Chapter 1: London
The trip really could have started better.
Harry thought it was probably his own fault, really. After all, he'd been the one who let his and Ron and Hermione's trip through Europe get hijacked. But it had just seemed so sensible at the time. He wasn't going to say no to Ginny, that much was certain, and anyway, by the time she'd said she wanted to come, Harry had been thinking a lot about those weeks when it had just been the three of them hunting Horcruxes. He'd guessed that traveling together would probably be different when they weren't on the run from a homicidal maniac, but all the same, he'd just got a bad feeling. And then after Ginny had signed on, Neville and Luna had both caught wind of the plan and, well, here they were. All six of them at the Leaky Cauldron, about to leave on what would have probably seemed a much grander adventure if Harry hadn't had rather high standards for grand adventures. Except it was noon and Harry was so far the only one who'd managed to actually leave his room and head downstairs, where he ordered a pot of tea from Tom and sat at one of the tables, massaging his temples.
The going away party the night before had been fun, Harry had to admit. Too much fun, really, but people hadn't had nearly enough fun in the year since the end of the war and Harry would have felt bad putting a damper on it. There'd been a lot of Firewhiskey and toasts and possibly a wet t-shirt contest – Harry couldn't really remember, it had pretty much all become one drunken blur by eleven o'clock.
Except – there was one thing Harry remembered a little better than he'd have liked. He'd stumbled his way into the loo at some point – Merlin only knew when, but it'd been after the tequila shots at least – and suddenly this man Harry had never seen before in his life had grabbed him by the front of his robes, shoved him up against the wall, and snogged him until his head swam. When he finally let go, Harry was so off-balance that he nearly fell over, and by the time he looked up again, the man had disappeared.
Harry did what he'd gone into the loo to do and then went back out and sat down next to Ginny. Her face flushed from drinking and dancing, she shoved a beer in front of him and said, "You okay?"
Some random bloke just snogged me in the loo and I think I sort of liked it. Harry blinked and was afraid for just a second that he'd said it out loud. But from the faintly puzzled and not at all enraged way Ginny was looking at him, he guessed he hadn't.
"I'm good," he said at last. "Just, you know, drunk."
She smiled and kissed him. It was sweet. Soft. Tasted like tequila and oranges and cinnamon. Ginny.
Who the hell had that guy been?
It didn't matter now, Harry told himself. Actually, in the light of day, he wasn't so sure it had really happened. Maybe he'd hallucinated it.
Merlin's balls, he was never drinking tequila again.
Ron echoed the sentiment as he thumped down next to Harry, then poured himself a cup of tea and starting making a bacon sandwich from the breakfast things Tom had been nice enough to leave out long after they would normally have been taken back into the kitchen.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked.
Ron shrugged. "I dunno. I think she slept in Luna and Ginny's room last night, she was all pissed off about something."
Harry squinted. "I think I heard that. Late, was it?"
"Yeah. I have no idea what happened. I was sound asleep and all of the sudden she was slamming the door on her way out of the room." Ron took a huge bite of sandwich, followed by a slurp of tea. "What time is it anyway?"
"Almost one now. We should go soon if we're going to get out of here at all today."
Ron nodded and slid a fried egg and some tomatoes onto his plate. "Yeah, you should check on Neville. He was looking pretty green last I saw him. I don't know if he can Apparate without splinching."
"Right." Harry drained the last of his tea and headed upstairs, where he ran smack into Hermione at the top. Her hair was wild and uncombed, she still wore her bathrobe, and there were smudges beneath her eyes – from last night's makeup, Harry guessed, not that he had a clue about those things.
"Is your best friend down there?" she demanded.
Harry backed down a step before answering. "Um, yeah." She started down and he stopped her. "Did you know you're wearing your bathrobe?"
Hermione glanced down and, if it was possible, looked even more furious. "Fine then. You tell him I wouldn't shag him if he was the last man on Earth!"
"Uh, no, actually, I think that's a message I won't be delivering. Seriously, what happened?"
But Hermione was whirling away already, stomping back down the corridor to the toilet. "Men!" Harry heard her exclaim in exasperation, and then a door slammed shut.
Blinking in bewilderment, Harry headed in the opposite direction, toward Luna and Ginny's room. It sounded like they were up at least – there was a lot of giggling going on behind the door. "Don't come in!" Ginny called when he knocked.
"Uh, okay. But it's almost one."
"We'll be down soon, don't worry!"
"Soon in some objective sense?" Harry asked without much hope.
He gave up and moved on to the room he and Neville had shared the night before. Neville had still been snoring away when Harry had finally staggered down to breakfast. Now he was sitting on the bed and yeah, green was a good description. Harry sighed and calculated the time it would take for one of them – probably him from the way things were going – to nip out and buy a hangover potion at the apothecary in Diagon. He made a mental note to keep some on hand from now on, just to save them all time in the mornings.
"How are you?" he asked, sitting carefully on the bed next to Neville. He didn't much care to get spewed on, and Neville looked like that was a definite possibility if you jostled him too hard.
Neville squinted at Harry through bloodshot eyes. "I think I might still be drunk."
Harry winced. "Oh, well, don't worry, I'll run out and –"
"I snogged Luna."
Harry blinked and then smiled. Truthfully, he'd been hoping something like that might happen, both because he liked Neville and Luna and thought they deserved each other, but also because it was going to be bloody awkward otherwise. "That's brilliant, Neville!" Neville grimaced. "Or – not?"
"I dunno. I mean, she was very Luna about it, you know? Sorta said she thought we'd end up snogging a lot because, well, there's you and Ginny and then there's Hermione and Ron, and she wanted to know what she was in for."
"I mean, she was nicer than that, really nice, actually, and after we snogged she said she was glad we were going to be doing it again, but," Neville frowned, "it was just so odd."
"I can imagine." Harry looked around at the rucksacks that still weren't packed. He could hear the girls giggling in the room on their left and if he wasn't mistaken, Hermione and Ron were having a terrific row to their right, but really, sometimes you just had to be a mate, and if anyone had earned that, Neville certainly had done. "Good odd?"
"I dunno." Neville rubbed his eyes. "I'll let you know if we ever do it when I'm not so drunk I can't stand up afterwards."
Harry nodded sympathetically. "It was a weird night, I'll give you that." He wondered if he should tell Neville about the bloke in the loo. Neville was practically the only one Harry could tell without it getting back to Ginny (well, Ron probably wouldn't tell Ginny, but Harry wasn't too keen on starting the trip out with an enormous shiner courtesy of his best friend). But Neville didn't really look like his nerves were up to the story and Harry was still clinging stubbornly to the idea that maybe it hadn't happened at all. He patted Neville's shoulder and headed off to the apothecary.
By the time he got back, everyone was more or less ready to go, though Hermione and Ron weren't speaking and Neville was eyeing Luna like he was trying to decide if she was going to eat him alive. Harry gave a dose of the hangover potion to Neville, who swallowed it gratefully and immediately lost the green tinge. Harry put the rest of the potion in his rucksack and went over and hugged Ginny, who kissed him. Sweet, sweet Ginny, who would certainly never shove him up against a wall in the loo and stick her tongue down his throat in a way that could only be described as dirty. And who was also a girl.
"I'm so glad you decided to come," he told her.
She grinned and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "Me too."
Harry kept his arm around her waist as he turned to say to the group, "All right, are we ready?"
Some answers were more enthusiastic than others, but the consensus was that yes, they were. Together they trooped out to the Apparition point in the yard between the pub and the entrance to Diagon.
"Remember," Harry said, "it's Le Vigne de la Sorcière."
"La Vigne de la Sorcière," Hermione corrected him.
"Yeah, what she said."
Harry waited until the others had gone. When the yard was finally empty and there were no splinched body parts anywhere, he breathed a sigh of relief. The trip definitely could have started better, but at least it had started. Harry took a deep breath, turned on his heel, and vanished.
Chapter 2: Paris
What do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Take a trip to Europe, of course!
Paris was hot, even on the banks of the Seine as they walked along, looking for a tour boat and listening to (or, in most cases, tuning out) Hermione as she quoted at length from her three-inch thick guidebook. Ginny liked the heat because it meant she got to wear a short skirt and camisole and she knew Harry was watching her legs. On the other hand, it made her flush bright red and even though she couldn't sweat off the No Burn Magical Sun Cream, that didn't mean her body didn't try. By the time they finally found a boat leaving in the vaguely near future, bought tickets, and found seats up on the deck, Ginny was wondering how bad of an idea a dip in the river would really be.
"Put some more on me, would you?" she said to Harry, offering him the bottle of sun cream.
"Gin, that stuff lasts forever," he pointed out.
"Okay, Harry, two points," Ginny said, holding up two fingers in demonstration. "Point one, you do not want to be stuck with me if I get sunburned. I will make the way Hermione has been acting these past two days seem positively pleasant." Harry winced in acknowledgment. Ginny smiled to herself and continued. "Point two, I just gave you an excuse to rub cream all over me. Since that's pretty much the only way I'm going to let you touch me in this heat, are you really going to say no?" He shook his head with a smile, his hair flopping adorably in his eyes, and held his hand out. She slapped the bottle into it, turned her back to him, and reached up to pull her ponytail out of the way.
She glanced up then to see Luna watching them. Ginny felt herself blush, but the good news was that she was already so red it probably wasn't obvious. Not that Harry noticed those things anyway. She looked down at her lap as he finished rubbing the sun cream into all the bits she couldn't reach, and then accepted the bottle back.
"Er," Harry said then. She raised her eyebrows at him. "Do you mind if I go sit with Ron?"
Ginny glanced over at her idiot brother, sitting alone in a seat along the rail and staring glumly at the river. Hermione was nowhere in sight, but that was probably just as well. Ron still had no clue what he'd done wrong, but Ginny for one was not about to enlighten him. "Sure," she said with a shrug.
"Thanks, Gin," Harry said, giving her a swift kiss on the cheek. Ginny watched him plunk himself down next to Ron before shrugging to herself. She slipped the bottle of sun cream back into her purse and went to lean on the railing in the shade of an overhang, where the breeze off the water might be more noticeable.
She hadn't been there for more than half a minute when Luna drifted up, leaned next to Ginny, and observed, "You have sun cream on your nose."
"Oh," Ginny said, reaching up.
"Let me." Luna used her thumb to wipe it off, showed Ginny the white smear on her finger, and then rubbed it into Ginny's cheekbone with a few firm strokes.
