The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Most Ingenious Paradox  Chapter: Chapter One: Their Various Ways
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“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

 

 

“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

[A Harry Potter Fanfiction by Penpusher]

 

 

Chapter One - “Their Various Ways”

 

Hermione looked up as the door of her study creaked open.  Two bright brown eyes framed by deep red hair peered hesitantly around the door with a questioning look. 

 

“Fred let me in,” said the eyes, blinking timidly.

 

Hermione sighed with a mixture of weariness and frustration and threw down her quill.

 

“Come on in, Ginny, I could really do with a break.” 

 

She stretched sinuously, wincing as her muscles protested.  The other girl came into the room, sinking down in a corner of the leather sofa.  Hermione smiled.  Ginny was average height, slender and angular, but right at that moment curled up on the sofa, she resembled nothing so much as a small tabby cat. 

 

“I think I’ve reached saturation point anyway,” Hermione announced, getting up from the desk and aiming for the drinks cabinet.

 

“Honestly,” she continued over her shoulder, hands busy with glasses, “I really wish I had access to a central database, like Muggles have - one with an efficient search facility.  I’d save hours upon hours of hard slog if only the Ministry, not to mention my Chambers, would wake up to the twenty-first century.” 

 

She raised a bottle of amber liquid with a questioning look. Ginny held up the index finger and thumb of her right hand to indicate a small measure.  There was a pause as Hermione poured the drinks, adding generous amounts of mixers and ice.  Ginny got up from the sofa and paced restlessly around the room, stopping at the large desk.  She peered down at the papers spread all over it and frowned.

 

“You’re completely swamped with work!” she exclaimed.  Hermione sighed.

 

“Tell me about it,” she murmured. 

 

Hermione was an Advocate, a wizarding barrister.  After graduating from Hogwarts, she had taken professional training in both wizarding and Muggle legal matters for two years before joining her present chambers as an Advocate’s Clerk for a further year’s training (most of which seemed to be spent archiving past cases).  Her impressive work record led her Chambers to offer her a permanent position as a Junior Advocate. This was her first year as a fully-qualified lawyer, and on a good day the workload was suffocating.  This was evidently not a good day. 

 

Ginny crossed to the window where she stood gazing out at the traffic, biting her lip.  Hermione raised a quizzical eyebrow.

 

“You’re jumpy tonight,” she remarked, handing her the tumbler, now full of a pale amber liquid.  Without speaking, Ginny took the glass and swallowed half its contents in one go. 

 

“Great Merlin!”  Hermione stared at her in astonishment. “You’d better tell me all about it.” 

 

She motioned Ginny to sit down.  The other girl shook her head vigorously with a sound that was half laugh, half sob.

 

“It’s nothing really, just another argument.”  Her eyes trailed away from Hermione’s.

 

“With David?”

 

“Who else?”  Ginny took a more measured sip of her drink and sank down once again on the sofa.

 

“Oh, it’s the same old tale again.  Why do I carry on working with Ernie at Wizard Radio when I could be, in his words, ‘raking it in’ by becoming a full-time professional singer.” 

 

“Hmm.” Hermione bit her lip thoughtfully. “Is it just the money situation, do you think, or is it a little more than that?”

 

“I wish I knew.”  Ginny paused, took a shaky breath then expelled it again with an impatient sigh.

 

“It’s true we’re, well, rather on our beam ends, you know,” she began, “what with the mortgage on the flat and David’s agency business not doing as well as it might.  He doesn’t say much, but I think I’m the only really bankable artist on his books. I have to confess, it’s rather demeaning.  I mean, being thought of as a money-making commodity rather than a person by your partner, even after working hours and in the privacy of your own home!” 

 

Hermione could see that Ginny was far more upset by the situation than she was letting on.  Damn that idiot!  She gritted her teeth and for what seemed like the hundredth time, swallowed the words that threatened to spill out.  Instead, she reached out for Ginny’s hand, noting absently how cold she seemed, and schooled her expression into one of interested sympathy.

 

“Gin, darling, you can’t afford any more mistakes.”  Hermione shook her head sadly.

 

“You’ve had nine Unauthorized Use of Magic Notices in the past year.  One more and you’re done for; you’ll have to go before a Ministry Tribunal!  And I don’t think explaining that you’re just trying to make a living is going to be a sufficient defence.” 

 

The other girl shook her head.

 

 “I know, I know,” she replied, miserably, “but I want to help him so much.  And it’s so tempting just to add a little magical something to my performance.  Not for my own benefit, of course, but to get more bookings, to boost his reputation.  Just to help him get his business going just a little better.  Oh Hermione, I feel so helpless!”

 

Ginny’s eyes were shining with unshed tears.

 

“However much effort I put into my singing, I’m never going to be able to achieve all I know is possible out of a performance by Muggle means alone.” 

 

Hermione took a deep breath.

 

“Ginny, I know I’ve said this before …”

 

“No, Hermione, I know what you’re going to say, and I just can’t do it.”  The corners of Ginny’s mouth turned down mutinously.

 

“But if he loves you, he’ll accept you for what you are, and you won’t have to keep suppressing your natural talents - which were formidable when you left Hogwarts.  I know because Minerva McGonagall told me!”

 

“He’s a Muggle, Hermione!”

 

“So?  There have been wizard/Muggle matches before now.  Not often, I grant you - we do tend to stick to our own kind - but it’s quite possible for Muggles to adjust perfectly happily to our world.” 

