Someone had been eavesdropping on their conversation in the Leaky Cauldron. They knew this to be a fact because first thing Monday morning a large headline was splashed across the Daily Prophet: WEASLEY PLOTS TO DEMOLISH FOHN.
“Jordana’s going to do her nut,” Ginny said, alternating between feeding James and eating more of her cereal.
“Never mind Jordana,” Molly said. “What about you? You’re just asking for trouble getting mixed up with these S.P.E.L.L. lot. Don’t you worry about James if something happens to you?”
“I’m more worried about what might happen to him if I don’t do anything.” Ginny tweaked James’s nose which made him laugh.
She made light of the matter so neither James or her mother would worry, but the truth was that Ginny was very worried about it. She refused to let James out of her arms the remainder of the time they were at the Leaky Cauldron and she wouldn’t let him out of her sight once they got home. Even when she went to bed, she kept having horrible visions of him sitting alone in the middle of a battlefield, or screaming as he was being carried away by some faceless woman that she felt she ought to know. She’d had to relent and take a swig of dreamless sleep potion.
It was a good thing that Ginny was relatively well-rested the following day. She expected Jordana’s wrath the moment she walked into the changing rooms. What she had not expected was difficulty getting into the stadium in the first place.
The largest crowd outside of game days was gathered outside the stadium. When Ginny arrived at her usual time they descended on her like a hoard of angry bees, and she ended up having to pull out her broom and fly to the entrance. She was relatively safe here because she was separated from the crowd by a line of magical law enforcement patrol.
“Bloody hell!” she said when she walked through the doors.
“This is because you’ve decided to battle Fohn,” Jordana stated, making Ginny jump. They had met rather sooner than she would have liked. “I’ve had to call in the magical law enforcement patrol to control that crowd. They are intent on having your head on a platter.”
“So I noticed,” Ginny replied, clutching her broom more tightly.
“And with all the racket they’re making you lot are going to have a very hard time focusing on practice, which means we’re sure to lose another match. Blimey, Weasley, if you weren’t such a damn good player . . . “
Jordana started to walk away, muttering under her breath. Her words had shocked Ginny into a total standstill, but she recovered quickly and called her manager to wait. Since the subject had already been broached it was best to make sure Jordana was OK with it before she starting making grand plans with Dee.
“D’you know about Keddle’s friend Dee — Diandra Alvin?”
“No. Should I?” Jordana stopped walking, tapping her wand against her thigh.
“I think you should. She’s been leading this group called S.P.E.L.L. — Society for the Promotion of Equality in Life and Love. They’re kind of the anti-Fohn group, and they asked me to join up to try and raise awareness. I’ve decided to do it, but I wanted to make sure you were OK with it.”
“This is a first,” Jordana replied after staring at Ginny in shock for several seconds. “You don’t usually ask before you do these sorts of things things.”
“Yeah, I know, but I just thought — Ginny started. She had a whole argument worked out to help her persuade Jordana that this was the right thing for her to do.
“I can’t control what you do on your own time, Weasley, Just make sure it doesn’t affect your performance. We want to win the Quidditch Cup, remember.”
“Yeah,” Ginny said rather weakly. She had been prepared for a huge battle, and now felt slightly deflated. Jordana seemed to realize what she had done. She gave Ginny a rare smile and clapped her on the shoulder before she started taking long strides. She had covered half the distance to the fireplaces when she turned back.
“Give him hell.”
Her statement made Ginny smile, probably the only time she did so all week.
Jordana’s prediction turned out to be true. On Monday, the first day the crowds appeared, the Harpies spent two of their precious ten hours huddled in the changing rooms while the law enforcement patrol extinguished and then tracked down the wizard who’d set fiendfyre loose in the stands. On Tuesday the company that Jordana hired to repair the damage from Monday’s fire was infiltrated by some of Fohn’s supporters. One of them aimed a curse at Ginny. She missed most of it, but still felt a burning on the side of her face, and the warm trickle of blood. Howard hit a Bludger at the one responsible, knocking her out cold. Adrasteia healed the cut immediately but adamantly refused to let Ginny fly anymore that day. It was hard to say if Jordana was any angrier than Ginny.
Wednesday and Thursday were relatively productive days, with only minor holdups in practice while people who had snuck into the stadium were hauled away to the Ministry to be charged with trespass. With all the lost time during the week, though, Ginny knew she wasn’t the only one on the team who was convinced that they would lose to the Kestrals the following day.
