The Sugar Quill
Author: Anne (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Dancing Days  Chapter: Part Two
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PART TWO

When Ginny and Hermione finally left the Soho loft almost an hour later, it was with the new dress and satin wrap enclosed in two boxes and large smiles on both of their faces.

"Well, that's that settled, then." Ginny said, beaming at Hermione over the top of the stack of boxes in her arms. (Martin had thrown together a tuxedo for Harry, as well as Ginny's dress.)

"Yes." Hermione agreed, "Where are we off to now? Dinner at the Leaky Cauldron?"

"No, I want to get home and drop these off. Then I'm going to meet Harry."

"Ah." Hermione smiled, knowingly.

"'Ah' what?" Ginny made a face, "And you ought to be getting home as well. My brother will be wanting his dinner." She laughed at the scowl that overtook Hermione's face.

"I'll show him where he can stick his dinner. What does he think I-"

"Whoa! 'Mione, down girl! I was only joking." And the frown on Hermione's face lightened considerably.

"Well, I suppose you're right. I should be getting home, too. Give Harry my best."

"And mine to Ron. Tell him I'll drop in for a visit soon." Ginny said smiling, and with two quick 'pops' both women disappeared.

* * *

"Boss?" Alexander Morinov poked his head around Ron's office door.

"Yeah, Alex?" Ron looked up from the stack of paperwork he was wading through. He'd just wrapped up a case of missing twins- kidnapped. Unfortunately only one of the twins had been retrieved, unharmed. The other was currently sporting a pair of elf ears and a tail with a tuft in his room at St. Mungo's.

Alex pulled the door fully open and came through it, holding an envelope in his outstretched hand.

"They had this for you in the lobby. I said I'd bring it up."

"Thanks, Alex." As Morinov opened the door to leave, he revealed a petite person on the other side, her hand raised, as though about to knock.

"Smith." He grinned at Delia Smith, another member of M.L.E.S. squad 14, the only female one, to be exact.

Delia offered a weak smile in return, but Alex didn't seem to notice, and he brushed past her, whistling to himself.

"C'mon in, De." Ron said. He'd begun to open the envelope Alex had delivered, but now dropped it onto his desk.

"Thanks." She smiled slightly more genuinely now, and sat down.

Though Delia was the only female member of the squad, in the past few weeks, her masculine side seemed to be catching up with her. More and more often she'd go to the pub with Alex and Jake (the fourth member of the squad) and sometimes even Ron, after work. And, on these outings, instead of drinking heather wine, or butterbeer, cocktails, or even real beer, as she used to, she would have hard liquor, usually single-malt whiskey.

"De", as Ron fondly called her, had been a bridesmaid in his and Hermione's wedding, but as far as he knew she and Hermione hadn't been in close contact for a number of weeks now. Ron was getting worried about her.

"What's up, De?" He asked, watching her steadily; her jet-black hair framed her face as it always had, but even he could see how very tangled it was, and it looked as though it had been a long time since it had had a good wash. She reminded him vaguely of a house-elf he'd once known named Winky.

"Well, boss. I don't know if you've noticed, but I've been having a bit of trouble this last month or so." Ron didn't reply, so she continued. "Would you think it was strange if I told you I wished at one point that I was a lesbian?"

Ron's eyes widened considerably, and he raised his eyebrows. At one time he would have had an uncontrollable desire to laugh at that statement, but Delia's expression did anything but inspire humor.

"De? Are you sure you shouldn't have some sort of therapist for this sort of thing?"

"No, I've gotten past that- just let me get this out, okay?" So Ron shut up.

"About three months ago this bloke I was seeing and I moved in together, right?" Ron remained silent. Delia never spoke about her love life at work, had never mentioned it to him, in fact. Ron had never asked, supposing that as long as she did her job, it wasn't really any of his business.

"And it was going just fine- I mean we got on really well, and we had-" She paused, "chemistry." Ron wasn't sure he wanted to hear where this was going, but he kept quiet. "We did really well until the beginning of last month, and then things started to go a bit-" She paused again, "strange."

At this point, Ron did speak up. "Strange how?"