Before that night at the Leaky Cauldron, Ginny had never been sure if Luna knew what sort of effect she had on Ginny when she did those sorts of things. But after snogging on Luna's bed that night, she thought Luna probably did know after all. Kissing Luna had been, well, fun. Ginny hadn't really known what to think of it at first, but then Luna had nibbled at Ginny's lower lip and unbuttoned her own pajama top, and Ginny had discovered that the feeling of her breasts touching other breasts made her stomach hot and jumpy, and sliding a hand down the long curve of a waist made her shiver. Ginny had been unsure of herself, at least at first, but Luna had seemed to know exactly what to do. So much so that Ginny had started to wonder just what in Merlin's name went on in Ravenclaw Tower.
So yes, kissing Luna was fun. It was so much fun, in fact, that Ginny had done it again the next morning until Harry had pounded on their door, and the only thing that really worried her about it was how completely unworried she was.
"Uh, look, Notre Dame," Ginny said, pointing as they passed the sharp-spired cathedral.
Luna nodded, blue eyes wide. "Isn't it a pity about the gargoyles?"
Ginny knew she'd regret it, but she had to ask anyway. "What about them?"
"They're trapped souls, of course. Napoleon had his wizards turn his enemies to stone and mounted them up there."
"Oh." Ginny looked up at the great church; she could just see the crouched shapes high, high above them. "I thought the gargoyles were older than that."
Luna sighed and gave her a pitying look. "That's what they want you to think, of course." She stepped closer and Ginny noticed that the heat hadn't turned Luna red at all, but she did smell of sun cream. Coconut sun cream. "You shouldn't always think the things they want you to think," she murmured in Ginny's ear, and then drifted off before Ginny could recover enough to ask who they were.
Harry brought her a fizzy Muggle drink called Coca-Cola when he finally returned from Ron-sitting. It was too sweet for Ginny, but at least it was cold and wet. She gulped it down and gave a little shriek when Harry rested his own against the back of her neck. "How are you?" he asked.
"Hot and sticky," she said. "You?"
"About the same." He leaned on the railing much like Luna had done. "Um, I was wondering. You don't happen to know why Hermione's so pissed at Ron, do you?"
"Yes. But I'm not telling."
Harry took a long sip of his drink and slipped his arm around her. Ginny fought the urge to shrug him off. Not that she didn't like it, but it was too bloody hot. "What if I made it worth your time?" he asked, nuzzling her neck.
He sighed. "Ah well, thought I'd try."
A cry of pure outrage in a familiar voice made them both look up. Ron had apparently just stolen Hermione's guidebook from her and, as they both watched, proceeded to chuck it in the Seine.
"Er," Harry said.
"Go," Ginny said, giving him a little push. If Harry didn't do something fast, Ron was going to end up going the way of the guidebook. She watched Harry insert himself with quintessential Gryffindor bravery between his two best friends and somehow get Hermione to back down without loss of limbs. She stomped off to sit as far from Ron and Harry as possible. Ginny wondered if her position as Hermione's best girlfriend required her to go and smooth ruffled feathers or if she could just stay where she was until it was all over. Hermione was sitting in the sun and Ginny thought she might melt if she had to do that for any real length of time.
She glanced back at her brother with a sigh of exasperation. Harry was apparently giving him a talking-to. Ron gestured as if to say, What do you want from me? Harry rolled his eyes and tugged him in Hermione's direction. Ron blinked at first, then allowed himself to be pulled along. Harry plunked down between the two of them, and Ginny turned away to find Luna and Neville behind her.
She jumped about a foot and gave an undignified squeak. "You scared me."
"Sorry," Neville said, and nodded at the other three. "Are they all right?"
"I don't know," Ginny admitted with a shrug.
"Ron and Hermione are not a good couple," Luna declared placidly. "They need Harry for balance."
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "That might be a bit of a problem in certain areas."
"Maybe," Luna said. "Or not. There are ways." She turned to look out over the water, leaving Ginny and Neville to exchange a wide-eyed look. No, really. What the bloody hell went on in Ravenclaw Tower?
Ginny was still wondering about that four hours later when they headed out to dinner. She thought her curiosity might be a bit unhealthy, but it was preferable to wondering why she wasn't more bothered by Luna's comments, since she didn't think it was normal to be so laidback about the idea of your boyfriend having a threesome with his two best friends. Which really, was just a silly idea, because anyone could see that Ron and Hermione were – were –
Were walking to dinner with Harry between them.
Harry gave her an apologetic look as they passed by. She shrugged and reached out to squeeze his hand. All right, but she was sitting next to him at dinner.
And she did, but only because she maneuvered herself into the chair before Hermione could. Hermione gave her this weird look, almost a glare but not quite, before sitting down beside her. Ginny put her hand on Harry's knee and looked out at the evening crowds streaming past them outside. They'd chosen a little side street pretty much at random off the Champ Élysées and found a café that looked crowded enough that it was probably good, but not so crowded they would have to wait. Ginny smiled and tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Dinner on a summer evening in Paris with her boyfriend, who, incidentally, was no longer being chased by a homicidal maniac.
Seventeen had been way better than sixteen (a complete lack of Voldemort really made the difference) and eighteen was shaping up to be even better.
They ordered two bottles of white wine with dinner, this being the first night since the going away party that any of them had even wanted to touch alcohol. Ginny ordered the quiche. Harry ordered French onion soup, making her grimace. Merlin's beard, soup. In this weather. Even though the sun was starting to go down, Ginny was still too hot.
By the time they finished dinner and set off again up the broad, tree-lined boulevard, Ginny was almost comfortable. It had cooled enough to let Harry take her arm at least, as they strolled past the Muggle boutiques and a number of restaurants none of them could afford – well, except for Harry – toward the looming Arc de Triomphe. The sun had just set and the city was taking on a soft glow from the streetlights. Ginny slipped her hand into Harry's. Up ahead she saw Hermione let Ron take her hand, and Ginny breathed a quiet sigh of relief before exchanging a smile with Harry.
They bought tickets for the "lift" up to the top of the Arc. Hermione answered Ron's too-loud questions about the safety of electricity and steel cables versus levitation charms in a patient voice that quickly turned exasperated. Ginny didn't know how you could go from happy to bickering in the span of time it took to ride a lift to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but Ron and Hermione were unusually skilled, it seemed.
This time, when Harry acted like he was about to take off after them, Ginny stopped him with a hand on his wrist.
"I think Hermione's going to push him off," Harry said, casting a worried glance over his shoulder.
"Let her," Ginny replied, and twined her arms around Harry before stretching up on tiptoe to kiss him. He kissed her back, but Ginny could tell he wasn't paying much attention. Harry could kiss when he wanted to, much better than Dean or Michael, and this was half-hearted at best. She broke it off and looked at him, eyebrows raised.
He smiled ruefully. "Sorry. It's just, I'm worried about them. Ron doesn't know why Hermione's so mad and she won't tell him, so now he's mad too and . . ." He sighed, a bit miserably. "I don't like it."
Ginny decided to take pity on him. And the rest of them too, since this thing with Ron and Hermione could ruin the trip if they let it. "If I tell you, you have to swear not to let Hermione find out."
Harry held his hand up. "I swear."
Ginny glanced over her shoulder at the two of them. Ron didn't seem in immediate danger of being pitched over the side anymore, which Ginny thought was charitable of Hermione, all things considered. "Ron fell asleep on her that night we were all at the Cauldron," she said, turning back to Harry and lifting an eyebrow significantly.
"Er, so? I mean, we were all completely legless by the end. That's a bit unreasonable of Hermione, and Hermione is almost never unreasonable. Am I missing something?"
"You're missing what they were doing when he fell asleep."
"Oh." Harry looked bemused. "Oh." He blinked. "Wow, no wonder she's so pissed."
"Tell me about it."
Harry glanced at them again, his mouth twisted in worry. "What should I do then?"
Ginny shrugged. "Why should you do anything? Ron got himself into trouble, he can get himself out."
Harry almost smiled. "You know he can't be trusted to do that. They're my friends – I can't just let this go on."
Ginny eyed him for a moment, trying for the life of her not to think about what Luna had said earlier. "You promised Hermione wouldn't find out I told you," she reminded him at last.
"I know." Harry paused and then pointed as, off in the distance, a hundred Parisian neighborhoods away, the Eiffel Tower lit up in a sudden sparkling shower of dancing lights. Ginny couldn't help but gasp, leaning back against Harry as the show went on, much longer than she'd expected. She sneaked a glance up at Harry's face after awhile and bit her lip. He was thinking of them, she could tell, his face abstracted, watching but not really seeing the view. Them. Not her.
"Harry," she said, when the light show finally ended.
"Could you do something for me?"
He looked down at her in puzzlement. "Sure, Gin, anything."
"Could you just let the thing with Ron and Hermione be for right now? You can't always be fixing things for them. They need to learn how to get along without you there."
Harry frowned. Then he gave a short nod. "Yeah, you're right. I'll leave them to it. For now, anyway."
Ginny returned his nod, satisfied, and curled her fingers into the hem of his shirt.
The Arc was getting ready to close by the time they left. They took the elevator down to the ground and then Harry said he wanted to pop to the loo. Ginny stood beneath the Arc, looking up and trying to ignore Ron and Hermione's incessant bickering. Then she switched to trying to decipher the French on the memorial carved into the ground beneath their feet.
Harry was certainly taking his sweet time in the loo. Ginny wondered if he'd gotten lost.
He showed up at last, looking oddly mussed. Ginny frowned at him. "Are you all right?"
He jumped as though she'd startled him. "What?"
"Your hair is all standing on end." She smoothed it down. "And you're sort of flushed. You took forever – are you feeling okay?"
"Oh," Harry gave her a weak smile, "yeah, I'm fine. Wine sort of got to me, I think. And the heat."
Ginny could certainly understand that. "Well," she said, as they started down the pavement, looking for the nearest Metro station since there was no place nearby private enough to Apparate, "you can have a nice cool shower once we get back to the hotel.
If anything, Harry looked even redder. "Right," he said, almost under his breath. "That'll be just the thing."
The rest of the evening passed peaceably enough. Harry was as attentive and affectionate as Ginny might have wished, especially once they were in the hotel room with something called "air conditioning" going and he'd had his shower. Ginny nearly convinced herself that Luna was, as everyone knew, completely mad and she had nothing to worry about.
It was about midnight that she realized she might be wrong. That was when Hermione stormed into the room Ginny was sharing with Luna and threw herself down onto the other side of Ginny's mattress.
"Absolutely – I just can't – unbelievable – agh!"
Luna and Ginny exchanged a glance. "You want to stay here tonight?" Ginny asked.