What saved them was that the Kestrals were also convinced that the Harpies would lose.
“We were lucky,” Gwenog said to Jetta Jettison after the match. “They fumbled some easy goals and we were able to catch the Quaffle on rebound. And Keddle made a truly spectacular catch of the Snitch.”
Privately the team weren’t as pleased as they would have been if the Kestrals hadn’t assumed that they were going to play poorly, but Jordana cheered them up somewhat.
“It wasn’t your best performance, no, but that’s what a damn good team does: uses their opponent’s weaknesses against them.”
“I don’t think we’ll have it this easy again,” Gwenog stated, shouldering her bag. “But we’ll deal with that next week, shall we?”
“I didn’t see James here,” Keddle said when she and Ginny were the last in the changing rooms.”
“I didn’t bring him today. I wasn’t sure what sort of madness we’d be in for.” Ginny gestured widely around the room, thinking of the many security enhancements that had been put in place specially for the match.
“”Oh. That was probably smart.” Keddle pulled the drawstring closed on her bag. “Are you still going to meet with Dee tonight?”
“I am. I’m heading there now.”
Ginny and Dee hadn’t had much time to talk over the week because of all the preparations for the upcoming match, but they had agreed on one thing: they would not discuss anything publicly until they had decided on how best to get their message out. Dee had wanted to meet for the second time on Saturday morning but Ginny vetoed that because of James’s birthday party. They were going to meet at a Muggle cafe on Friday evening after the match. It was less likely that their conversations would be overheard and reported to the Prophet that way.
“Ah, Miss Weasley, I was hoping I might run into you.
Ginny let out an impatient growl as she turned to see who had called her. She was standing mere feet away from a tall man with sandy hair, slicked back from his face, a bushy mustache of the same colour, and wearing a pinstriped cloak over the same type of robes: Barnabus Cuffe, editor of the Daily Prophet.
“And what would you like, Mr. Cuffe?” she asked impatiently and rather rudely. She couldn’t bring herself to be nice to a man who was devoting so much space in his paper to the likes of Rita Skeeter and Declan Fohn, not to mention employing the scoundrel who tried to extort money from her to keep his ink bottle capped.
“To ask you about this new group you are forming with a —“ He consulted a piece of parchment he had in his hand — “ Diandra Alvin. Rumor has it you’re calling it Society for the Promotion of Equality in Life and Love, S.P.E.L.L. for short. Is this true?”
Ginny’s jaw dropped. She and Dee had only agreed on the name this morning by owl. The only person she had told was Jordana. Either someone was reading her mail, or the walls had ears. Unfortunately her reaction was as good as confirmation for Cuffe.
“Why that particular name?” he asked, quill poised over his parchment. “Is it to directly counter Mr. Fohn’s Wizards Against Nobility Debasement?”
“I’m not ready to talk about this yet.” Ginny pushed past him. “Good evening, Mr. Cuffe.”
“So you are planning on taking on Declan Fohn, then?” he asked as she took long strides in an effort to get away from him.
“Why? Are you part of his fan club? Going to run right to your beloved and tell him?” Ginny spun on her heel to face Cuffe again.
“Not at all. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Ginny,” he said, closing the distance. “I hope you do give him a run for his money. It makes for great copy.”
Ginny let out another disgusted sigh.
“I don’t know why I’m surprised by that. You do employ Rita Skeeter and Mr. corduroy suit man, who spent most of last week following me around. He may have a drinking problem, you know.”
“I don’t have anyone in my employ who wears a corduroy suit,” Cuffe said.
“Sure you do. Not much taller than me, has pouchy cheeks like a squirrel, probably smells like stale Firewhisky most of the time, and likes to extort money from people in exchange for not writing stories about them.”
“No, I’m sorry. You’ve obviously met an impostor posing as one of my staff. It’s happened more than once, I’m afraid.”
“But —“ Ginny said helplessly. She wanted to continue arguing but couldn’t think of anything more to say. Cuffe was serious. He did not recognize the man she was talking about.
“I will look into it, of course. My reporters don’t need to extort money for stories. Now, getting back to this society you are setting up with Miss. Alvin? Can you tell me more about why you called it what you did?”