 

Ginny was shaking her head emphatically.

 

“Three years is a long time, Hermione.”  Her huge eyes were sad.  “Too long to simply come home one night and tell him, out of the blue, that I’m not the professional singer he’s had on his books, and incidentally been living with, for most of that time.  I am, in fact, a witch.  Oh, no, not the pointed hat, rotten teeth, ‘Bubble bubble toil and trouble’ type witch, but a serious practicing sorceress.  Excuse me while I ring the Funny Farm!” 

 

Ginny paused for breath and Hermione burst out laughing.  Ginny stared.

 

“I’m glad you find it amusing!” she retorted huffily, knocking back the rest of her drink.  Hermione looked at her affectionately.

 

“I’m sorry, Ginny, but really - don’t you think you’re exaggerating just a tiny bit?  Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan have both dated Muggle girls in their time …”

 

“Yes, but did they tell them the truth?”

 

“Well, no, not so far as I’m aware …”

 

“Well, there you are then!”  Ginny sat back contemplating her empty glass gloomily.  Hermione got up to refill it.

 

“Come to think of it, Seamus’s dad is a Muggle,” she continued thoughtfully, “and his mum didn’t let on she was a witch until after they were married!”

 

Ginny’s lips twitched slightly.

 

“Yes,” she replied, against a bubble of laughter, “I remember Seamus said it was a bit of a shock when he found out.”

 

Both girls chuckled reminiscently.  Ginny shook her head sending her long hair flying.

 

“It’s no good sitting here being miserable and making you miserable too.” 

 

Abandoning her refilled drink, she jumped up from the sofa.

 

“Come on!” she said to a surprised Hermione. “Let’s go to Giovanni’s - it’s 8.45pm, I’m starving and he’s doing a special hot Americana topping this week.”

 

Hermione wavered, glancing guiltily at the unfinished casework, then stood too.

 

“You’re on!” she exclaimed, defiantly emptying her glass.  She snatched up her handbag and followed Ginny from the room, leaving the paper-covered desk to rot.  Sometimes there were more things to life than research.

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

The two girls made a striking pair.  Hermione, tall and elegant, was dressed formally in a smart grey suit with her long, sleek hair pinned into a shining French pleat.  By contrast, Ginny’s clothes were casual and her hair had a mind of its own.  Long, red tendrils snaked down almost to the base of her spine, curling round her shoulders like some exotic, climbing plant.  However, its waywardness detracted little from the exquisite delicacy of her features.  Of the two, Hermione may have turned heads, but it was Ginny on whom the eyes lingered. 

 

A couple of streets on, the girls turned into a small, dimly lit Bistro that, despite it being a midweek night, was already fairly busy.  They made a dash for a window table just becoming vacant and settled to peruse the vast and comprehensive menu.  Giovanni himself came to take their order.

 

“’Ermione, and the little Ginny!  I ‘ave meessed you!  Per’aps you ‘ave found another place to eat, eh?” 

 

Hermione grinned broadly at his mock-soulful manner and his twinkling black eyes.

 

“Now, Giovanni, you know very well we would never go anywhere else - not while you still make such wonderful toppings!”

 

“Mmm!” agreed Ginny, glancing at the chalkboard containing the day’s specials. “Well, it’s no contest for me.  I’m having the Americana Hot Chilli with a large bottle of sparkling mineral water!” 

 

Nodding his head, the little man finished marking his order pad and smiled at them with affection.

 

“I remember when you all moved ‘ere - the parties!” he began reminiscently. “The celebrations!  All your friends from school - Fred and George, Ron, Lee and Oliver - and ‘Arry, I was forgetting ‘Arry.  ‘Ave you ‘eard anything from ‘im?  When will ‘ee come ‘ome?” 

 

Ginny smiled.

 

“I had a letter from him today, as a matter of fact,” she replied. “He’s still enjoying life, but he’s a long way from becoming a native Californian, I’m delighted to say.”

 

“’Ee come back?  Soon?” 

 

With a small smile, Hermione shook her head.

 

“I don’t think so, Giovanni.” 

 

The little man nodded and, spying a couple of new patrons by the door, left the table to place their order. 

 

“That’s strange.”  Ginny spoke without looking up, toying with a bread stick as she contemplated the pattern on the tablecloth.

 

“What?”

 

“Giovanni suddenly mentioning Harry like that.”

 

“Why particularly?”

 

“Well, he hasn’t asked about him for months - I thought he’d forgotten Harry.  Heck, I thought everyone had.”

 

“Have you forgotten him, Ginny?” 

 

Caught unawares, the redhead looked up, frowning.

 

“Goodness, no!  Honestly, Hermione, how could I ever forget Harry?”

 

“Exactly.  Neither could I.”

 

Ginny grinned suddenly and raised her glass of mineral water.

 

“Well, I must say you’ve got good reason to keep him in mind, haven’t you?” she said in an amused tone.  She raised her glass in the manner of a mock-toast.  “Here’s to Harry Potter, your landlord!”  The two girls clinked their glasses.  Hermione returned the grin.

 

“He would have been your landlord too,” she replied, “if things had worked out as he planned.” 

 

Ginny lowered her eyes.

 

“Well,” she countered, “come to that, I have a vague memory that my youngest brother was originally supposed to figure somewhere in the Grand Scheme of things.  Was he not?”