"Please. Sorry – there are only two beds –"
Ginny was about to offer to transfigure one – it obviously hadn't occurred to Hermione in her blind rage – but Luna got there first. Peacefully and without looking up from the Muggle tabloid she was perusing, she said, "That's all right. Ginny and I can share."
Ginny opened her mouth, closed it, and finally said, "Good plan."
The bed was big enough that they could have easily slept without touching, but the second the lights were off Luna was right up behind her, arm around the curve of Ginny's hip. "All right?" she breathed in Ginny's ear.
"Yes," Ginny breathed back and felt Luna's hand creep up under the hem of Ginny's pajama top to cup one of her breasts. Ginny bit her lip to keep from squeaking and felt Luna giggle into the back of her neck.
Oh yes. Definitely time to start worrying.
Chapter 3: Venice
So what do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Take a trip to Europe, of course!
Thank you to the lovely fuzzyboo03 for beta reading.
Neville decided that being a photographer in Venice – like the ones that must have taken the pictures for all the calendars the Muggle tourist shops sold, with their strange, unmoving pictures – probably involved a lot of sitting about, waiting for the weather to clear. They were there for three days before the sun finally peeked out of the light gray cloud cover. But after Paris, which had felt rather like being on holiday in an oven, it was actually sort of refreshing.
The cooler weather seemed to work wonders on the group as well, at least at first. Ron and Hermione stopped fighting, Harry went back to walking around arm in arm with Ginny, and Luna . . .
Luna went back to scaring the hell out of Neville.
He was trying very hard to live up to the Gryffindor reputation, truly he was, but he was failing miserably. He wasn't as bothered by this as he'd once have been – after destroying a Horcrux all on his own just about a year ago, Neville figured he had enough Gryffindor credibility to be going on with. You had to be brave when it counted, and the rest of the time who cared if Luna Lovegood actively attempting to seduce you made you want to curl up in the fetal position and beg her for mercy?
Not that Neville didn't like Luna. He did. But sweet Merlin, she was hard on the nerves.
Like now, for instance. That afternoon the others had declared tonight to be Date Night. This was all well and good for them, but once they'd disappeared, Neville had been left alone with Luna, who had insisted that they deserved a date too, and, with a sense of foreboding that proved all too accurate, Neville had given in. They'd eaten an uneventful dinner at a little café, ordered pasta and Bellinis and tiramisu, and caught the water bus back, at which point Neville had thought with relief that Luna might let him off the hook after all.
No, really. Relief. Not disappointment. At all.
But then she'd led him out the back of the cabin and around the deck, pushed him down onto this bench with these weird orange cushion things labeled in Italian, sat on his lap, and kissed him.
"Mmph!" Neville had managed before she'd slid her tongue in his mouth, which he considered downright opportunistic. After that, none of the rest seemed to matter.
Neville was pretty sure now that they'd missed their stop. They had a three-day pass, so it wasn't a problem, but the night air was chilly, especially since Luna had unbuttoned half of Neville's shirt. He thought he was probably supposed to follow her lead in this, but he kept his hands firmly on her waist until she finally let him up for air. Neville gulped and tried to control his incipient panic attack. He hoped she'd get off his lap soon or at least not wriggle around so much. This was getting embarrassing.
No such luck. Luna smoothed a hand over his hair and sighed. "That was very good."
"Oh?" Neville squeaked. "Uh. Thanks."
"It makes it difficult though."
She nodded. "I mean, I like you. But I like Ginny too."
Neville felt his mouth drop open. "Ginny?"
Luna nodded again, her eyes wide – they were always wide, though. Luna always looked rather surprised, which was odd because Neville didn't think there was much that really surprised Luna. "She has breasts, you know. And I quite enjoy that. But your boy bits intrigue me."
Neville let out a series of stutters and then clamped his mouth shut. He was trying very hard not to think. He didn't want to think about Ginny's breasts, or Ginny and Luna, and he especially didn't want to think about his boy bits, though that was getting kind of hard. So to speak. He cast desperately about for something that might inject an ounce of sense into the conversation and came up with a rather weak, "But Ginny's with Harry."
"Yes. But not for much longer."
Neville blinked. "Are they fighting?"
Luna shook her head. "Of course not. They never fight. That's part of the problem." Then, while Neville was trying to work that out, she said, "Oh, this is our stop."
Neville looked up in surprise and saw that it was, but they were actually approaching it from the opposite direction than he'd expected. They'd snogged practically the whole damn water bus route. Which, come to think of it, was probably what Luna had had in mind when she'd suggested taking one rather than Apparating.
Their hotel was a few dark and narrow streets away from the main canal. It was a three-story building, old and rather drafty, with no carpet and shared bathrooms, but it had a certain charm nonetheless. No one else was back yet, of course, which scared Neville all over again until Luna disappeared into her room with an entirely too casual "good night." Neville was left standing in the hallway, wondering when his life had got so weird.
He took a long shower, which helped certain matters at least, even if it didn't clear up the bigger problem at all, and came back to his room to find that Harry had returned. He was sitting on the end of his bed, head in his hands.
"Er," said Neville. "Hi."
"Oh," Harry said, raising his head, "sorry, I didn't even hear you come in."
"Yeah, you looked sort of –" Neville made a vague gesture and dug his pajamas out of his rucksack.
"Yeah." Harry didn't say anything more, but when Neville turned around he was staring at him with unnerving intensity.
"Um," Neville said.
Harry suddenly jumped up and went to the door, sliding the bolt home and then checking to make sure it was really and truly locked for good measure. "Can I tell you something?" he asked when he'd rattled the doorknob to his satisfaction.
No! Neville's instincts screamed in unison. But Harry had listened to him that morning at the Cauldron after the party and so now all Neville could do was gulp and nod. He changed into his pajamas quickly and sat on the bed, and Harry returned to sit next to him. Neville found himself on the receiving end of an unreadable look and did his best to look not-terrified.
"Three times now," Harry began, "once at the Cauldron, once in Paris, and once tonight, I've been snogged in the loo by random blokes I don't know."
Neville stared. Then he stared some more. "Er," he finally managed.
"I know!" Harry said, throwing his hands up in the air. "I know it sounds like I'm off my nut and if it'd happened just the once at the Cauldron I'd say George put something in my drink, but –" Harry ran a hand through his flyaway hair.
"It's a different bloke each time?" Neville asked timidly.
"Yes! Completely different! It makes no sense!"
"Does Ginny know?"
"Merlin, no." Harry sat down on the bed with a thump. "I can't tell her. Can't tell Hermione either – she'd feel like she had to tell Ginny. Ron'd just hit me. Luna'd tell everyone because she'd never understand why she shouldn't."
Neville thought this was a fair assessment of their friends, except maybe for Luna, but the idea of being the only one who knew gave him a bad feeling. Somehow he was sure that this was going to end badly for him. It was going to come out and he'd get blamed. Somehow.
He didn't say anything – there just didn't seem to be anything to say – until finally Harry sighed and said, "Sorry – I just . . . it's just weird."
"Very weird," Neville agreed fervently and decided that now would be a good time to go brush his teeth. But before he could make his escape, the doorknob to their room rattled and someone pounded on the door.
"Harry!" Ron yelled.
"Oh bloody hell," Harry muttered, raking a hand through his hair again. He cast Neville a desperate look. "If I hide, will you tell him I've not come in yet?"
Lucky for Neville, he was able to reasonably point out in response to this inevitably disastrous suggestion, "There's no place for you to hide, Harry."
Harry looked around at the tiny wardrobe and actually leaned over to check under the bed, which had about a six-inch gap between the mattress and the floor, before heaving a huge sigh and going to answer the door just as Ron pounded on it again. "What now?" he asked with long-suffering exasperation; it seemed he'd finally run out of patience.
"I swear, Harry," Ron said, striding past Harry and turning on his heel to face him again, apparently taking no notice of Neville at all. "I don't know what to do."
Harry shut the door and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ron. I told you what was wrong and I told you what to do to make it up to her, which is really, I have to say, going above and beyond in the name of being a mate. I don't know what else I can possibly do, short of a practical demonstration."
Ron turned as red as his hair. "That isn't funny."
Harry flopped back on the bed. "Believe me, it's getting less and less funny for me all the time."
"It's just, what if I can't – you know." Ron's face was even redder, if that was physically possible, and suddenly the other shoe dropped in Neville's brain. He couldn't stop a mortified squeak from escaping; Ron's head whipped around and they locked eyes for a split second before Neville was off his bed and out the door, mumbling something incoherent about brushing his teeth.
Unfortunately he was out of the room and had closed the door before he saw Ginny go into the bathroom ahead of him. Neville really didn't want to run into Ginny. If he did, he'd start thinking about her breasts, which was something he'd just as soon avoid, really. She didn't seem to notice him though, and he was able to hide in the stairwell until she left again. He breathed a huge sigh of relief and scuttled in, praying he wouldn't meet anyone else.
Fate, however, wasn't feeling very kindly toward Neville tonight. He was starting to develop an appreciation for how Harry must have felt for most of his life.
Neville had a mouthful of toothpaste when Hermione walked in crying. She stopped when she saw him, swiped at her eyes, and tried to pretend she hadn't been.
Neville spat in the sink. "Her –"
"I'm fine." She splashed water on her face and stayed bent over the sink.
"Er. Right. Is there anything I can do?"
"No," Hermione said in a very even tone that somehow struck Neville as highly dangerous. "Because I'm fine."
"Oh. Yeah." Neville rinsed his mouth out, looked at her for a few seconds, and then moved to leave.
"Neville . . ." Hermione stopped. He turned back, but she was looking down at where her hands gripped the edge of the counter. "Do you ever feel like nothing is working out the way you thought it would?"
Neville thought of kissing Luna on the water bus. Then he thought of Ginny's breasts. Harry getting snogged in the loo. How very red Ron's face had been and how white Hermione's was right now. "All the time," he said.
She only nodded. He took the opportunity to flee, not caring in the slightest how ignominious a flight it might be.
Harry was sprawled face down on his bed when Neville came in. "Hermione is crying in the loo," Neville informed him, pulling back the covers on his bed.
Harry grunted and turned his head to the side. "Is it awful if I decide that's not my problem?"
"No," Neville said decisively.
"Good." Harry sat up, stripped off his shirt, kicked off his shoes and jeans, and rolled into bed. Then he shoved a pillow over his face and said, voice muffled, "Tomorrow I'm going to wake up and this will all have gone away. Right?"
Neville paused. "You want me to lie to you?"
Harry lifted the pillow long enough to say, "Yes."
"Then sure. Tomorrow everything will be better."