“Because Fohn’s an idiot,” Ginny said quickly. She could feel her nerves tingling. “He thinks that pure-bloods deserve a special status but what he doesn’t realize is that there isn’t anyone out there who is truly pure of wizarding blood. We couldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for Muggles. And having ‘Muggle blood” running through your veins doesn’t dilute your magical ability, or whatever rubbish Fohn and his kind thing. My sister in-law is a perfect example, as was Harry’s mum. We need to do away with this ridiculous blood status classification system. Fohn and his supporters call themselves W.A.N.D. but without a spell a wand us a useless stick of wood. We’d be just as useless a society, regardless of our magical abilities, without the Muggles who have helped keep us alive.”
It was more than she should have said, Ginny knew, but she was shaken up by the news that this reporter wasn’t who he said he was. She wanted to talk to Tougas about it, so she hurried away, ignoring the rest of Cuffe’s questions. She headed straight for the café where she was supposed to meet Dee, deciding that it would be quicker to tell her what had happened and why they would have to reschedule.
“You don’t think this is going to be a repeat of what happened with Keddle and Chase, do you?” she asked, pulling her jacket off the back of the chair and putting it on.
“No. No, I don’t think so,” Ginny said as they were heading out the door. “No. he didn’t have the same sort of arrogance as Chase. But there’s definitely something off about this. That’s why I want to talk to Tougas.”
The atrium at the Ministry was completely deserted, except for the security wizard who was sitting at his desk reading that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet. He folded the paper and set it on the desk when he heard Ginny approaching.
“I need to see Bredan Tougas of the Auror Department,” she said quickly, already handing over her wand. The wizard took it with a blank expression on his face. He was obviously not used to getting visitors this late in the evening.
“I’m sorry, the Ministry is closed. Perhaps you can come back tomorrow, Miss.” He handed her wand back to her with a cheesy smile.
“Then send him a memo or something and tell him to come here. It’s urgent that I talk to him tonight.”
“He’s probably gone home already, Miss. Weasley,” the guard said, his smile morphing into something vindictive when he dropped the pretense that he didn’t know who she was.
“Not likely. He practically lives here,” Ginny said. “And he’ll be very pleased with you for playing politics rather than doing your job. I don’t think the Ministry would be very likely to keep you in their employ if they knew you were a supporter of Declan Fohn.”
She had taken a shot and got lucky. The smile slid off the guard’s face.
“I’ll send it right away,” he said and was as good as his word. Within moments Tougas sent word for her to come up. Ginny wondered why he hadn’t just come down to see her.
Her question was answered the minute she stepped off the lifts. The atrium may have been deserted, or nearly so, but Auror headquarters was abuzz. The entire task force was on the move and looked like they were ready to set out. Tonks waved at her, but was busy pulling on a dark traveling cloak and didn’t come over.
“What’s going on?” Ginny and Tougas asked at the exact same moment when they saw each other.
“We’ve got a lead on Lestrange and are about to head out,” Tougas said as Rossi passed them, not making eye contact.
“Maybe I should come back then?”
“No. Just tell me why you’re here. Quickly.”
Ginny felt a little stupid following him around as he and the others prepared to set off. She also wondered if maybe she was starting to get a bit paranoid. She hadn’t considered that the man worked for a different publication, for example.
“Maybe he was just trying to get some extra money after all,” she said thoughtfully when she had finished explaining about her meeting with Barnabus Cuffe. Tougas looked perplexed for a moment and then he remembered what she was talking about. He swore under his breath, glancing at the others who were all assembled and waiting for him.
“I’ll look into it,” he said. “But I’ve got to go now.”
“OK,” Ginny said thinking she just might do some digging on her own. This thought seemed to show on her face.
“Don’t try sleuthing again, Weasley,” Tougas warned. “We’ve already had the discussion about what could happen if you interfere in this investigation again. Stay out of it, no matter what you might hear.”
Immediately upon making that curious statement Tougas Disapparated. It wasn’t until Ginny got home that she realized he had said anything odd. He had talked of the two cases as though they were somehow related. How was this connected to Harry’s disappearance? And what might she hear that would make her act differently than she’d been doing?
“How was the match?” Molly asked, coming out of James’ bedroom and interrupting Ginny’s thoughts.
“Fine. We won,” Ginny said distractedly, turning over Tougas’s curious statement in her mind. He knew something about Harry that he wasn’t telling her. But what?
“You don’t seem pleased about it. I’d have thought —“
“No, I am, mum,” Ginny said, smiling at her mother and deciding to try and decipher Tougas’s curious behaviour later. “Thanks again for watching James. How was he?”