"Well, he stopped telling me things. I'd ask where he was going and he'd say 'Nowhere.' Or something equally enlightening and he'd go off for long stretches of time, with work- or at least that's what he said. I knew better- at first I thought it was another woman or something, but the signs didn't really point to that. And when I confronted him about it, accused him of having an affair, he seemed genuinely surprised. Shocked, even."

"You confronted him?" Ron asked, surprised himself.

"Of course. Anyway, he denied it, but he also said that if I didn't trust him, we had no relationship- and that was it, it was over." She fell silent for a moment, then added, as an afterthought, "That was in the middle of November."

Ron was quite at a loss for words, a rare occurrence, but it didn't seem to matter, as Delia wasn't quite done yet.

"My question to you, boss, is, as a guy, if he wasn't having an affair, what do you think he was up to?" Ron didn't answer right away, and when he did, it was with great caution.

"Well, De, obviously I don't know the guy in question- if I did I'd knock him upside the head for treating you so badly-" This earned him a small smile, " But I'd guess he had some sort of secret, probably harmless, but really it could be anything."

"I suppose." Delia looked exhausted, as though she'd been holding the story in for quite a long time, and now that it was out, it was a tremendous burden relieved. "Thanks for listening, boss."

"No problem. Anytime, De." Ron replied, watching as she stood and moved to the door. She closed it quietly behind her, not noticing Ron picking up an envelope from his desk as she did.

* * *

"So you're coming?" Mundungus Fletcher sat across from Harry Potter in his office at the Auror's Academy, jiggling his foot over his knee as though he had a bad case of nerves. Which, on reflection, Harry supposed he did.

"Yes, of course- I'll be moral support." Harry grinned at the older man. He had not mentioned that he was related to the groom, nor was he in a hurry to do so- Dudley was not his favorite relative. But then, as he, Petunia and Vernon were Harry's only relatives, there weren't really many to choose from. "And you're bringing a date?" Now it was Fletcher's turn to grin.

"Yes." Harry said, not elaborating. He didn't often discuss his romantic life with aging Aurors- unless you counted that one chat with Mad-Eye Moody…

"This wouldn't be a young lady who I've seen in the paper a bit recently, now would it?" He prodded.

"It might." Harry said, shuffling some papers on his desk. He'd had enough trouble keeping his mind on his work without people reminding him of Ginny's spontaneous return…

"A Miss Weasley, I believe?"

"Well, they're a big family." Harry said, non-commitally.

"Yes, with only one daughter- so unless you're bringing Molly to my granddaughter's wedding…" Mundungus trailed off.

"You never know." Harry paused. "I'm quite fond of Molly Weasley." He grinned and Fletcher shook his gray head, exasperated.

"So, back to these neo-Death Eaters-" Harry began. "We don't think they are any of the old bunch, do we?"

"No, children maybe, but not the originals. Probably think they're going to finish what their parent's started, if you ask me."

"Not if I can help it." Harry replied, a grim but determined look coming over his face.

* * *

When Hermione reappeared after Apparating off the street corner, she found herself in a large apartment, comfortably furnished with plush, squishy furniture and a variety of photographs, both Muggle and wizard.

From a spot on a coffee table all nine members of the Weasley family waved furiously up at her; all looking exactly as they had on the occasion of Ginny's graduation from Hogwarts. There were photos of all her and Ron's friends, many from their school days, and quite a lot from their wedding day, last year. And in a place of honor on the mantle piece, there was a snapshot taken of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, all on their graduation day. Harry and Ron towered on either side of Hermione and all three had their arms intertwined and were laughing.

Hermione smiled at the photograph and straightened the frame as she passed, on her way into the kitchen. Here she set her purse on the counter top and set about taking a pot out and putting it on the stove. She pulled various vegetables out of the refrigerator and, plunking some potatoes and carrots down at the other end of counter, began chopping up turnips and tossing them into the pot.