"Cheers, mate," Harry said glumly, and shoved the pillow back over his head.
Chapter 4: Berlin
o what do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Take a trip to Europe, of course!
Thank you to the lovely fuzzyboo03 for beta reading.
Berlin was Hermione's favorite city, even thought it wasn't nearly as pretty as Paris or Venice. Berlin felt lived-in, if that made any sense. It was a real city with a history too new to be reduced to memorials yet. Its history was under her feet, in the line of bricks marking the length of the Wall. Everyone but Harry was rather puzzled by her excitement over this piece of Muggle history, even when she pointed out that they'd all been alive for it, but they indulged her for a few minutes. And though she knew they meant it as a nice gesture, it rather irritated her. Hermione Granger did not like being indulged.
This was a problem, since she was in a relationship with Ron and he never seemed to do anything but indulge her. And no, not in that good way. That good way seemed to scare the hell out of Ron, in point of fact.
They spent approximately five minutes looking at the place where the Wall used to be, voted on whether or not to visit the museum (Hermione lost, four to two, and she knew Harry had only voted with her to be nice and because he knew she'd never win), and ended up wandering the block that had once ended in Checkpoint Charlie and the Iron Curtain. Times had changed, obviously, and it was now lined with shop after shop filled with the tackiest souvenirs Hermione had ever seen in her life. And in one of these shops, between the stand of souvenir mugs that read, "You are now leaving the American Sector" in stark black lettering and a pile of ever so tasteful hammer-and-sickle belt buckles, Ginny dumped Harry.
Hermione didn't think any of them had seen that coming. She was in the middle of a fruitless attempt to explain the concept of a "gas mask" to Ron, and why a souvenir version of the same probably wasn't an appropriate gift for one's father (however much she thought it would have fascinated Mr. Weasley to no end), when a rather pale, stunned-looking Harry stumbled over. He said nothing at all until Ron and Hermione both stopped and looked at him with their eyebrows raised.
"Er," he said. "Ginny just – she said – I think she just broke up with me."
Hermione felt her eyebrows go shooting up even further. She swiveled around to look for Ginny and caught her standing a few feet away with Luna. Ginny's freckles stood out strangely against her skin and her eyes were wide and guilty; she flinched away from Hermione's gaze.
"What?" Ron was yelping helpfully by the time Hermione turned back. "What did you do?"
"Nothing!" Harry said, and took a step back from his best friend. "I didn't do anything, she just . . ." Harry spread his hands helplessly. "I don't know."
Hermione suspected that Ginny didn't really know either. In fact, Hermione had begun to suspect in Venice that Ginny was very confused on a number of levels. Her confusion had at least made for a pleasant distraction from Hermione's own bewilderment – which, incidentally, had just grown exponentially worse. With Ginny's unceremonious and badly timed dumping of Harry, one of Hermione's clearest and least uncomfortable reasons for resolutely not thinking about what she'd been not thinking about since London became a moot point.
Since it seemed Ron had decided to allow his poor, bewildered, suddenly single best friend to live, Hermione drifted over to Ginny and Luna. Neville, she noted without surprise, was hovering two aisles away and watching them nervously. He'd been doing that a lot since Venice.
"Are you all right?" she asked Ginny bluntly.
"I'm fine," Ginny said, glancing away. "And I don't want to talk about it."
Hermione nodded. "Fine. I mean, whatever you want." She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Ron had his hand on Harry's shoulder and Harry looked like he wanted to sink straight through the floor. She looked back to Ginny. "But maybe we should split up for the afternoon."
Ginny swallowed. "Yeah. Maybe."
Hermione glanced down as she turned away. Yes, just as she'd thought. Ginny was gripping Luna's hand.
The two groups parted ways outside the shop. Ginny, Luna, and Neville (who looked terrified) headed toward the East Side Gallery, while Hermione, Harry, and Ron found an overpriced coffee shop on Alexanderplatz. Hermione installed both her boys in armchairs and went to order for all three of them, since Ron went into sputtering incoherence when faced with a Starbucks menu and Harry still looked a bit shocky. Deciding there wasn't much that an iced raspberry mocha wouldn't make at least marginally better, Hermione procured three, sat down, and handed Harry's over to him before demanding a blow-by-blow description of the conversation with Ginny.
It was disappointing to say the least. Ginny had apparently turned to Harry, novelty mug in one hand, taken his hand with the other, and said gently, "I don't think we should do this anymore."
"I thought she was talking about the shop," Harry said in exasperation tinged with hysteria. "Because yeah, it was tacky. It took me five minutes to realize she was talking about us and then I didn't believe her. It just doesn't make sense. I thought we were, you know, happy."
"Hey, you don't think there's someone else or something, do you?" Ron interjected. "Like Neville?" He turned to Hermione. "You don't think she likes Neville, do you?"
"I don't think she likes Neville," Hermione said with perfect honesty, and settled back with her coffee while Harry and Ron began complaining about the fickle nature of girls' whims (though not in so many words). Normally Hermione would have been indignant, but under the circumstances she let it go without comment. She had bigger mandrakes to plant.
It had been easy while Harry was with Ginny. But now that he wasn't, certain suggestions that Luna had been putting in Hermione's ear recently, about love triangles and the best way to solve them, were growing more insistent. Hermione's assertion that she, Ron, and Harry were not in any way a love triangle had not deterred Luna from giving her wholly unwanted advice and now Hermione couldn't help but consider how much better she and Ron worked with Harry there. She didn't know if she was in love with Harry and she really didn't know if Ron was, but the fact of the matter was that the two of them couldn't seem to get along without him. They didn't know how to be together and every time the two of them had tried to so much as snog this trip – Hermione cringed.
It was starting to piss Hermione off. They'd all had enough complications in their lives. She wanted this part to be easy, to be normal. She wanted – she wanted to not think about this anymore, dammit. She nodded to herself and drained the last of her mocha.
"Let's see a film," she said, pushed herself out of her armchair, and marched out the door without waiting for them to agree.
They found a theater playing films in English in an expensive-looking shopping mall. They bought two beers each and a huge bag of popcorn before heading into the theater and snagging seats near the back so Ron wouldn't bother anyone when he got indignant and started complaining under his breath. Harry sat between them and settled in with the popcorn on his lap where everyone could reach. The commercials beforehand went on for an absurdly long time and the film, once it started, was terrible, but for two and a half hours Hermione didn't think about anything related to pseudo-love triangles and her two best friends.
After the film they went to a pub nearby, someplace with low lighting and a long wine list. Hermione picked a bottle at random and kept one eye on Ron as she paid for it at the bar. But he behaved himself, at least until Harry tried to talk him into going to the loo with him for some reason and he replied too loudly, "We're not |girls, Harry." At which point Harry turned red and went off alone. He returned even redder and with tousled hair, and then went and ordered a lager even though they weren't done with the wine yet. Hermione cast a worried look at him, but she decided he didn't look lovesick, exactly. It was something else, something she couldn't put her finger on. She sighed and decided they'd all have to get used to Harry acting a bit weird for a while. And here she thought they'd just got over that.
By the time they headed back to the hotel near midnight, Hermione was a bit tipsy. She let Ron Apparate her to the spot behind some hedges they'd all agreed on earlier. Once Harry joined them, they checked to make sure no one was looking and ambled casually into the small, narrow, rather dingy lobby of their budget hotel – just in time to run straight into Neville coming out of the equally small, narrow, and dingy bar the hotel had managed to squeeze into what Hermione suspected was a former utility closet.
"Oh, um, you're back," Neville said.
"Yes, we went to the cinema," Hermione said, and glanced at Harry, who was very unsubtly craning his neck to see if Ginny was in the bar as well. "Did you have a nice afternoon?"
"Oh yeah, it was – well, nice," Neville said. "I was just going to go up to bed."
"Yeah, us too," Ron said.
"Actually," Hermione said, "you two go on up, I'll be right there."
Harry looked about to object, but Ron put his hand on his shoulder and steered him up the stairs and Harry went. Neville watched them and turned back to Harry. "Is he okay?" Neville asked.
Hermione sighed and shrugged. "I don't know. I think so. Ginny?"
"Okay, I think. I don't know – I don't think she planned it, you know?" Neville cast a worried look in the direction of the bar. "You think one of them will end up going home?"
Hermione shook her head. "I hope not. Honestly, I didn't think the two of them would be the problem this trip."
Neville cast her a sympathetic look. "Yeah. Well, speak to you in the morning."
"Yeah, have a good night." Hermione watched Neville trudge up the stairs. He was so reliable, she thought. Dependable and unwavering. A little like Harry in that way, though Harry did have his moments. Like now, perhaps. Ah well, at those times it was just up to her, since Ron could not in any way be called unwavering.
In the bar, Hermione found Luna and Ginny squeezed around a table so small she had to wonder how Neville had fit. She pulled up a chair and wedged herself in, sort of. "So," she said.
"Just don't –" Ginny began.
"I wasn't," Hermione said hastily and then could not quite stop herself from adding, "You couldn't have waited until we got home?"
Ginny sighed and looked down at her hands. "I could have. I just – you know Harry, he's just so sweet and I like him, I do, but I don't know . . ." She gestured helplessly. "I'm eighteen," she finally said, as though that explained everything.
Hermione supposed it did explain a lot after all. She guessed a lot of people did meet their life partners at Hogwarts, because if you were a wizard or a witch in Britain, where else did you meet people? But wizards lived a long time; meeting the person you would marry at eleven meant that, barring some unforeseen accident or dark wizard on a rampage, you'd have about a hundred and forty years together.
Hermione had not actually done that calculation before. It made her want to jump up and run screaming from the bar, but she settled for taking a deep breath and ordering a rum and Coke. The bartender poured it strong, and Hermione took a large gulp before heading back to the table.
"You okay?" Ginny asked, eying her warily.
"Yes, fine," Hermione said in a high pitched voice. She gulped more of her drink and tried again, lower this time. "Fine, really. Anyway, is there anything I can do for you?"
"I think I have that covered," Luna said dreamily, covering Ginny's hand, which lay on the table, with her own. From anyone else it might have sounded sarcastic or cutting, but Luna just seemed to be pointing out the obvious.
"I meant, er –"
"No, really, I'm all right," Ginny said. "Besides, you're Harry's best friend. You should be there for him and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."
"Too late," Hermione muttered.
"What?" Ginny asked with a blink.
Hermione shook her head. "Never mind."
"You should remember what I told you," Luna said. "The best possible solution to a love triangle is a threesome."