“Delightful as always. He seems to have taken to the elderly man who lives downstairs, doesn’t he? Mr. Thomas stopped here not too long ago to borrow a cup of sugar, and James practically leapt at him. He called him dada. You should have seen the poor man’s reaction. He looked so miserable that I invited him in for a cup of tea.”
“You did what?” Ginny asked, pulling her head out of James’s room quickly. “Why would you do that, mum?”
“I felt bad for him, Ginny,” Molly replied, giving her a stern look that clearly meant Ginny needed to watch her tone.
“But he’s virtually a stranger!”
“Maybe so, but he can hardly be dangerous, can he? You did say that Tougas investigated him, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but -”
“Then there isn’t anything to worry about, is there? It’s not like I asked him to mind James while I went to the market.”
“No, it’s not, but -”
“You need to trust your old mum, Ginny. I know you are worried for James, but you don’t need to fear anything from Peter.”
“Peter? You’re on a first name basis?” Ginny eyed her mother incredulously.
“Yes. We had a great talk about children, Peter and I. He told me all about his son, whom he says he didn’t get to spend much time with because he was always away due to work.”
“He mentioned that to me, too,” Ginny said, speaking in a whisper as she at last made her way into James’s room to satisfy herself that he was safe and sound.
“I think he’s still working. At his age! We were enjoying our tea when he pulled out one of those what-do-you-call-thems, a fellytone?”
“Telephone?” Ginny said, nodding.
“Yes. Pulled it right out of his pocket. Didn’t look anything like the one’s in your father’s shed that he thinks I don’t know about. But he pulled it out, talked to someone for a minute and then hurried out of here just as quick as you please.”
“People are in a rush all over the place tonight, Tougas practically ran over me to get out of the Ministry when I finished talking to him.”
“What did you talk to him for?”
Ginny cursed herself for speaking out of turn again because it now she had to tell her mother at least part of the story, which she did, trying to make light of it so as not to cause too much worry.
“This is all because of that Spell group that you’ve joined up with,” Molly said at once. “Its no good, Ginny. I know you want to stop that Declan Fohn, but -”
“We’re not having this conversation again, mum,” GInny replied. They’d been having some derivation of it all week.
“I’m not telling you these things because I like arguing with you,” Molly stated in her stern voice again. “I just think that sometimes you get too fired up and don’t think of what could happen to you, or to James.”
“I won’t let anything happen to him,” Ginny said angrily.
“But you’re not always around, and you can’t predict everything that’s going to happen. For instance, I was just reading in the Prophet about Narcissa Malfoy – and it made me think of you.”
“Are you saying I remind you of Narcissa Malfoy?” Ginny asked, revolted at the very idea.
“I would be a very poor mother indeed if you turned out anything like that woman!” Molly sounded as offended as GInny felt. “I merely bring her up because her situation reminded me a little of yours, Ginny. I’m sure, in her twisted way, she did what she thought was right and it cost her her son.”
“That’s because her son was an idiot! I can promise you, mum, that James isn’t going to grow up to become a Death Eater! I’ll be careful, but I can’t back out of this. Dee and the others are counting on me.”
Molly stared at Ginny for a very long time, with an unreadable expression, but the very fact that she wasn’t saying anything or swelling like an angry bullfrog was a good sign, For once Ginny thought she had been able to persuade her mother that she was right.
“Be sure that you are careful,” she said at last, kissing Ginny on the forehead. “I couldn’t bear it if something were to happen you you, and James doesn’t deserve to lose another parent. . . “
• • •
James knew something special was going on. From the moment he woke up on Saturday morning he was in a state of extreme excitement and energy, as though he had already ate an entire birthday cake himself. He bounced around in his crib and more than once sent an object zooming across the room.
“OK, OK, you’re my little wizard, Jay,” Ginny said, laughing. “But if you don’t let me get this jumper on you we’ll never get to the Burrow.
James looked at her, his eyes wide as saucers, as though she’d uttered a threat. he sat remarkably still thereafter. He was a genius at times, her boy.
Ginny and James were delayed leaving when a grey owl tapped his claw on the window. Ginny hurried to open it, worried as she always was about what Hugh or Mr. Thomas would say if they saw her receiving owl post.