 

Hermione had the grace to look a little shamefaced.

 

“Alright, point taken,” she replied with a wry smile.

 

Ginny raised a speculative eyebrow but declined to comment.

 

“Speaking of which,” Hermione continued thoughtfully, ”Harry being my landlord, I mean, I really should start thinking about the next project.”

 

“On the house, you mean?” said Ginny, her interest caught.  Hermione nodded.

 

“Well, the house itself is pretty much sorted, at least as far as we need it to be at the moment,” she began, “but Harry particularly wanted me to make some sort of start on the garden.  I mean, really, it’s been two years since he bought it and the place is still a jungle.  It’s so huge I have no idea what’s out there.  He could have made an independent sale of the grounds to developers and recouped some of the fortune he spent on the place.  I advised him to do just that, but he wasn’t interested.” 

 

Ginny frowned.

 

“You know,” she said, thoughtfully, “that house is really pretty unusual.  There aren’t many large, period properties left in London that haven’t already been converted into flats.  Not to mention the grounds.  It must have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an army of potential developers when it came on the market.  So how did Harry manage to pip them all to the post?” 

 

Hermione smiled and shrugged.

 

“You know Harry,” she replied, “he does tend to get what he wants, doesn’t he?  But, you know, I often wonder why he wanted something like that in the first place.  I mean it’s a beautiful house, and in a prime area to boot, but it was in a very poor state of repair when I moved in.  Why choose to sink all his money into something which was going to need so much work when all the time he was planning to move abroad?” 

 

Ginny started to attack her pizza.

 

“Well, he did live in London for a year before taking off to LA,” she said in muffled tones, around her mouthful, “and you’ve got to admit, he did sort out some of the basic renovations before he accepted his new job.  Have you never asked him?” 

 

Hermione shook her head, also beginning to eat.

 

“To be honest, I was so impressed when I saw the place, I didn’t want to dissuade him.  And besides, his reasoning seemed very plausible at the time.  You know, rising market, excellent investment, couldn’t lose money, providing a home for his friends, etc. etc.  Which was extremely welcome at the time, I can tell you, as I was absolutely stony broke during my Pupilage.”

 

Hermione favoured her friend with a candid glance. 

 

“And, yes,” she said, “I’m quite sure he intended Ron to move in here too, but … ah, well.  That’s all water under the bridge now.” 

 

Ginny gave a small smile, swallowed her mouthful and took a sip of water.

 

“I think Harry may have been a little optimistic if he expected Ron to share a house with you on a platonic basis,” she replied carefully. “I mean, it’s a bit much to expect when you’d just split up after - what was it? - two years at Hogwarts.  The wounds must still have been a bit raw.” 

 

Hermione grimaced.

 

“Well, he’s done more or less the next best thing, hasn’t he?  Ron, I mean.”

 

She started to saw her pizza into strips with unnecessary vigour as she spoke, not meeting Ginny’s eyes.

 

“Sharing that flat round the corner with Oliver, Lee and George - honestly, I know it’s big, but it’s got to be a bit cramped when they’re all home, rare though that might be.”  Hermione stabbed discontentedly at her pizza.  “They make me feel like I’m rattling around in that mausoleum with only Fred to trip over.  And when he goes away on his business trips, the silence is more than even I find pleasant.”

 

She set down her cutlery and sighed, smiling ruefully at her friend.

 

“I know Lavender and I didn’t always see eye to eye,” she continued, “but I liked her and I was sorry when she moved out to live with that Gringotts chap - what was his name? - Aurelius, that’s it.  Charlie filled the gap for quite a while; that last case of dragonscore took a long time to completely heal, even with Madame Pomfrey’s help.  Now he’s gone back to Rumania and I miss the company.” 

 

Ginny nodded.

 

“Time for you to find another housemate - perhaps several.” 

 

Hermione looked dubious.

 

“Who did you have in mind?  I’d be delighted if Ron and all his fellows would move in, but I really don’t think that’s at all likely.” 

 

Ginny smiled and shook her head.

 

“You’ll never guess who I ran into last week?  Colin Creevey!” 

 

Hermione’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline.

 

“Colin the Camera?  With the little brother, Dennis?”

 

“The very same.”

 

“Well, it’s a small world indeed.  What’s he doing at the moment?” 

 

Ginny’s smile broadened.

 

“Well, that’s just it.  He’s swapped his camera for - get this - paints and chisels.  He’s become an artist and sculptor and is getting quite a following amongst both wizards and Muggles.  The trouble is, his studio is near Shepherd’s Bush and he’s living somewhere in Clapham - ghastly journey, and neither property is very satisfactory.  He’d absolutely kill to be able to live here - if he could afford it, that is.”

 

“Oh, he could afford it, all right!”  Hermione’s eyes were alight with possibility.  “I’ll make it a condition of his tenancy that he put in at least five hours a week remodeling the garden.  That’ll pay some of his rent and give me some much needed assistance!” 

 

The two girls raised their glasses of mineral water in a good-humoured toast.

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

It was really far too late to be getting home on a midweek night, Hermione decided as she walked up the driveway to the front door of Harry’s House, weary but relaxed.

 

Galileo,” she muttered absently at the lion-shaped knocker on the front door.  The beast fixed her with a baleful glare before the door swung open into a still-lit hallway.  As she hung up her coat, a head poked into the hall from the kitchen.