All right. Enough was enough and Hermione had had too much to drink to worry about being polite. "I wish you would stop using those words in that order in the same sentence, and I really wish you would stop referring to Ron, Harry, and me as a 'love triangle.' We're not."
Luna appeared unperturbed, but said nothing. Ginny gave Hermione a sympathetic but somehow pitying smile and said, "Hermione, I think Luna might have something there."
"Oh, not you, too."
Ginny shrugged. "I'm just saying what I saw. The two of you always come first for Harry. Always. I was a distant third. And can you tell me honestly that you care for Ron any more than you care for Harry?"
Hermione opened her mouth and then snapped it shut, aware quite suddenly she'd had a lot to drink that evening, starting with the beers at the theater and then continuing for, oh dear Merlin, about eight hours now. "It's different."
"Is it?" Ginny said with a quirk of her eyebrow. "Or are you just telling yourself that it is?"
"Normalcy is for other people, Hermione," Luna added. "The sooner you accept that, the happier you'll be."
Hermione drained the last of her drink. "Thank you," she said, gathering her dignity and her coat before standing, "for a most stimulating conversation. Good night."
The two of them exchanged a glance. "Good night," they said together.
The TV was on in Ron and Hermione's room when she came in. "I'm –" she started to announce, but then stopped. Ron and Harry were sound asleep together on one of the beds, curled towards each other with just enough space in the middle. Enough space for what? a little voice in the back of her head inquired snidely, and was summarily ignored. Harry lay on top of the covers, remote control held loosely in one hand, while Ron lay on the other side, half under the duvet, breathing noisily through his mouth. Hermione let her bag and her jacket drop to the floor; Ron made a charming, sleepy noise and buried his face in his pillow.
She went into the bathroom and did her normal nighttime things, swapping her jeans and t-shirt for pajamas. Back in the bedroom, she switched off the TV and stood, watching her boys sleeping, aware that a decision was being made in the back of her mind. It was probably a very foolish decision, or at least ill advised. Certainly the fact that Luna Lovegood seemed to be its main proponent didn't speak well for it. But there was nothing else to do. She didn't want to wake Harry and make him move. She didn't want to do anything other than what she was about to do, which was tug the covers out from beneath Harry, who grumbled at her but moved over without protest and let her slide in beside him. He was at least half-asleep, thank goodness; otherwise he'd have freaked out for sure.
Hermione turned the light off and held herself very still in the dark. She was more than half-drunk, she knew, and she hadn't the foggiest idea what any of them would have to say about this come morning. But they had to do something and she couldn't wait around for either of the boys to make this decision.
Harry snuggled closer to her in the dark and Hermione lay on a hand on his dark head. It probably was ill advised and foolish, but it felt better than any of the sensible decisions she'd made so far.
Chapter 5: Prague
So what do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Well, take a trip to Europe, of course!
Luna liked legends and myths. She liked them so much, in fact, that she often made up her own. She had the capacity to believe in almost anything – a rare talent, she had learned, and one that was not without its downside, but at least it made her interesting. Without it, Luna believed she'd have been just frightfully dull, and Ginny would never have even looked twice at her. Ginny liked interesting people. Neville probably preferred his people rather duller than Luna, but she thought she'd break him of that habit eventually.
Luna dropped legend after legend into Ginny's ear as they wandered the narrow, cramped streets of Prague off of Old Town Square. Most of them were ones she'd read about in the research she'd done before she left England – she was Ravenclaw for a reason, after all. The Golem of Prague, created to protect the city's Jewish inhabitants, and the prophecies of the clock, which could predict death or life, and the legend of the city's founding on the banks of the river Vltava – these were the stories she told Ginny as they walked. She embellished and imagined and created until Luna believed her own stories completely – yet another rare talent, and one much underappreciated – and she could tell that even Ginny thought there was something to them. And there might have been; stranger things than clocks had been known to speak true prophecies and it would not have taken extraordinary magic to bring the golem to life.
It didn't matter, though, whether they were true or not. These stories were how Luna eased the last of the doubt from Ginny's mind. Neville required a defter touch. A "saner" touch, most people would have said. Luna held hands with him while Ginny walked with Hermione and tried not to frighten him, poor boy. She wasn't entirely sure what scared him so badly about her, but something obviously did. He liked her, Merlin knew. Or at least he liked it when she snogged him, but perhaps he wasn't particular. Neville hadn't had any girlfriends at school, of course, so perhaps Luna was simply a novelty. But Neville didn't seem to be that sort of boy, and Luna had caught him sneaking glances at Ginny a few times now, so there seemed to be some hope there at least.
Luna saw no reason she couldn't have her cake and eat it too. It wasn't that she had no sexual mores, it was just that she thought the most common ones very silly and designed to make people miserable.
Like Harry, Ron, and Hermione for instance.
"Something happened with those three," Ginny remarked as they wandered the dim, cool interior of the cathedral beneath the high, pointed arches and the detailed stained glass windows, which filtered colored light down to dance along the floor and across Ginny's blouse.
"Hmm?" Luna replied distractedly. She was busy both watching Ginny's blouse (very distracting) and making up stories in her head about the church's golden angels and how they had rescued people during the bombing of the city during World War II.
"Harry, Ron, and Hermione," Ginny said impatiently.
"Oh yes," Luna said. She tilted her head to study the expression of one particular angel – the guardians of the city, she decided. Sad and tired and beautiful, they came to life only when the city needed it, but there hadn't been enough of them to save everyone and everything during the war.
"What do you think happened?"
Luna raised her eyebrows at Ginny. Merlin, sticking to common sexual mores made people dense more than anything else. "They slept together, I assume."
Ginny's jaw dropped open and she looked around anxiously, as though someone or something – perhaps the angel herself, Luna thought with amusement – might swoop down on them at any moment and smite them for talking about sex in a church. "What, you mean really?" she hissed.
Luna shrugged and moved on to the next stained glass window – the Mucha window, the plaque read. Luna had to step back to see all of it at once, and even then there was too much to take in. "I think so. But it must have gone badly," she added after a moment. "Or at least very awkwardly, because they're acting so strangely. Sometimes those sorts of things are very awkward."
"Um. Yeah." Ginny fell silent then briefly, and it was a quarter turn around the church before she asked, as Luna knew she must, "So have you actually – I mean, you talk about it a lot, but –"
"Yes," Luna said.
"Oh." Ginny swallowed and Luna smiled to herself. As long as she didn't scare Ginny off altogether, she enjoyed unnerving her. Most people could stand to be unnerved more often. Luna thought of her talent for it as her main contribution to society, aside from her mind, which was nothing to sneeze at, though most people didn't notice. "What was it like?"
"Rather awkward. It's difficult to know what to say to people afterward, or what to do with so many limbs during. But it was fun. I enjoyed myself."
"Oh," Ginny said, and fell silent again as Neville joined them, and neither of them spoke again until they'd emerged from the church and were standing around in a group on the pavement outside, blinking in the sunlight. A short discussion ensued then; everyone agreed that they should split up for the afternoon and meet again at five in the Old Town Square to see the figures on the astronomical clock set in motion, but who would be going with whom in the meantime was starting to get complicated. Luna stood back and observed, rather than participating, since she thought anyone she ended up with would make for fascinating conversation (and possibly a good snog as well, depending). Harry, Ron, and Hermione seemed to be maneuvering to get away from each other, and Neville seemed reluctant to pair with Ginny. Luna thought the remarks she'd made in Venice about Ginny's breasts might have been ill advised.
In the end, Hermione snagged Ginny, Ron and Neville ended up together, and Luna found herself smiling at Harry, quite satisfied, all things considered. A snog was apparently not in the forecast, but that was all right. Harry was sweet and obviously bewildered. In fact, he probably had more reason to be bewildered than anyone else, what with getting snogged in the loo all the time. Luna thought a nice long talk would be just the thing.
They agreed that they needed ice cream before going anywhere, the ice cream in pretty much every part of mainland Europe Luna had visited thus far being far superior to anything sold anywhere in Britain. They found a little place on Wenceslas Square that had just opened; Luna had skipped breakfast that morning, and so ordered a large serving – lemon and coffee and strawberry flavors all tucked in the same bowl, which made Harry eye her sideways. He went for raspberry and chocolate, a combination of which Luna approved, and they went to sit on a bench to eat.
"So," Luna said, catching a bit of melting coffee with her spoon, "did you enjoy your threesome?"
She didn't think it was possible to actually choke on ice cream, but for a moment she was worried. Harry coughed, sputtered, and turned red before finally managing, "My what?"
"Or perhaps that's not what you're looking for? Maybe you like the bloke in the loo better?"
Harry stared at her, eyes wide. "How did you – did Neville say something?"
"No, of course not, don't be silly." Luna pause for a slurp of combined lemon and coffee – an entirely underrated combination. "No one told me, I didn't even know Neville knew. But it's obvious."
"Well, not obvious in any way that anyone else would notice. I mean, why would any of them think that you'd been getting snogged in the loo by – it's a different man each time, right?"
"Well, then I suppose it might not actually be a man after all," Luna said thoughtfully. A bit of coffee and strawberry and then she added, "Polyjuice Potion isn't gender-specific, though I think most people do stick with their own for comfort's sake." And for lack of any sort of imagination. No one would ever accuse Luna of that.
"Wait, what? Polyjuice Potion?"
Luna stared at him. "Well, really, Harry, what did you think was going on?"
"I didn't know! Do you really think someone is polyjuicing themselves to snog me?"
She shrugged. "I think it's very likely. Do you know anyone who might want to snog you but not let on that they do? Excepting anyone in this group, of course."
Harry blinked. "Not . . . really. I can't imagine anyone who'd be that desperate."
Luna shrugged and shook her head, sucking a bit of strawberry and lemon off her spoon. Mundane as it was, she thought that one might be her favorite. Tart and sweet at the same time. Rather like Ginny, now that she thought about it. "Ah well. Anyway, that's less interesting to me than you, Ron, and Hermione."
Harry groaned and bent over to put his face in his hands. "Please, Luna."
"You didn't like it?"
"We didn't do anything," he said helplessly, almost upsetting the remnants of his ice cream. "We just slept in the same bed, but that was uncomfortable enough – I woke up covered in sweat because sleeping between two people is like sleeping in an oven and then none of us could figure out what to say, so we all got dressed in total silence. It was awful. I don't want –" Harry gulped, apparently realizing that his voice was far too loud, and lowered it to try again. "Look, I don't care what you think, I don't want to be in a threesome with Ron and Hermione. If they can't make it work without me, then they can't make it work. I want something normal."
Luna looked at him with pity. "I'm sorry, I think that might be out of your reach at this point."