The letter was from Dee. Ginny scanned it quickly, prepared for a lecture on the statement she had given to Barnabus Cuffe the previous day. Dee, however, was ecstatic.
“We’ve been inundated with owls,” she wrote. “Some are from Fohn’s supporters asking us how we could allow you to say anything against him, but most are from people who’ve never heard of us before and are glad someone has finally vowed to put a stop to Fohn’s rubbish. We’ve even got letters from people who want to volunteer. It’s fantastic. I’ll keep you posted.”
Ginny and James arrived late at the Burrow because Ginny had to immediately reply to Dee. She felt as enthusiastic as Dee sounded. She had been worried that people wouldn’t listen to anything she had to say. She was, after all, only a Quidditch player. If they were already starting to take action though . . . that was beyond fantastic.
“You’ve made the guest of honor late to his own party, Bill said when they finally walked through the door at the Burrow. In one deft move he picked up Riley who was racing past, spun round again, kissed GInny on the cheek and ruffled James’s hair. “Are you going to say Happy birthday to James?”
“Happy burfday,” Riley said, a small speech impediment because he was missing two of his front teeth. He squirmed until Bill set him down. “Is it time for cake yet?”
“Is that all you and your brother think about?” Bill asked.
“Hope it’s chocolate.” Riley smiled widely when Bill playfully kicked him in the bottom. He ran away laughing.
“Getting as bad as their uncles, those two are,” Bill said. “How are you Gin? Sorry we couldn’t make the match last night.”
“It’s all right,” she said, setting James on the counter so she could remove his coat. “The Kestrals thought we were going to blow it so they didn’t really show up. Jordana was happy we won.”
“Well, yeah. One step closer to the Quidditch Cup, aren’t you?” Charlie said. He had overheard their conversation when he raced into the room with Teddy Lupin held in one arm and Simon close on his heels. “Damned portkey was late leaving last night or I’d have been there for sure.”
“Maybe when we’re playing for the cup then,” Ginny replied.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Charlie took James in his other arm and ran away with him and Teddy. Riley and Simon followed him.
“Be careful with them,” Tonks called as she and Lupin came into the kitchen. “Teddy’s been looking forward to this all day.”
“So has James,” Ginny replied She and Tonks hugged. “How’d your mission go last night.”
“Last night?” Tonks suddenly looked less like a friend and more like an Auror. “What do you know about last night?”
“I was there, wasn’t I?” Ginny asked, elaborating when Tonks continued to stare at her as though she was a suspect she was interrogating. “I had come to talk to Tougas when you were getting ready to attack Lestrange.”
“That didn’t go well at all. Lestrange brought more Death Eaters than we’d anticipated and one of them had a fondness for blowing things up. He exploded a large boulder injuring Ha – half of us. He got some of his own side though, so hopefully we’ll get some answers from them. Maybe we can finally get Lestrange again and bring this bloody case to an end.”
“Finally,” Ginny agreed, watching Tonks closely. “What were you really going to say?”
“Just then. You started to say something else and changed it to say half of us. Were you going to say Harry? Was he with you last night?”
“I never said that,” Tonks said angrily. She took a deep breath and spoke more calmly. “I know you want to believe he’s still out there, Ginny, but you have to stop asking these questions. It won’t do you any good.”
Before Ginny could reply, which she was anxious to do because Tonks hadn’t really answered her question, a baby cried. She recognized James at once, but stood still for a moment, torn between going to her son, and hopefully getting some answers. His second cry made the decision easier. Knowing that she wouldn’t get anything else of out Tonks, Ginny headed for the sitting room.
Hermione was holding James in her arms and heading for the kitchen. She looked as tearful as James did.
“It’s all my fault,” she said before Ginny could ask what happened. “He was playing with Teddy. I know I should have left him to it, but I just wanted to give him a quick hug. He wriggled out of my arms and hit the edge of the coffee table. I’m sorry, Ginny. So sorry.”
Taking James from Hermione, Ginny retrieved her bag and grabbed the bottle of Dittany Adrasteia had instructed to keep with her all the time. She applied a few drops and the scrape disappeared at once. She cleaned away the tiny bit of blood and then kissed his temple.
“All better,” she said in a happy tone to soothe James. “No harm, and Aunt Hermione has learned the importance of keeping a firm grip on a child before lifting him up. It’s something she’ll be able to apply when her own baby is born.”
“I’m not pregnant,” Hermione said, speaking in a monotone. She turned her head away, trying to surreptitiously wipe away a tear.