 

“Ah, so there is life in Harry’s House yet,” said a cheerful voice.  Hermione smiled.

 

“Hello, err - “ squinting as the owner of the voice moved into the light, “Fred,” she finished confidently, catching sight of a pale, vertical scar down one side of his face.  The red-haired man grinned.

 

“All those years you’ve known us, Hermione, and you still can’t tell us apart.” 

 

She snorted and plonked her umbrella into the stand.

 

“Save it for those who need to be fooled, sunshine.”  His smile widened.

 

“It does no harm to keep in practice,” he replied mildly. “Fooling my family’s one thing, but fooling you - well, it’s becoming almost impossible.” 

 

Her eyes narrowed.

 

“I’d take that as a compliment - except that I know you too well.  There’s something bothering you, isn’t there?”  He looked away.

 

“Now why ever would you think that?” 

 

She made a “tut-tutting” noise.

 

“Since when do you haunt the front door looking for company?  Come on, Fred, don’t beat about the bush!”  He shrugged.

 

“Nothing new, really,“ he replied, “I’m just starting to get pretty worried now.  It’s been a month and a half.  Six weeks and still no word.  It’s not like him to stay under so long without contacting me.  I’ve half a mind to call in …” 

 

Hermione shook her head firmly, cutting him off.

 

“No, Fred, give it a bit more slack before you do that.  After all, it’s not as if anyone else can help, is it?  You could be putting the whole operation in jeopardy.” 

 

Surreptitiously, she looked at her watch.  Nearly 11pm.  She sighed inwardly, feeling herself sag with fatigue.

 

“Come on,” she said, patting his shoulder and gently steering him into the kitchen. “Let’s get some cocoa and thrash this out a little more.”

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

David Markland staggered out of the shower, dragged on a bathrobe and sauntered into the kitchen drying his hair with a towel to find Ginny sharing a pot of coffee with a complete stranger.  A complete male stranger at that.  David glowered from the doorway until she looked up and gave him a quick smile.

 

“Good morning, sweetie,” she said, pouring some black coffee into a mug.  He took it without comment. “This is Colin Creevey.” 

 

The stranger stood up and offered a hand to shake, which Markland pointedly ignored.  Ginny’s smile dropped a little, but she rallied quickly.

 

“Colin’s an artist - a painter and sculptor,” she began, and proceeded to explain about his accommodation problem.  Markland frowned.

 

“I supposed St. John’s Wood is a lot nearer than Clapham,” he remarked, “but it’s going a long way up market, isn’t it?”

 

Embarrassed by his lack of tact, Ginny continued quickly.

 

“Well, there may be a solution to both problems - we’re going to see if we can’t thrash it out on Saturday.” She smiled brightly. “There’s actually some kind of outhouse in the grounds.  Hermione told me about it - probably old stables or something.  If it’s suitable, Colin thinks he might be able to renovate it into a studio.” 

 

“It doesn’t have to be anything too special,” put in Colin nervously, “as long as the light’s good, I don’t really need much else to start with.” 

 

Ginny frowned slightly and gave him a gentle kick under the table.  Colin stiffened.

 

“Of course, I’d like to have running water, drainage - er, utilities eventually,” he added quickly, his ears burning.  Nervous of Muggles at the best of times and sensitive to atmosphere, Colin was fast becoming very uncomfortable. 

 

Markland tossed off his coffee and fixed the other man with a searching glare.  Colin smiled uneasily.  He had always been a weedy, scrawny little kid at Hogwarts, with an unfortunate manner that put one in mind of a small terrier.  As an adult, he had changed, but not enough.  He ran a hand through his mousy-brown, professionally highlighted hair and wondered nervously if he had overdone the Sun tanning Charm for so early in the season.

 

Although only partially dressed, David Markland betrayed no self-consciousness.  Indeed, his bathrobe positively screamed major fashion house and had probably cost more than Colin’s entire wardrobe put together.  Slamming his empty cup down on the table, Markland turned on his heel and stalked out of the kitchen without another word.  Ginny smiled apologetically. 

 

“He’s not really a morning person,” she explained uncomfortably.  I’ll bet! thought Colin.  He got up to leave, trying very hard not to run.  Ginny followed him to the front door.

 

“9.30am then, at Harry’s house?” she said.  Colin nodded vigorously then bolted for the lift.

 

“Until Saturday then.” Ginny said, raising her hand to the rapidly closing lift doors.  She paused for a moment then sighed.

 

Back in the kitchen, Markland, now fully dressed, frowned petulantly out of the window as he drank the last of the coffee.

 

“So Hermione wants to share her house with that little squirt, does she?” he said as Ginny entered, without turning.

 

“He’s an old school friend,” she replied, reaching for the empty cafetiere. “Another coffee?”

 

He turned abruptly and threw his mug into the sink.  Ginny winced involuntarily, but fortunately it bounced.

 

“It’s like a ghetto over there in St. John’s Wood with all your ex-school friends!”  Markland shook his head, lips compressed into a hard line.  “What is it about that part of London?”  Ginny shook her head.

 

“No, David, you’ve got it all wrong,” she protested. “It’s just that Ron was lucky enough to find a flat round the corner from Harry’s House …”

 

“Harry’s House, Harry’s House?  What a stupid name for such an incredible pile.  Your ex-boyfriend must have a high opinion of himself if that’s what he named it.”