Harry heaved a sigh. "I was afraid you'd say that."
"Normalcy is highly overrated," she said, tossing her empty gelato cup into the rubbish bin to the side of the park bench.
"Luna," Harry said, "don't take this the wrong way, but I think your perspective might be a bit skewed."
"Probably," she agreed. "What do you want to see next? I was hoping we'd get to the National Museum while we're here – I've heard there's a secret back room where they keep an entire skeleton of a double-horned Southern Snorkack. They used to be native to this region, you know, but they were hunted to extinction by the Prussians."
Harry scooped his last, extremely melty bit of raspberry and chocolate goo into his mouth and said, "Sure. Whatever you want."
Their attempt to find the secret back room was futile and nearly got them tossed out on their ears when a security guard caught them snooping, but fun all the same. For Luna at least; Harry met her suggestion that they go back to the hotel to retrieve his invisibility cloak (which she knew he had tucked away in his rucksack somewhere) with a panicked look and a hasty shake of his head. Luna shrugged and decided they didn't really have time anyway before meeting the others, sad though she was to have missed the opportunity to see a skeleton of a double-horned Snorkack. She'd seen the skeleton of a single-horned one, the variety that lived in Sweden, but never a double-horned one.
Ah well. She'd be back. That was what Luna had told herself in every city thus far.
It was on the walk back to the hotel from the square that Luna decided it was time to take her own advice. She'd been waiting for Ginny and Neville to get comfortable with each other and with the general idea of the thing, but it appeared that wasn't going to happen. Ginny seemed intrigued, at least, so that was something, and Neville . . .
Well, with Neville, Luna had decided, the best thing to do was just to keep kissing him until he was too turned on to be scared. It had worked for her so far and she thought she could get Ginny on board with this plan as well.
Dinner was a quiet affair. Everyone looked pensive and sunburnt. Luna kept an eye on the level of wine in the bottle and was glad to see that no one appeared to be getting too terribly squiffy. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were being very polite to each other; Luna had to hope this wouldn't last, as it was terribly boring, but she also had to admit that she preferred it over Ron and Hermione's constant bickering. Ron, in fact, seemed to be the most subdued of the three, probably because he was the most judgmental and therefore the most unnerved by all of this. That was what came from having preconceived notions, Luna thought, and was glad all over again that she somehow managed to have none. If only the rest of the human race were that sensible, everyone would be so much better off.
"Well," Luna said brightly when the last of the wine had been drunk, their bill had been paid, and she couldn't manage to scrape any more of the chocolate cake off her plate, "how about we do date night again this evening?"
The others stared at her. "But we already ate," Ron said at last, sounding rather strangled.
"Not that kind of date," Luna replied, grabbed Neville and Ginny's hands before anyone could react, and hauled them out of the restaurant. After a few stunned seconds, Ginny's fingers curled around hers. Neville's, however, were stiff, his palm cold and rather clammy. Luna sneaked a glance over and realized he looked as though he were about to faint. She exchanged a quick look with Ginny, who let go of her hand and circled round the back, so that Neville was sandwiched between them. Ginny looped her arm through his and Luna did the same.
"Neville, none of our bits bite," Luna told him. "Well, except the obvious one, but don't worry, we'll be careful."
"Plus, consider this a once in a lifetime opportunity," Ginny added.
Luna frowned at her. "Only once? Really?"
"Well, I suppose we'll have to see how it goes," Ginny said. "But if it turns into more than once in a lifetime, nothing you say or do will make me explain it to my mother."
Luna thought that was fair, though her father would probably have no problem with it. Parents were often particularly strange about sex, and since humans in general were downright bizarre about it (in Luna's opinion), that was definitely saying something. But her father wasn't like most parents, Luna had realized a long time ago. They were more friends than father and daughter, because her father had needed more taking-care of after her mother died than she had and she'd been the only one there to do it.
"Er," Neville said as they propelled him along. "I just – I mean – can we talk about this?"
"We have talked about it," Luna said.
"In Venice, of course."
"Uh. No, I don't think we did."
"To be fair, Luna," Ginny said, looking at her around Neville's head, "your idea of talking about something and other people's ideas of talking about something are occasionally – or always – divergent."
Luna nodded. "True. Well, Neville, do you want to? I mean, we certainly won't make you. If you don't want to, you can go back to Ron and Harry and Hermione. They'd probably be glad to see you, and Ginny and I can certainly make do on our own."
"Well, when the alternative is so very appealing," Neville muttered. He tossed a worried glance over his shoulder, back in the general direction of the restaurant and the other half of their group. "But what if it makes things weird?"
Luna shrugged. "It will probably make things a little weird, but it's only weird if we're weird."
"Luna, you are weird," Ginny pointed out.
"Well, yes," she agreed. "But that's not the point. What do you say, Neville?"
And the truth was, she really thought he was going to say no and then she'd be terribly disappointed. It was possible that she and Ginny had better chemistry, but Luna just liked Neville. He was so sweet and earnest and thoughtful; she thought he'd probably be pants at sex, at least at first, but he'd catch on pretty fast because he'd try. Neville always tried, even if he didn't think he'd be any good at whatever it was. Luna found it endearing.
They were on the front steps of their hotel now and Neville still hadn't said anything. "Neville?" Luna prompted.
"Yes," he muttered.
"Yes?" Ginny repeated, raising her eyebrows.
"Yes. Yes!" Neville said, with more conviction. "I mean, I'd have to be stupid not to, right? Even if it's only the once."
"That's what I've been saying," Luna said, rather impatiently. She grabbed both of their hands and hauled them inside, up the stairs, and into her and Ginny's room.
Eventually, Luna decided, surveying both her lovers with no small satisfaction, she'd teach them that being weird wasn't something to avoid. It was simply the cosmically insignificant price one paid for leading an interesting life.
Chapter 6: Cracow
So what do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Take a trip to Europe, of course!
Ron was ready to go home.
He'd been ready about three cities ago, actually. The truth was – and he supposed this was something you had to find out the hard way – he didn't really like traveling. It was a bloody lot of work, even with Apparition, and he had no idea why Muggles ever went anywhere, considering how much effort it took them. But sleeping in a different place every few nights and never knowing what he was eating, not to mention not being able to speak the language (any of them) and living in such close quarters with his best friends – none of it was for him. He'd had romantic notions when they'd first got to Paris, but he'd lost them all right quick, even while noting with worry that Hermione seemed to like traveling a lot.
Cracow was their last city, though, thank Merlin. It was an odd choice, Ron supposed – they could have gone anywhere and Poland wouldn't have been his first pick – but Hermione had got a notion (meaning she'd read a book) and so here they were. They couldn't leave soon enough, as far as Ron was concerned. Once he was home everything could just go back to normal and he wouldn't have to watch his little sister trot about in disturbing bliss with Neville and Luna of all people, while his own girlfriend ignored him in favor of the guidebook he'd been forced to buy her in Venice to replace the one he'd chucked into the river in Paris.
"That church is lopsided," Ron observed, craning his head back to look up at St. Mary's Basilica and shading his eyes against the glare.
"I think it's more asymmetrical than lopsided," Harry replied, doing the same.
Ron shook his head. "One tower is definitely taller than the other. Lopsided. But why? Did they get bored or change architects or something?" he asked Hermione.
She had her nose buried in her guidebook again and merely sighed. "That's the style, Ronald."
"Weird," Ron said, and checked his watch. Forty-six hours, thirty-three minutes until he'd be home. He willed time to go more quickly, though he was almost positive he was the only one thinking that way. Ginny, Luna, and Neville were having a lot of loud, obnoxious fun taking pictures with a cheap Muggle camera Neville had bought. Neville and Ginny were being loud at least; Luna wore her usual weirdly calm smile and wasn't saying much of anything, but Ron thought she still somehow managed to look happier than he'd ever seen her. She certainly looked a lot happier than Hermione, who mostly just looked irritated, even though she was the reason they were in Cracow to begin with.
"Where to next?" Harry asked her, perhaps sensing Ron's own irritation.
Hermione snapped the book shut, thank Merlin. "Wawel Castle," she said. "This way."
"Is it lopsided too?" Ron asked, lengthening his stride to keep up. Hermione was fast when she had a goal in mind, which was almost always.
"No," Hermione replied, "but its cathedral is. Hurry up, they close at four."
Ron heaved a sigh and trailed after her. She didn't wait for either him or Harry, and she didn't look back either. "Not good," he muttered to himself.
"No," Harry agreed, making Ron jump. "Really not good."
Ron shook his head. "Is this my fault, mate? I mean, really?"
Harry frowned. "No, I don't think so. I mean, Hermione – I think Hermione made a decision and it backfired." Ron nodded, mostly grateful that Harry didn't feel the need to elaborate on what that decision had been. It'd been mortifying enough in the moment without talking about it afterward. "And you know her, she doesn't like to be wrong. So I think she's embarrassed, maybe? I don't know."
Ron shrugged. "I just want her to not be mad at me anymore. I feel like she's been mad at me since we left London. Longer."
Harry nodded. "I know." He glanced over his shoulder. "It'd be nice, wouldn't it? If we could somehow make it work like them."
Ron glanced over his shoulder as well. Neville, Luna, and Ginny had stopped, and were taking more pictures in front of a tiny, ancient church. "I guess," he said dubiously. "But isn't it sort of weird?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe normalcy is out of our reach."
"Well, I'd rather not write it off just yet!"
Harry cracked a smile. "I know what you mean. But . . . I dunno."
Ron watched the back of Hermione's neck, just visible beneath the neat knot of her hair. He liked that little patch of skin a lot. "Me neither."
They took a turn through the castle and its cathedral, Hermione reading bits and pieces out of her guidebook and Ron letting her without even saying a word. He liked the gardens best, he decided, especially after the gloom of the crypt. There was a riot of bright flowers he couldn't name in full bloom, and he managed to talk everyone into sitting for a moment before Hermione harried them off to their next destination (the National Gallery, apparently, at which announcement Ron had to physically swallow a groan). He and Harry and Hermione spent an idle few minutes playing "spot the Americans" and it was, Ron thought with relief, almost normal. Hermione even covered his hand with hers at once point, before she got bored and wandered off to read a plaque or something. Harry went with her and put his arm around her shoulders, just briefly, not long enough for Ron to even start to narrow his eyes about it.
Maybe they'd be all right after all. Maybe Ginny would come to her senses and stop making eyes at Luna and Neville and marry Harry so they could all be one big happy family and they'd have kids at the exact same time and live next door to each other for the rest of their lives.
