinned.
"Why bother sending chaps to Azkaban?" Ron asked in disbelief. "A few minutes in this place would do the trick."
"Oh, please," said Ginny. "This is where women shop for hair potions, fancy dress robes, perfume..." She trailed off, wandering over to a shop window and gazing longingly through the glass.
"I'm sure Umbridge is a regular customer," said Ron. "What are you looking at?" he asked impatiently, joining Ginny at the window.
She pointed out a hair potion and began telling him about it, but Ron's eyes had fallen on a small blue bottle just in front of him. "Madame Wumblydown's Smoothing Potion - Guaranteed to Work Magic with Your Frizzy Hair!" In spite of himself, Ron smiled and fingered the galleons in his pocket. Hermione would kill him, and she would find some way to do it painfully. Better not risk it.
"I'm going to step in for a minute," said Ginny, "if you two don't mind."
"Not at all, we're having a lovely time," Ron replied.
Lupin flashed him a warning look. "Take your time, Ginny."
Ginny evidently decided to take Lupin at his word. Just when Ron considered making a dash for it, she finally emerged from the shop with a small pink bag dangling from her wrist. "For Mum," she said happily. "She's been wanting it for ages. Your turn, Ron."
"My turn for what?"
"To pick a shop."
"Oh!" Ron smiled, realizing that his time in Witches' Way had ended unexpectedly quickly. "Quality Quidditch Supplies," he said without hesitation.
"Ron," Ginny sighed. "Don't you want to find something for Mum? Or Hermione?"
"Why don't I help Ron a bit?" interrupted Lupin. "Ginny, if you don't mind staying in this area, I'll take Ron to a few more shops. I doubt," he continued, the corners of his mouth twitching, "that any dark wizards are lurking on Witches' Way."
Ginny agreed to this readily and slipped back into the hair potion shop.
"Now, Ron," said Lupin. "I'm going to help you if you're willing to cooperate."
Ron made a strangled noise and hoped it was a good response.
"Can you think of something that other girls have, that Hermione doesn't?"
"Dragon dung for brains?" Lupin gave him a sharp look, and he sighed resignedly. "I don't know, Professor. Look, I know what Hermione wants. There's this book about Arithmancy, and--"
"And Hermione has hundreds of books," Lupin finished. "Try thinking of her as a girl."
"She isn't like other girls," Ron argued. "I mean... she's the same... but different. That's what I like about her!" He immediately bit his tongue.
Lupin, however, acted as though he hadn't heard. "Buying her a girl's present doesn't mean you have to buy her something silly."
"I don't know anything about this stuff," said Ron miserably. "And I don't see why I can't get her the book she wants."
Lupin looked at him with something like sympathy. "Alright, Ron. If you walk around here for an hour and come back with nothing, we'll leave Witches' Way with no further discussion about it. Agreed?"
The prospect of spending another hour drowning in pink was horrible to contemplate, but it certainly seemed better than his alternatives. He started to ask Lupin if he had to actually enter any of the shops, but wisely decided against it. Without another word, he nodded and turned away quickly before he changed his mind. Lupin and Ginny were behind him now, and a frightening world of lacy unfamiliarity lay before him.
He looked up and read the signs ahead of him, wincing at each one more than the last. "Make Bath Time a Magical Time!" "Lady Medusa's Hair Parlor - We'll Put More Life into Your Hair, or Your Money Back!" Then his eyes fell on one sign in particular, probably because it was the only sign on Witches' Way that wasn't pink. About a block away, red letters on antique wood read, "Scents and Sensibility." Ron took a deep breath and headed for it.