 

“David, please.  Harry didn’t name the house anything.  It hasn’t got a name.  It’s just always been known as Harry’s House to the rest of us.  And he’s not my ex-boyfriend, he never was.”

 

“You told me you had a crush on him at school.”

 

“At school, yes - David, it was a long time ago!”

 

“How do I know what you got up to with him?”

 

“David, we were teenagers, you’re being ridiculous …”

 

“What did he do - go to the States without you?  Dump you for his career?”

 

“You’re not making any sense.  We’ve been through this before …” She closed her eyes against the pain.

 

“That’s the trouble - we’ve never even been through it once!  You won’t give me a straight answer to anything concerning Harry Potter.”

 

“I tell you everything I can …” she muttered desperately.

 

“But never the truth.”

 

“Alright! Okay!” Ginny buried her hands in her hair.  She exhaled with a sudden whoosh of air and leaned against the counter, fighting for control.  Abruptly she pushed herself upright and faced him with a level of defiance she had never shown before in his presence, let alone directed at him.  Markland checked an involuntary step backwards.

 

“You want to know why Harry Potter left England.  Why he accepted a job half a continent away from all his friends and family?”  Her words were clipped, her voice breathless. 

 

“When he was in the sixth year, he went out with a girl in the year above him.  He’d liked her for a long time, and he’d never really been out with anyone else because of that.  No one at school knew it, but they were serious, you know?  Going to buy a flat together once he’d graduated, perhaps get married - I don’t know.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“She died.”  Ginny’s voice was flat, emotionless. “Ron told me Harry was never the same again.  I don’t know why he bought the house, but I think that would explain to most normal people’s satisfaction why he might have left the country, don’t you?” 

 

And for once, Ginny walked out after a row with David, having had the last word.

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

Slamming the front door behind her, Ginny lunged for the lift and punched the wall in frustration as the doors closed in her face.  Resolutely, she picked up her briefcase and sprinted down the several flights of stairs into the basement, arriving at the car parking level out of breath but determined David should not catch up with her, even if he wanted to.  She backed her ancient red Nissan out of its parking space, sneering at David’s Jeep: who needed an off-road vehicle in London, unless they were competing for Poser of the Year?  By the time she had done battle with the rush hour traffic and had pulled in to her parking space at Wizard Radio, Ginny was almost sobbing with frustration.  She wished she had skipped her customary call at the office and just driven on to her first appointment.  She didn’t relish talking to Ernie.

 

Wizarding Radio was housed in a small building with two floors and a basement: the top floor was the administrative centre, the basement contained the electronics and the recording studios, and the middle floor took in the Hospitality Suite and the open-plan press office where Ginny worked when she wasn’t in the studios.  Ernie MacMillan was already at his desk, shouting at someone down the phone, his language liberally seasoned with expletives and some downright threats.  He was a big man, tall, hunky and slightly overweight with irregular features, as though someone had rearranged them with a blunt instrument at some time.  Most people walked stiff-legged around Ernie, but Ginny knew that the tough-guy pose was exactly that.  Ernie was a complete pussycat, if you knew the buttons to press.

 

Ernie took one look at Ginny’s tearstained face, spat an abrupt insult in farewell, and slammed the phone down.

 

“Now what?” he growled. “You’re supposed to be interviewing that crazy witch in Sussex who says her cat can sing opera.  You can’t interview anyone in the state you’re in.  Just a minute.”  He stopped ranting long enough to mutter “Sonorus”, then bellowed:

 

TOM, GET YOUR ASS OUT OF THAT CHAIR AND DOWN TO PRESS, PRONTO! 

 

Gingerly, Ginny removed her fingers from her ears.

 

“Wouldn’t it have been simpler to have used the telephone?” she asked in a pained voice.  In response, Ernie gave her a wide genuine smile.

 

“Yeah, but not nearly as much fun!” 

 

A disheveled looking young wizard burst in through the double doors and skidded to a halt panting in front of Ernie’s desk.

 

“Not bad - 9.5 seconds.  You’re getting better - not good, but better.  Anyway, get your stuff - you’re going down to interview Mathilda the Magnificent.  And don’t forget to tape the cat singing!”

 

“If it can.  Which I doubt,” he muttered to Ginny, over Tom’s elated exclamations.

 

“Good worker, just a total idiot,” he continued. “And smarten yourself up!” He yelled at Tom’s departing back.  He looked at the forlorn girl and shook his head.

 

“Time you got yourself a new man; this one’s proving too expensive.  Come on.”

 

He levered himself out of his chair and looked back at her.

 

“Let’s go get a coffee.  I could do with a break.”

 

Ernie was well known in the local café, “The Rowan Wand”.  As soon as he put a foot over the threshold, a volley of cheerful shouts greeted him, and the proprietor had his order ready before he had reached the counter; one large pot of coffee together with a plate of assorted doughnuts.  Glancing at Ginny, the man pushed another mug on to the tray, but otherwise passed no comment.  Ernie slapped some money down on the counter and proceeded to heave the groaning tray over to the window table, gesturing for Ginny to follow.  She glanced around the clientele, smiling absently at a waving wizard in a purple cloak whose cat was sitting on a chair drinking coffee through a straw.  Two other wizards were having a heated argument over the correct way to perform the furnunculus curse, a small, grey-haired witch was reading an article in “The Successful Charm” while her quill automatically made notes on a roll of parchment, and a couple on the table next to them were trying to play chess, seriously hampered by the fact that one set of chessmen was refusing to play until the other set’s queen had apologized to their knight.