And maybe Hagrid would give up his Blast-Ended Skrewts and start breeding rabbits (the non-fanged variety) or chinchillas or Krup puppies, or anything else fuzzy and cute and harmless.
Ron sighed. Maybe things would be all right, but they probably weren't going to be all right like they were before.
He glanced up as a shadow fell over him and saw Ginny's face eclipsing the sun. "What?" he asked.
"Well, that's a fine greeting!" she said, plopping down beside him anyway. "And after I bought you ice cream, too."
He raised his eyebrows. "You bought me ice cream?"
"Yes! And then I gave it to Neville," she added, with a touch of chagrin. "But I did buy it for you."
"So you bought it for me, gave it away, and I'm supposed to be grateful?"
"It's the thought that counts."
"Right. You know that's a load of hippogriff dung, don't you?"
Ginny grinned and shrugged, obviously unrepentant. "I'll buy you another one."
"No, you won't."
"No, probably not." She shrugged again, crossed her legs, and picked a blade of grass. "So . . ."
Oh dear Merlin, please not now. "Gin –"
"Ron, I need to know. Are you going to tell Mum and Dad? About – about – me and Luna and Neville?"
He didn't answer at first. He didn't know what he'd expected her to say, but it wasn't that. Not quite, at least. "I hadn't really thought about it, I guess. I mean, why would I?"
"Well, you know. Sometimes you – you're not the most, most tolerant person."
Ron drew back, a bit stung. "Who said that?" He blinked. "Luna said that, didn't she?"
"Yes, I did," Luna said, appearing from out of nowhere and settling herself beside Ginny. She picked her own blade of grass and ran it up and down Ginny's arm. "I'm sorry, Ron. I like you, but it is true."
"S'not," Ron muttered, knowing it was weak even as Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well, all right, but even you have to admit that it's weird."
"Yup," Neville said, dropping to the ground across from the girls, on Ron's other side. "It's weird. And so what? That doesn't mean it isn't good, too."
Ron frowned. "Well . . ."
"Don't worry so much about what other people will think," Ginny said.
"I don't –"
"Oh, yes. You do. You and Hermione both."
Ron looked away toward the far wall of the castle, where she and Harry were standing, heads bent together. "Hey," he said with sudden suspicion, "are we being tag-teamed?"
"Just a little bit," Ginny said, holding her fingers about a centimeter apart. "And I do need to know."
Ron looked around at all of them. Neville and Luna didn't look angry or defensive or anything, but Ron had the idea that if he said he'd tell, they'd all be behind Ginny in a second. And they'd take care of her if she needed it, and back her up even if she didn't. Just like he and Hermione had done for Harry. Just like he and Harry would do for Hermione, and Harry and Hermione would do for him. Even after everything. Or maybe because of everything. "I won't tell," he muttered at last.
To Ron's relief, Ginny didn't look surprised. Relieved, but not surprised, and relieved wasn't nearly as insulting. He was a little upset she felt she had to ask, but then he thought of some of the things he'd done when he was younger and realized her doubt was probably more reasonable than he wanted to think. "Thank you," she said.
"I don't like it."
"You don't have to."
"Good. As long as we're clear on that."
Ginny glanced at her watch. "Lunchtime. We should go get them and find something to eat. I need something in my stomach if we're doing an art museum this afternoon."
"Actually . . ." Ron took a deep breath. "Would you mind if Hermione and I went off on our own for a bit?"
"Ron," Ginny said, narrowing her eyes at him, "are you about to do something stupid?"
"Because you have that thoughtful look about you."
"Because I've been thinking!"
"Which often precedes you doing something stupid."
Ron looked to Neville and Luna for help and received none. The two of them looked amused, dammit. "I'm not going to do anything stupid."
"Like – what?"
"Good." Ginny patted his arm. "That was genuine incredulity. We'll take Harry off your hands." As if on cue, Neville stood up and headed over to Harry and Hermione, drawing Harry away to meet Ginny and Luna at the castle door. Harry glanced at him; Ron waved once and let his arm drop. Harry nodded and followed the other three out.
Hermione looked at her wall for maybe a minute longer. Then she turned and trudged across the lawn to him. "Lunch?" he said.
"Sure." Her expression was, well, expressionless. Ron decided not to read too much into that.
They had to follow the castle's wall all the way around the hill it was perched on in order to get down, and then it was a few more minutes before they found a restaurant they could both agree on, because Ron wanted a place with an English menu – he'd more than had his fill of pointing and hoping for the best – and Hermione wanted some place "authentic." They finally found a quiet café not too far from their hotel that they both liked the look of. They ordered the fizzy Muggle drinks Ron had finally got used to, and then he ordered a hamburger, which made Hermione roll her eyes and smile apologetically at the waiter as she ordered the lunch special.
Yeah, there were definitely things Ron wasn't going to miss.
"So," Hermione said once the waiter had gone. She fiddled with her silverware, switching the knife and fork, and then spreading her napkin carefully in her lap.
"Yeah," Ron said. He swallowed, started to speak, and was glad to be interrupted when the waiter brought their drinks. He gulped his soda, choked on an air bubble, managed not to belch embarrassingly, and looked up to see Hermione watching him – not with the exasperation he expected, but fond amusement.
"Ron," she began.
"I think we should break up," he said, before he could have any more food related disasters or she could make him doubt his decision.
She paused. "Oh."
"What were you about to say?"
"Well." She looked down. "It doesn't really matter now."
"No, Hermione, I don't – look. We're bad together. I mean, we're just –"
"Awful. I know."
"Yeah." Ron took a deep breath. "And this thing with Luna and Ginny and Neville – well, I think it's mental, but it made me think. I mean – do you really want to be with me?"
She looked up then, finally. "Ron, it's not like that –"
"No, Hermione, do you want to be with me?"
She looked away. "Sometimes," she said at last.
"And sometimes I want to be with you, but," Ron shrugged, "I kind of think maybe that isn't enough. I love you, Hermione. You're a great friend and I know everyone thinks we're perfect together –"
She snorted. "Not likely after this trip."
Ron grinned. "True. And that's exactly what I mean."
She sat back and looked away again, out the window. "Well, at least we're in agreement on that."
"If nothing else," he added ruefully.
She sighed and gave him a very dry smile. "Ironically, I don't think I've ever wanted to be with you more. Why did you have to wait till you were breaking up with me to develop this sudden –" she made a vague hand gesture "– wisdom?"
"Merlin help me, I think it was hanging around Luna all summer."
Hermione smiled. "She does lend a certain perspective, doesn't she? I think she'll be good for Ginny and Neville."
Ron groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Don't you start, too. Mental, that's what it is, and I don't want to be within a hundred miles if and when my mother finds out."
"Ron, you won't –"
"No, Merlin, does everyone think that poorly of me?"
Hermione gave him an apologetic smile. "Sorry. Anyway," she said, fiddling with her silverware again. "I suppose we should talk about things. The flat, for one."
Oh, right, the flat. Ron hadn't thought about that. They'd taken a flat together in Canterbury starting in September. He suddenly hoped this apparently wise decision wasn't going to result in him having to move home and live with his parents, because if it was, he'd prefer a nice, neat AK to the forehead and have done, cheers, mate.
It wasn't, apparently. Hermione didn't mind living with her parents for a bit, so he could have it. It even had an extra bedroom, so maybe he could talk Harry into joining him when his lease in Hogsmeade was up. That would be fun, he thought. He'd never really expected to get to live with Harry, just the two of them. He could almost like that idea even now, before he'd got used to it, and he thought he'd really like it once he'd had the chance to think about it a bit.
They walked back to the hotel afterward to meet the others, Hermione checking her map every few streets because they still didn't know the city very well – not that they ever stayed anywhere long enough for Ron to really feel comfortable. "Do you think Harry will be upset?" Hermione asked suddenly, after a long silence.
Ron considered this. "Dunno. I don't think he'll be surprised, at least."
"I'm not sure Harry ever thought we were a good idea."
Ron was silent for a moment. "Maybe not." Probably not, now that Ron thought about it. Harry had never said anything to him one way or the other, which seemed to support that theory. The three of them were like a tripod, Ron thought. They worked really well when they were all equal to each other, but if two of the legs started to, er, move closer together or – or got longer – whatever, the point was, the tripod fell over. He supposed Luna's way would fix it, but it risked unbalancing – dismantling –
Hell. Ron decided it was possible to take even the simplest metaphor too far. They needed to be balanced again and the best way for everyone involved was to go back to how it was when they were younger and less hormonal – friends all around, no complications, no expectations, no snogging. His own relief was the only proof he needed that it was the right decision.
The others were waiting for them back at the hotel, lounging on the balcony. Hermione immediately suggested to Luna and Ginny that they go for ice cream. Ron stole the chair Luna vacated in the sudden rush for shoes and hair things and lipstick, though why girls had to put on lipstick to go eat ice cream, which would certainly just take it off again, Ron couldn't say. Harry reached over and handed him a beer from the six-pack he had under his chair. Ron popped the top off and took a cold, foamy swallow.
"We're going," Ginny said, sticking her head out. She gave Ron a long, considering look, until finally he shrugged at her.
"Have fun," Neville said.
She smiled at him. "Ta."
And then they were gone.
"You all right?" Harry asked.
Ron took a long swallow of his beer. "Feel like going out tonight? Without the girls?"
"Sure," Neville said.
"No," Harry said firmly.
"No?" Ron raised his eyebrows.
"No," Harry said.
"But – don't we have to? I mean, Hermione and I just broke up. Isn't it part of the man-code that we must now go out?"
Harry rubbed his eyes. "All right, fine. But no one let me go to the loo by myself, all right?"
Ron and Neville exchanged a look. "Um," Ron said.
"I mean it! If I get up to go by myself, someone has to stop me!"
"Harry . . ." Neville began, and then caught Ron's eye. Ron gave him a little headshake. "Sure, Harry," he said. "Whatever you want."
"Right," Harry muttered.
Ron shrugged. He didn't really intend to spend the entire evening shepherding Harry to the loo, but if it'd get them out the door, so be it. And probably Harry would forget by ten o'clock anyway.
Ron leaned back in his chair and drank his beer.
Chapter 7: London
So what do you do when you've defeated the Dark Lord and finally finished your NEWTs? Take a trip to Europe, of course!