Once all of the vegetables had been minced and were in the large copper basin, she lit a cluster of bluebell flames beneath them and they began to sizzle. Then, in a trick she'd learned from Mrs. Weasley, she held her wand over the pot and out came a steady stream of liquidy tomato broth. She covered the entire confection with a copper lid and set it to simmer, perching on a stool at the counter and picking up a sheet of parchment to write to her mum.

Just as she was finishing up her letter, she heard the fireplace in the living room roar to life and subside just as quickly, signaling Ron's return. Soon he strode into the kitchen, as Hermione sent Pigwidgeon out the window, the letter fastened to his tiny talons.

Ron came over and pecked her lightly on the cheek as she pulled the window shut tight. It was beginning to snow outside and a few flakes had fallen into the snugly warm kitchen off the sizeable patch that was developing on the outside window box.

Hermione returned Ron's kiss, and smiled.

"Why did you use Floo Powder instead of Apparating?" She asked, curiously.

Ron shook his head, sending a shower of soot onto the spotless tiled floor.

"I have to get my Apparition license renewed - It's expired and I can't Apparate till I do." He seemed a bit preoccupied, as though apparition licenses were the last thing on his mind.

"Oh. Well, you'd better do that tomorrow, on your lunch hour or something."

"As opposed to, say, having lunch?" Ron asked, wiggling his eyebrows at her. "I know to someone who spent most lunch hours at school holed up in the library, skipping them may not seem like much sacrifice, but to those of us who've become accustomed to having some sort of nourishment at midday, it's a less appealing suggestion."

Hermione made a face at him. She knew perfectly well that Ron skipped lunch plenty of times- especially when he was busy at work with his squad, and that he was just teasing her. However, she changed the subject.

"Guess who I saw today?"

"Who?" Ron asked as he lifted the copper lid off the pot and sniffed the contents. "Smells great, that." He added.

"Thanks." Hermione said, magically directing the fallen ash and soot from her kitchen floor into the nearby dustbin. "And go on- guess."

"Umm… Dumbledore?" Ron guessed lamely.

"No." Hermione smiled slightly.

"Erm… oh I don't know! Mum?"

"Closer." Said Hermione with an annoyingly knowing air that reminded Ron strongly of their school days.

"C'mon, 'Mione! Just tell me! I mean, you don't even like guessing games!" He complained indignantly.

Hermione gave a sigh and said, "Oh fine, then. You're no fun. Your sister's back- Ginny came to visit me."

At this news Ron's eyes widened and he dropped the pot lid with a clatter on the counter.

"Ginny's back? She's come home?"

"For awhile, at least." Hermione nodded, replacing the lid on the simmering soup.

"Well, where is she?" Ron said, spinning around, yanking open the pantry-closet door as though Ginny might be hiding in there. Hermione stifled a giggle.

"Well, she's certainly not in there." She said, gesturing to the door, which Ron was still holding. "She's with Harry, I imagine."

"Oh." Ron said, coloring slightly and closing the door sheepishly.

Hermione often thought that Ron didn't like to dwell on his little sister's love life too much; and ever since it had involved his best friend, the feeling seemed greatly exacerbated.

* * *

Ginny Apparated to her own apartment straight away, after leaving Hermione on the street corner. The loft was light and airy, decorated in soft pastels- blues, grays, and lavenders; but it looked dark, due to the lack of light from the large windows. It was only a little past six, but already the sky was an inky black, bejewelled with bright pinpoints of stars.

As Ginny gazed out into the night sky, a shape seemed to be making it's way towards her window; rather like a very large owl. Once, as a girl, Ginny had had an American pen-pal who'd sent her a letter by bald-eagle on July the fourth as some sort of odd patriotic statement, and this rather reminded her of that. As the "thing" grew ever closer, Ginny opened the window and leaned a bit out, then jumped back suddenly as she realized what was racing towards her.

A minute later Harry Potter glided to a halt on his old Firebolt and hopped off in the middle of Ginny's living room as though this was a perfectly normal thing to do.

Ginny hastily shut her mouth, which she realized was open with an abrupt start. Harry waved his wand casually at the window, and it slid closed easily.

"So, what are we doing?" He grinned at Ginny, turning to face her.