“Oh. Well, I’m sure you will be soon, and then you can deal with all the blood and diapers and crying.”
This was apparently quite the wrong thing to say.
“How can you say such things when you’ve got this beautiful little boy who adores you? Oh, it makes me so angry to know that you’ve got this little miracle and you don’t care. It isn’t fair that you didn’t even want him when I – when there are so many people out there who want children and can’t have them.”
“I never, ever said I didn’t want James,” Ginny said, angered by the very suggestion. “It was just unexpected when it happened.”
Hermione harrumphed disbelievingly. She turned and fled the house and a second later Ginny heard the unmistakable sound of her Disapparating.
“Ron?” Ginny called loudly.
“Come here, I need to talk to you.”
She sounded angry and so he approached with caution, looking around the kitchen when he entered.
“Left? Where’d she go?”
“Home, I reckon, after she bit my head off and accused me of not appreciating my son.”
“Oh.” Ron’s face fell and he flopped into a chair, running his hands through his hair. He didn’t seem surprised at what Hermione had said.
“She said something just now that . . . Can she not have children?” Ginny asked, sitting down across from Ron. She balanced James on her knee. “I thought she was pregnant already.”
“We thought she was,” Ron admitted, rubbing his chin. “She read up on the spell to check, as Hermione does, but she must have done the spell wrong because when she went to the healer yesterday he told her that she wasn’t.”
“Did he also say that she couldn’t ever have children, because that’s what she just said to me.”
“No. He said it could take time,” Ron said.
“It’s been a year already. Or nearly that, and nothing. She’s got it into her head that there’s something wrong with her because she was an only child.”
“I’m sure everything is fine and the two of you just need to stop trying to rush into it. It will happen when it happens.”
Ron jerked his head and then he got up and started pacing back and forth from the back door to the entrance of the scullery.
“What if it’s my fault?” he asked, stopping on his third turn. “What if I can’t give her what she wants? I can’t even cheer her up anymore.”
Ginny wasn’t entirely sure if Ron wanted an answer to this question. He started pacing again without waiting, and she decided he was just thinking out loud. She didn’t like to see him like this. He looked lost.
“What do you think we should do, James?” she asked, hugging him and planting a kiss on his cheek. Looking at her son did give her an inspiration. “Adrasteia!”
“What?” Ron asked, stopping mid-stride.
“Adrasteia Gerard. You know her. She’s the healer I saw when I was pregnant with James, the friend of Tougas’s, remember? She’s also taken on the team as well, if we’ve got some sort of injury that a mediwizard can’t handle. She’s really good and she might have something that can help you guys.”
“D’you think she’d be able to help?” Ron asked doubtfully.
“She’d probably have the best shot. She knows her stuff, Adrasteia, and she’s not afraid of . . . giving unconventional advice.” Ginny didn’t elaborate. Ron might be a little unlike himself at the moment, but he would make a reappearance if she told him how Adrasteia had helped her get past what happened with Dudley. “It might take a while to get an appointment, but I can send her a letter right away if you want.”
“I suppose there’s no harm in it,” Ron said. “I’d better tell Hermione though.”
Ron’s departure disrupted the festive atmosphere for some minutes as he tried to explain that Hermione hadn’t been feeling well and that she had already gone home. He was going to tend to her. Tonks jumped up as though something had bit her and said that she, Lupin and Teddy had to leave as well. Something urgent had come up at work, she said. Ginny didn’t miss the quick glance in her direction, but she wasn’t given the opportunity to point out that no correspondence of any kind had come and being in the kitchen she was in the best position to see it come in.
“Come on, Ginny, cake and presents,” Fred said when she stared out the window, watching the Lupins leave.
“Yeah, all right.”
James’s birthday cake was a plain slab with scarlet icing and a very well done image of Gryffin. The icing had been enchanted so that he paced the inner borders of the cake.
“I couldn’t find the spell for auditory attributes,” Molly said.
“Well that just ruins the whole cake,” Fred stated.
“Yeah, mum, you’re slipping,” George replied.
“Shut it, you two,” their mum stated, swatting their arms.
After a quick chorus of Happy Birthday they dug in. Riley and Simon were pleased that it was chocolate, and James had a grand time getting the cake everywhere but in his mouth. Fred and George might have helped him along a bit.