It was late in the afternoon when the six of them tumbled into the Leaky Cauldron in their dash to get out of the rain that had instantly soaked them when they'd appeared at the Apparition point. Though there were a lot of things Harry had looked forward to about going home, English weather certainly wasn't one of them. He squelched into the pub behind Hermione, whose hair was already frizzing, glad they'd resisted all appeals by friends and family members to tell them the exact day they were getting back. He wanted to go home to his flat without having to first endure a Weasley family event. He loved Weasley family events, but they really took it out of him. And then there was that whole thing where he and Ginny had broken up and no one knew about yet. With everything that had happened, it'd just be weird.
It was going to be weird for a while, Harry guessed, at least until Ron and Hermione got over each other and they all got over, well, everything else. But he was more relieved than worried; they'd been through much worse, after all.
The six of them agreed that one last butterbeer was in order. Neville went and ordered while Harry sat down, still squelching slightly and wondering how it was possible to get that wet that quickly. He was wondering so intently, in fact, that it was a moment before he realized he'd sat down next to Ginny.
"Hi," she finally said, ducking her head to get his attention.
"Oh – hullo. Sorry, I didn't mean – never mind." They hadn't spoken directly to each other in days, not since she'd broken up with him. He hadn't really been angry with her, he just hadn't known what to say. But maybe the more mundane the better. "Glad to be home?"
She took a deep breath. "Yes," she said on the exhale. "I think so. You?"
He nodded. "I think so. It was a weird trip."
"Very weird. But good, I think, for me. For you?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know yet. Hard to say."
Neville appeared then, Luna just behind him, each of them carrying three mugs of butterbeer. Harry accepted his and one for Ginny as well. Ginny took it from him with a smile and it occurred to Harry that it felt almost normal. She was Ron's sister, after all, and she'd been his friend before anything else. They'd get back there eventually, just like Ron and Hermione would.
"I've been meaning to –" Ginny stopped and sipped her butterbeer. "I'm sorry," she said at last.
"You don't have to –"
"No, I am. For the way I did it. It needed to happen –" she paused, apparently waiting for his agreement, and he nodded amiably, because with a little distance he could see she was right – "but the way I did it was not, um, well-planned. Or at all planned."
"I sorta got that idea," Harry said. He shrugged. "That's how it goes. It could have been worse."
Ginny nodded. "True. And you'll find someone."
"Yeah, I'm not really worried. Cheers." They clinked glasses, and Ginny turned back to Luna, who slid an arm around her shoulders. It was one of those Luna gestures that might have looked proprietary or smug if anyone else had done it, as though she were emphasizing that Ginny was hers now, but it was Luna and so it didn't. Harry looked up just in time to catch a goofy smile on Neville's face, the sort of smile he'd worn all through Cracow, and had to quash one himself. It'd come as a shock, he had to admit that, but he could be happy for them. Especially Neville.
Harry drained the last of his butterbeer and stood. "I'm going to the loo – no one leave before I get back, all right?" He didn't know why it felt important to say goodbye to everyone, but it suddenly did. These were their last few minutes together like this after all. Hermione was going home to live with her parents, Ron was off to Canterbury, Luna was headed to St. Mungo's for Healer training, and Neville had an apprenticeship with Sprout. Harry didn't know what he himself was doing, but there was no way he could be near all of them at once, so when it was over, it was over. And once they left, there'd be outsiders to deal with, even well meaning outsiders, and though Harry couldn't say they'd done a stellar job of keeping it together this summer, at least they'd got through it all on their own. He'd miss that, he thought, uncharacteristically misty-eyed as he shoved open the door to the Leaky Cauldron's rather disgusting loo.
Harry had started to get paranoid about going to the loo ever since Venice, when he'd figured out that no, it really wasn't a coincidence that men kept grabbing him and snogging him. He knew he'd seriously unnerved Ron in Cracow when he'd insisted on never going alone in the club he and Ron and Neville had ended up in that night – not that it'd saved him, he'd ended up getting cornered in the toilet at the National Gallery the next day, but at least then it enlivened an otherwise mind-numbing audio tour. But he was back in London now, which was probably what lulled him into a false sense of security as he zipped up his fly and washed his hands. He never even saw it coming – one moment he was drying his hands and the next he had his back up against the wall, someone's hands were in his hair, and he was being snogged to within an inch of his life.
It was just like that first night all over again. Except this time, instead of freezing in stunned, drunken terror, Harry thought, What the hell? Why not? He slid his hands around Mystery Snogger's waist and gave as good as he got. Which was pretty damn good.
And so it was all the more of a shock when Harry finally came up for air, opened his eyes, and realized exactly who he'd been snogging in every dingy pub in half of Europe's major tourist cities.
Draco. Fucking. Malfoy.
"Oh my – gerroff!" Harry gave him a shove. "What the fuck?"
"Language, Potter," Malfoy said, appearing characteristically unconcerned. He leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Language, Potter," Harry repeated. "Is that all you have to say?"
Malfoy considered this. "Yes," he finally said, decisively. "Or, well, I suppose not, but I've said pretty much everything else. Not out loud, but surely even you had to get the message eventually."
Harry gaped. "You're mental. You snog me from here to Cracow under Polyjuice Potion and now you stand there and insult me and you expect me to – to what, exactly? Keep snogging you?"
"That would be ideal."
"Mental," Harry repeated, shaking his head.
Malfoy shrugged. "Well, I hear it runs in my family."
"Undoubtedly," Harry growled, and went to shove past him. To his not-quite shock, however, Malfoy wouldn't move. "Hey," he grunted, shoving against him. "Out of my way."
"Mmm," Malfoy drawled in that way that made Harry's eye twitch – had done ever since they were eleven, in fact. "I don't think so."
"Well, too bad!" Harry shoved harder, but Malfoy had somehow braced himself and he wasn't budging. "Fine!" Harry said, throwing his hands up. "What do you want?"
Malfoy raised his eyebrows at him. "An answer," he replied, enunciating very slowly and with great exaggeration.
"An answer to what? You haven't asked me anything!"
"Potter, I've been asking you something for the last six weeks!" Malfoy said, straightening with indignation. "It's not my fault you were too stupid to realize it."
"I was not –" Harry stopped and took a deep breath. "No, Malfoy. The answer to whatever question you think you asked me is no."
"Ah," Malfoy said. "Well, in that case the question is, 'Do you really think you can withstand the considerable power of my purebred charm?'"
Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Malfoy . . ."
"Seriously, Potter." Malfoy stepped forward and then forward again, forcing Harry back against the wall. Harry could have darted around him and out the door, but he didn't for some reason. Instead he let himself get backed up against the wall, until Malfoy was right up against him, hands splayed to either side of Harry's head, and his knee nudging Harry's apart. Sweet Merlin help him. It was hot. And it only got hotter when Malfoy leaned in and put his mouth right next to Harry's. "I don't like you. I've never liked you. But do you really think all that tension these past, oh, going on eight years only had one source?"
"I hadn't thought about it," Harry admitted, only just managing not to stutter.
"Of course you didn't," Malfoy replied with an infuriating smirk. "That's why you need me around."
Harry pulled his head back to look Malfoy in the eyes. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. He'd never really looked in Draco's eyes before. They were, well, gray. A bit too pale, just like the rest of him. But there was something lurking back there that was, sort of, maybe, just a bit intriguing. Not quite as intriguing as having the man's tongue down his throat had been, but as motivating factors went, it ran a close second.
And if it went sour, Harry wouldn't have lost a friend because they'd never been friends to begin with. There was an appealing notion. Normal it was most decidedly not, but in its own strange way it was at least fail-safe.
"Come by my flat later tonight," Harry said. "Do you know where it is?"
"Potter, I tracked you down in every cockroach infested pub in mainland Europe, of course I know where your flat is. However, I'm not setting one toe inside of it. It's probably crawling with fleas." He sniffed.
Harry simply shook his head. "You will, because I will never, and I mean this, Malfoy, never set foot inside your family's home again. Non-negotiable." And this would be a negotiation, Harry realized. For however long it lasted, it would be one long negotiation in which neither of them ever felt uncomfortable telling the other one to go shove it. Refreshing.
To Malfoy's credit, he looked rather chagrined. "Fine, then. I'll be there at nine. Have a bottle of wine ready. Something older than we are, preferably."
Harry rolled his eyes and finally shoved Malfoy off. "Whatever. Don't get caught on your way out."
He let the door swing shut on Malfoy's indignant yelp. Draco Malfoy. Weird had been the word of the summer and apparently that wasn't going to change now that he was back. Harry found himself strangely glad of it.
"You all right?" Ron asked with a smirk. "Nothing fall off?" This was Ron's favorite new refrain every time Harry came back from the loo.
"Ha bloody ha," Harry replied, rather less darkly than he meant to. "Is everyone leaving?"
"I think so," Ginny said. "Ron and I should go home – we have to face reality sometime. And I really want all the other clothes that are waiting for me in my closet."
"Oh, that's right," Hermione said, brightening suddenly. "I actually own shirts that aren't the same five I've been charming clean for the last six weeks!"
"I should see my gran," Neville said with a shrug.
"Dad wanted me to come by when we got home," Luna added.
"Oh," Harry said, blinking.
"You could come with us –" Ron said.
"Nah, that's okay. I need to – to water my houseplants."
Hermione frowned at him. "Do you have houseplants?"
"Yes," Harry said, a bit testily. He did. They were undoubtedly dead by now because he'd forgotten to charm them to stay watered while he was gone, but he did have them.
Once again they all trooped out to the Apparition point together. Harry waited until everyone else had gone. He paused, took a deep breath, turned on his heel and vanished.
He'd barely had time to check he hadn't splinched before he found himself on his back, on his rather scratchy and dirty, not to mention ugly (not that he'd had much intimate acquaintance with it before now) living room carpet, with Draco Malfoy straddling his hips.
"Ow," Harry said, scowling. "That hurt."
"This place is disgusting, Potter. Good thing I don't plan to live here."
"I've been away for six weeks, what do you expect? If you'd come by at nine like we said, I could've tidied up."
"You'd have tidied up for me?" Malfoy demanded, eyebrows raised.
Harry had to swallow a laugh at hearing the word tidied out of Draco Malfoy's mouth. "No. But I could have. What are you doing here anyway? And why are you sitting on me?"
Malfoy shifted just so and Harry suddenly got the answer to his second question, except he'd forgotten what it was. "Oh," he managed.
Malfoy leaned over, his face very close to Harry's. His breath smelled surprisingly of cinnamon. "I'm a very impatient person, Potter. Get used to it."
Harry glared because he had to, but the truth was, it was nice not to come home to an empty flat. And the way Dra – Malfoy was moving against him, that was nice too. If he expected Harry to be at his beck and call, that would be a problem, but the idea of someone being impatient for him – Harry didn't have the slightest problem there.