 

“Imbeciles!” muttered Ernie, disdainfully. “How in Merlin’s name do they expect to control their chessmen when neither of them could play his way out of a piece of parchment!”

 

Over the good hot coffee and a cinnamon doughnut, Ginny proceeded to tell Ernie the substance of her quarrel with David.  It didn’t take too long - Ernie had heard most of it before - and pretty soon she was staring moodily into her cup and contemplating another doughnut. 

 

“And he still thinks you work for a local Muggle radio station?” Ernie asked her.  She nodded.

 

“So how come he’s never rumbled you then?”  Ginny cupped her chin in her hands.

 

“Because he’s not interested, that’s why,” she replied with a sigh.  “He hates anything even slightly parochial.  He might take a bit more notice if I worked for the BBC, but even if I did, he’d still be pestering me to give it up and become a full-time entertainer.” 

 

Ernie put a massive hand over her tiny one.

 

“There’ll always be a job for you here, whatever happens,” he said gently.  “You know that, don’t you?”  Ginny smiled crookedly and nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  Ernie sighed and released her hand to take another doughnut.

 

“Sounds like that idiot man of yours has a serious case of inferiority, if you ask me,” he announced, with no ceremony. “Jealousy of an absentee school friend, who hasn’t set foot in the country in years?  Excuse me while I send out for a straightjacket!”

 

“I had a crush on Harry at school,” Ginny reminded him, tonelessly.  Ernie grinned.

 

“I knew it, we all knew it,” he said through a mouthful of chocolate topping. “We all thought he was nuts: why bother with that Cho Chang when you were around?  Any of us would have sat through a week of Snape’s detentions just for the chance with you.  Ah, well - happy days.  Shame about Cho though - just graduated, hadn’t she?  Could happen to anyone, but you simply don’t think of wizarding folk being killed in car smashes, do you?”  Ginny shook her head slowly.

 

“It took everything we had - Ron, Hermione and me - just to get Harry to carry on living, never mind take his NEWTs,” she said in low tones. “He couldn’t even remember his family, you see, he was too young when you-know-who … when they were killed.  So when Cho was taken away from him, it really was like the end of the world.”  Ernie was nodding.

 

“Yeah, I’m familiar with the story - everyone is.” 

 

He washed down the last crumbs of doughnut with the dregs of his coffee and fixed her with a beady-eyed stare.

 

“Well, this isn’t getting any work done,” he said.  Do you feel up to a stint in the studio?  We’ve got a backlog of programmes that’d make your hair curl, and Tom was supposed to be making inroads into it today.”  Resolutely, Ginny got to her feet.

 

“I’m not taking time out over a shower of pathetic insults, if that’s what you mean,” she returned firmly. “Whatever David thinks of it, I like my job and I want to keep it!”

 

“Okay.  Let’s get moving.”

 

~ooOoo~

 

Ron Weasley strolled up the path to the front door of Harry’s House and drawled “Galileo” to the lion-shaped doorknocker.  To his surprise, the beast roared loudly in his face making him take a startled step backwards, before the door swung silently open on magically oiled hinges.  He took a step into the vestibule.

 

“Okay,” he announced, stalking through into the hall, “who’s the wiseass then?” 

 

There was no immediate answer, but a murmur of conversation drew him towards Hermione’s study where the door was slightly ajar.  He pushed it open to find Lee and Hermione, surrounded by mounds of paper, computer printouts, handwritten notes, open books and press cuttings, sprawled on their stomachs on the floor, heads together, deep in analysis of some problem or other.

 

The youngest of the Weasley boys was still tall with a shock of red-gold hair and a dusting of freckles over his nose, which would spread rapidly all over his body as soon as the sun showed itself.  Otherwise his resemblance to the skinny kid who attended Hogwarts for seven years was fairly minimal.  Ron had broadened out.  Wide shoulders and muscular arms hinted at impressive strength in his upper body, and he had the slim but sturdy legs often seen in a distance runner.  He was also handsome.  There was no other way to describe his smooth, aquiline features, striking hair and regular, even smile, but Ron himself was refreshingly unaware of any of it; all he knew was that he could never get a suntan in summer.  He had followed his father and elder brother Percy into the Ministry of Magic, working for the subsidiary Office of Accidental Magic Reversal.

 

“Don’t mind me, will you?” he growled mock-seriously, at the tangle of Lee and Hermione on the study floor. “I just came from a totally empty flat wondering if there was anyone left alive in St. John’s Wood.  What in Merlin’s name are you doing?” 

 

Hermione rolled over and sat up, smiling at him.

 

“Hello, Ron,” she said, getting up to kiss him briefly on the cheek. “Are you looking for food, drink, company or a mixture of all three?”

 

“How well you know me!” he replied, grinning. “And all three would be absolutely marvelous, but I think, by the looks of things, I’m only likely to get one.”  Hermione crossed to the drinks cabinet.

 

“Well, I can certainly provide you with a drink,” she said, “and I for one have had enough analysis for tonight, but it looks as though Lee is good for another couple of hours.” 