When it came time for presents James had more fun with the wrapping than he did the actual gifts. His grandparents got him several new jumpers (“I’m having a hard time keeping up with the pace these children are growing,” Molly said). From Bill and Fleur James got a set of talking blocks that sang the alphabet in both English and French.
“We ‘ave modified zem you see,” Fleur stated. “‘E needs to be able to speak with our children. And eet is best eef ‘e learns early.”
Charlie’s present caused Ginny momentary panic. It was, of course, a small dragon that looked so realistic that she thought he might have lost his mind and bought James a baby dragon. He assured her that it was a toy welsh green, perfectly safe for a small child.
“If he loses any body parts, I’m replacing them with some of yours, Charlie,” Ginny replied, watching James amble after the toy.
Percy’s present was easily the most surprising. Ginny expected some sort of book, or other boring item, but instead she opened a nice set of short black robes with yet another replica of Gryffin on the back.
“Audrey picked them out,” Percy said proudly, gazing at his girlfriend sappily as they held hands.
“I see a theme developing here,” Ginny said. “We’ve already pegged him for a Gryffindor. What happens if he ends up in Ravenclaw?”
“We’ll disown him, of course,” George replied. “Open ours. We chipped in with Ron and Hermione.”
It was a child-sized Firebolt 4, a replica of the exact broom Ginny flew for the Harpies.
“It’s even got a safety harness for younger riders,” Fred said, pulling it out of the box. “So we can start training him up for when he goes to Hogwarts. He’s got to be on the Gryffindor team. Let’s go.”
As they stood in a circle and watched Fred and George take turns holding onto an ecstatic James, Ginny was suddenly reminded of a similar scene she’d watched from her bedroom window the day after Ikey, the Harpies mediwitch, had told her she was pregnant. She had watched Harry, Ron, Fred and George teaching Riley and Simon how to ride a broom. At that time she hadn’t fully accepted that she was pregnant, but she had still considered a similar scene in which she and Harry would be teaching their child how to ride.
“You’re thinking about him again.” Charlie wasn’t asking and he didn’t need to elaborate. “Don’t bother trying to lie, Gin. Your expression gives you away every time.”
“Yeah, I guess I was,” she said heavily.
“It’s a waste of time, Ginny. He’s not coming back.”
Ginny started to mount a counter-argument. She couldn’t just turn off her thoughts, could she, but she realized that saying so would be the real waste of energy.
James didn’t exactly grow tired of the broom, but when he started to get cold and cranky Ginny called an end to the fun. She thought it best to take him home rather than stay over at the Burrow because she knew Charlie was going to tell Bill that she’d been thinking of Harry again and then they would probably gang up on her. She didn’t want to face that, so bundled James up, tucked all his presents into the capacious depths of her magically extended bag and headed home.
James had already come down from his sugar high. He barely stirred when Ginny changed him into his pajamas, and he was deeply asleep when she put him in his crib.
Hugh dropped by about an hour after Ginny and James returned. He had a small cake from the local baker’s.
“That was thoughtful,” Ginny said, inviting him in. “You didn’t need to do that.”
“He’s only going to have one first birthday,” he said, shrugging.
Hugh stayed for a cup of tea, wanting to hear all about the birthday party. Ginny told him as much as she dared, even about Ron and Hermione’s troubles. He agreed not to repeat anything to them because she realized too late that Ron had probably meant to keep their talk between them.
“You did the right thing,” he said. “When it comes to medical procedures I always find a second opinion helpful.”
“Yeah, and Adrasteia’s the best. Her magic – I mean, it’s like magic what she can do.”
Hugh smiled and once again Ginny had to wonder what was behind it. She was visited again by the impossible idea that he knew about the magical world. How could he though? Muggles weren’t supposed to know anything about it.
“You keep smirking, what’s that all about?” she asked at last, hoping to ferret out what he knew. It would be nice to end the day with an answer to one of the many questions she had.
“Oh, nothing,” he said, still smiling as he stood up. “You just have some of the strangest expressions I’ve ever heard. Now, I really have to get back upstairs. I have a huge presentation to give on Monday and a lot of work to do.”
Ginny walked him to the door, and wished him luck on his presentation. She watched him walk up a few stairs before she stepped out of her flat and onto the landing.
“Hugh, wait a moment.”
“Yes?” He retraced his steps.
“Thanks again for the cake,” she said, and without allowing a second to think it through, she kissed him.