"I don't know. I wasn't expecting you to come hurtling through my living room window on that old thing." She pointed to the broom, valiantly pretending to be exasperated, but Harry could see the corners of her pretty mouth were upturned, as she examined the broom.

"Why d'you still ride this? I mean, Lord knows you have plenty of newer, faster brooms." She asked, knowing what the answer would be, even before the words left her mouth.

"But none of them are like this," Harry said, fondly picking up the Firebolt and setting it in the corner. "So what are we doing?" He repeated.

"Well, do you want something to eat?" Ginny asked, zapping away the puddle of melted snow that had formed beneath the windowsill.

"Sure. Where do you want to go?"

"I don't care." Ginny replied.

"In a right helpful mood, aren't you?" Harry teased, tickling her.

"Ahh!" Ginny squealed. "St-stop- your hands are freezing!" She said breathlessly, grabbing them in her own.

"Well, riding a broom through a snow storm will do that to you." Harry said, allowing her to massage warmth back into them.

"Well whose brilliant idea was that?" Ginny shot back, sounding very much like her mother. Harry told her this and she made a face at him.

"Now, this is no time to be insulting." She said, frowning, "I was just about to let you take me to the Leaky Cauldron for a bite to eat."

Harry laughed. " I wasn't being insulting!" He exclaimed, "I love your mum."

"Me too- in very small doses." Ginny said, making a face at him, "C'mon, let's go. Here's your cloak." Harry said, as he summoned it from the hall closet. Ginny wrapped the wool garment around her shoulders and they set out into the snowy night.

Twenty minutes later, Harry and Ginny hurried into The Leaky Cauldron, a gust of wind and snow at their backs. Harry had convinced Ginny to walk in the snow instead of Apparating and now to show her appreciation she had taken the accumulated snow from her head and shoulders balled it up, and thrown it at him. It had turned into a brief but furious snowball fight in the courtyard that concealed the entrance to Diagon Alley. It was a draw, though both claimed to have won as they stumbled, laughing, into the warm pub.

A few diners looked up momentarily from their food at the couple, but most returned to their meals quickly, more than one smiling to themselves at the antics of the young lovers. One however, seated near the fire, called out to them.

"Harry!" Both Ginny and Harry turned to see a pretty young woman beckoning to them. Ginny didn't recognize the woman with ash blond hair, cut into a neat bob, though it was apparent to her that Harry did. He grabbed her arm and led her over to the table where the woman and her dining partner, a man with sun bleached hair, and a ruddy complexion stood.

"Jenna! It's good to see you- again." Harry said, smiling. "Gin, this is Jenna Gotheld. Jenna, Ginny Weasley." Jenna extended her hand which Ginny shook with a smile, saying "Ah yes, I've heard about you."

"As have I." Jenna said grinning. "You're Ron's sister, of course, and the designer, right?"

"Yes." Ginny said, fingering her fiery locks at the mention of her brother.

"I have some of your robes!" Jenna said, blushing slightly.

Ginny really did blush, but grinned as well. From behind Jenna came a voice.

"Umm, Jen?" Her companion finally spoke up.

"Oh!" Jenna gave a little jump. "I almost forgot! This is Chad- I told you about him, Harry."

"Of course." Harry said, extending his hand. "I got a nice letter from your younger sister yesterday."

Chad laughed, showing off pearly teeth. "Yes, Rosa is quite a fan of yours. And I've heard quite a bit about you."

"Haven't we all?" Jenna laughed, from behind Chad, sensing his unease.

"Well, we don't want to interrupt your meal." Ginny said pointedly, gesturing at their half-full plates.

"Of course." Jenna replied, "And we don't want to keep you from yours." Ginny and Harry walked over closer to the counter and sat down at a small round table in the corner as Jenna and Chad reclaimed their own seats and began to converse quietly.

"So that was Jenna." Ginny said mildly.

"Yeah, that was Jenna." Harry repeated, then paused. "What did you think of the guy?"

"Chad? Well, he didn't seem fond of you." Ginny murmured.

"You noticed that, too, then?"

"Yes, I'd guess he's jealous- you know, E.B.J.S."