 

They turned towards the lanky, dark-skinned, former Hogwarts Quidditch commentator who was still lying on the floor.  Lee had also joined the Ministry on graduation, but after a couple of years floating around not really finding his niche, he had discovered Muggle computers and had managed to convince his superiors that they were an area worthy of further research.  Since then, he had transferred to the Department of Developmental Magic and was happily tapping into keyboards all day long.  However, all the sudden high-level interest in his machines meant that he was now seriously overworked.  The project he had online with Hermione at the moment was being pursued in what little spare time he had left.

 

“Bugger!” he exploded, scrabbling through a pile of notes, scattering then to the four corners of the room.  Hermione rolled her eyes, handed Ron a full glass and jerked her head in the direction of the door.  They left so quietly that Lee didn’t even notice.

 

Hermione led the way down the long hall towards the big communal kitchen with its huge range and scrubbed oak refectory table.  Ron looked around admiringly at the clean surfaces and tidy utensils and pans.

 

“Someone’s been busy,” he remarked.  Hermione looked affronted.

 

“Are you implying that my kitchen is usually messy?”

 

“Well, you have to admit that it’s not often this pristine.”

 

“I know,” she sighed. “I try to keep it clean and tidy because that’s the way I was brought up, but when I’m literally working all the hours there are, I don’t seem to have the time or the energy to put together the necessary household spells.”  Ron nodded wisely.

 

“You really need a couple of housemates.  Oh, I know Fred lives here, but he’s just as bad as George: you can go for weeks without seeing him and you only know he’s been at home by the mound of washing he chucks into the utility room.  I’ve only seen George to speak to once or twice in the last month.  I expect it’s the same with Fred.”  Hermione nodded, but didn’t quite meet Ron’s eyes.

 

“So who do you suggest I draft into Harry’s House then?”  Ron shrugged expansively.

 

“Most people’d give their eye teeth to live in a place like this.”

 

“Okay then: what about you?”  Hermione’s expression was challenging: Ron laughed.

 

“Is this a proposition?  Or even a proposal?”  She gave a wry smile.

 

“I don’t have time for either at the moment, more’s the pity.  No, I wasn’t serious, Ron, although you know only too well I’d love it if you guys were to move in here.”  But Ron was shaking his head.

 

“With Fred as well, and Charlie, when he’s home?  No - the mix’d be too rich.  Besides, it’s not good for a girl to be stuck on her own with so many blokes: people will start to talk!”  They laughed.

 

“No,” repeated Ron, pulling out a chair and relaxing into it, “I think you need a couple of girls.”

 

“Trouble is, I don’t make girlfriends that easily,” mused Hermione, aiming her wand at a kettle of water, which instantly spouted steam, and remotely upending a pasta packet into a large saucepan. “I can’t imagine who I’d ask to share a house with me - unless it was your sister, of course, but she’s out of the question.”

 

“I wish she bloody-well wasn’t,” retorted Ron, crossly. “That Muggle git’s making her life a misery!”

 

“Watch the tone of the insults, sunshine,” she retorted, as an onion leaped out of the vegetable basket on to a thick wooden chopping board. “Just remember my Muggle origins and be careful.”  But Ron was too annoyed to take any notice.

 

“Ginny was the most natural sorceress in her year,” he began. “Dumbledore called Mum and Dad in to warn them that she was proving to be very precocious, and that they were going to have to help her control her powers.  Hey, watch it!”  He ducked as a sharp knife sailed over his head and quickly diced the onion.

 

“Sorry,” said Hermione, as she dumped the chopped onion into a frying pan sizzling with butter, “Go on, Ron.” 

 

Ron carefully smoothed his thick red/gold hair back over his head as if checking it was all still there.

 

“Well, when she graduated Hogwarts with the highest practical NEWTs anyone had seen for years (even better than yours, Hermione - although apparently her written papers left something to be desired!), everyone expected she’d romp into some high paid, high status job at the Ministry - Department of Developmental Magic, for example - any one of a number of glittering careers!  The next thing we know she’s shacked up with this Muggle who’s convinced her she can sing, and that’s the end of her magic.  It’s been three years now - surely it’s about time she gave him the push?” 

 

Hermione nodded at a spatula, which obediently stirred garlic and tomatoes into the chopped onion, then she delved in the fridge for some Parmesan cheese. 

 

“Could you just grate some of that into a bowl, please?” she asked, handing him a hard yellow lump and a wicked-looking grater.  Ron sighed and started to rub the cheese against the mesh, careful not to bring his fingers in contact with the sharp surface.  He gave her a black look.

 

“You know I can’t manage a grating charm,” he grumbled. 

 

“All the more incentive to learn,” Hermione replied with a small smile as she shook the pan then turned the heat up under the pasta.

 

“Well, Ron,” she began, carefully, “you are strictly not to talk about this, okay?  It sounds to me as though the relationship is about to die a natural death anyway.  Ginny is just clinging on to any shreds of hope she can muster.  Let’s face it; she’s been lying to him about her abilities for three years now.  There’s no way he’s ever going to accept that kind of deceit, so she can’t exactly come clean at this stage, and she’s been suppressing her magical powers for so long now that something’s got to give eventually.  She’s between the devil and the deep blue sea, and the only way out is forward.” 

 

She shook some sugar and salt into the pan and began to grind pepper, checking that the pasta was soft.  Ron went over to the kitchen wine rack and inspected its contents diffidently.

 

“Red okay?” he queried.  She nodded, deftly removing two warmed plates from the cooler of the two ovens.  There was a short pause while she served the meal, during which Ron found some glasses and poured the wine.  A slightly longer pause ensued while Ron attacked the meal with a gusto implying that he hadn’t been fed for several days.  Hermione smiled at his enthusiasm, and ate hers at a rather more leisurely pace.  Once Ron’s plate was clear, he gave a deep sigh and sat back in his chair, savouring his glass of wine.

 

“That was so good,” he sighed. “You know, if me and the guys did move in with you, you’d be forever in the kitchen!”

 

“Don’t you believe it!” Hermione shot back, her eyes flashing. “I’m still capable of organizing a rota you know, and enforcing it - even with such unpromising material as you lot!” 

 

Ron turned down the corners of his mouth in mock-injury, but could not sustain it in the face of such congenial surroundings and company.  Eventually, he conjured the dishes and pans into the dishwasher, and they retired to the old blanket-covered sofa at the other end of the room.  Hermione quickly enchanted a fire, and they relaxed, finishing off the wine.

 

“End of a long day,” remarked Ron, glancing reluctantly at his watch and yawning. “Time for me to get some shut-eye, ‘Mione.”  He got up slowly, resting his empty glass on the coffee table.

 

“Yeah, you’re right.  I’ve got a couple of important meetings tomorrow.”  She stood up and stretched langorously, the firelight casting shadows across her translucent skin.  Ron looked at her.

 

“Thanks, love,” he said, smiling as he kissed her gently on the cheek.  He stared into her eyes and saw, if not an invitation at least not rejection, so he kissed her mouth a little more lingeringly.  He was about to go for broke when she stopped him, placing her index finger on his lips in a surprisingly intimate gesture.

 

“Are you really prepared to re-open old wounds, Ron?” she asked seriously, but a gentle smile played over her features.  He looked away and shuffled his feet awkwardly.

 

“I might have been, until you ruined the moment!” he muttered, crossly.  Her laughter was gentle and unforced.

 

“Oh, Ron, where angels fear to tread, you have always managed to sprint in at record-breaking speed!”

 

“Are you telling me I’m a fool then?”

 

“Absolutely not!  You’re one of my three very best friends ever and, as you know, I don’t suffer fools in any way, never mind gladly!  All I’m saying is, just once, think about what you’re doing before you do it.”

 

“How do you know I haven’t already?”  Ron’s face seemed to be slightly flushed, although it could have been the effect of the firelight.  Hermione softened.  She held out her arms and pulled him into them, patting his back gently as one would a child.

 

“I’m sorry.”  Her words were muffled in the shoulder of his sweater.  Ron buried his face in her hair, inhaling her sweet familiar fragrance then he lifted his head to look at her, put a hand out to her cheek and kissed her lips again.

 

“I’d better go,” he murmured into her hair, “before I do something really stupid.  Besides, Lee’s still in your study - I’d better take him home before he falls asleep on the job!”  Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth.

 

“Oh damn and blast!  I forgot all about Lee - and we’ve gone and eaten all the pasta!” 

 

Ron laughed.

 

“Don’t worry - he won’t have noticed.  I’ll take him home and open a can of soup or something.  Oh, by the way: both Lee and I are away this weekend - not together I might add - although George is suppose to be home tonight.  I’ll give you a ring tomorrow or something, but I won’t be back until Monday night.” 

 

Hermione nodded.

 

“That’s okay: I’ve got loads to do, and Colin Creevey’s coming round on Saturday.” 

 

Ron’s expression was a picture.

 

“Creevey?  Creevey?  You mean the jerk with the camera, year below us?”  She nodded playfully.

 

“What’s he doing round here?”

 

“Dare I say it, moving in?”  There was a flabbergasted silence.

 

“Please tell me you’re joking,” Ron eventually managed.  Hermione burst out laughing.

 

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” she said, and proceeded to tell him about the outhouse buried in the depths of the jungle beyond the windows.

 

“Better take a machete,” said Ron dubiously, glancing out of the back window. “You never know what you might meet in there - lions, dragons, maybe even the lost tribe of the Incas.”

 

“Don’t worry: Fred is going to be here, and Ginny’s coming too, so I think we’ll cope.”

 

“Well, I for one am glad to be missing this little charade,” Ron announced, making briskly for Hermione’s study. “Don’t forget to tell me how it goes, will you?  If you ever get out, that is.  I tell you what: if you run into any trouble, send up red sparks and I’ll issue a search party.  Come on Lee!”

 

Throwing the study door open with as much noise as possible, Ron marched in to retrieve his housemate.  

 

“Last orders!” he announced. “Time, gentlemen, please!  Chucking out now!  Come on, man, let’s get home!”  But Lee was fast asleep on his piles of papers and snoring loudly.

 

 

Author’s Notes

 

The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: this is a non-profit enterprise.  Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except the plot and David Markland, both of which belong to Penpusher.  Tribute to: Susan Cooper’s incomparable “The Dark is Rising” sequence for use of the “High Magic”; Dennis Wheatley for a plot device; and many, many other fanfiction writers whose works of all kinds and in very differing genres have been an immense inspiration to me.  The quotations used as chapter titles are too numerous to credit here.  Full details available on request, but Shakespeare and The Bible should yield most of them.

 

And all the thanks in the world to Becky (aka williara) for being a superb beta.

 

 

//
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