"E.B.J.S?" Harry asked, giving her a bewildered look.

"Yeah- Ex-Boyfriend Jealousy Syndrome." Ginny recited with a small grin. "There's E.G.J.S., too. That's-"

"I know- 'Ex-Girlfriend Jealousy Syndrome.'" Harry recited with her.

"Right! You've got it." Ginny said, and, noticing Harry still looking over towards Jenna's table, then lowered her voice so only Harry could hear her. "It's probably just common jealousy."

"I suppose." Harry replied in the same low tone as Tom walked over to take their orders.

* * *

"When d'you think Ginny will come over?" Ron said, as he swallowed a mouthful of soup.

"I don't know- probably not until sometime tomorrow."

"What on earth would she be doing until tomorrow?" Ron asked, jabbing at something in his bowl.

"Do you really want to know?" Hermione asked, giving him a look.

"S'pose not." Ron replied, shaking his head as though to rid it of an unpleasant thought.

"Then don't ask." She replied. "What are you doing to that soup?"

Ron had now worked whatever he'd been poking onto his spoon and was holding it up to the light.

"What is this?" He asked.

"A turnip." Hermione answered, without a pause.

"A turnip?" Ron asked incredulously.

"Yes." She said, nonplussed.

"In vegetable soup?"

"Yes." She repeated a trace of irritation in her voice.

"Well, Hermione…"

"What?"

"Turnips don't go in vegetable soup…"

"Why not? They're vegetables." She replied sensibly, as only Hermione could.

For once in his life, Ron couldn't quite think of a response to this. He was saved from having to, however by the appearance of Pigwidgeon, tapping impatiently at the widow.

"That was fast!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping up to let him in.

She untied the response from her mother and Pig hooted, happy to be in the warm kitchen as Ron poked a chunk of turnip down his tiny beak.

"Ron! Don't feed him that." Hermione said, without looking up from the parchment.

"How did you-" Ron began to ask, but he was interrupted.

"We've been invited to my aunt Lorraine's house on Sunday for dinner."
"Lorraine… that's the American one, right?"

"Yes." Hermione noticeably rolled her eyes. "I don't understand how a woman like that could have given birth to Lila."

"Now, did I meet her at the wedding?" Ron asked.

"Probably. Lila was a bridesmaid, of course, and Aunt Lorraine was the one with the blonde hair in the beehive- looks like she hasn't gotten out of the year nineteen-seventy-two…"

"Oh! I remember her! Loud, but nice."

"Yeah, that's a euphemistic way of putting it… I often wonder what Uncle Herbert was thinking."

"Hermione!" Ron said, laughing. "So, why are we going to Lorraine and Herbert's?"

"Well, apparently Lila has a new boyfriend who we 'simply must meet'."

"Well, that'll be fun." Ron said, "At least their attention won't be focused on us; it'll be on whatever poor slob Lila brings."

"Too true." Hermione agreed. She took a piece of parchment out of a nearby drawer and scrawled hurriedly on it:

Dear Mum,

Thanks for writing back so promptly. So, Lila's found herself a new guy, eh? Well, I haven't heard from her in quite awhile. It'll be good to see you all at Aunt Lorraine's on Sunday. Tell her that, barring any unforeseen emergencies, we'll be pleased to come- seven o'clock on the dot. See you there!

All my love,

Hermione

She approached Pigwidgeon, but for once in his life Pig didn't seem keen to take on this particular job. He flew backwards, away from Hermione, and straight into a cloak rack. Ron laughed, as did Hermione, so she used Motlverian her "work owl", who was large and tawny. "Mot", as they called him, took flight into the rapidly swirling snow.

After Hermione had pulled closed the kitchen window for the third time that evening, she turned around. Ron had given his attention back to his soup. He was staring at it, in deep concentration.

"Interesting, is it?" Hermione asked as she watched him.

Ron gave a start and looked up at her, as though seeing her for the first time.

He spoke, "You know, I don't really like turnips …" And with that relevation, he stood up and walked out of the kitchen, Hermione staring, in amazement, after him.

 

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