“That was delicious, Ron,” Hermione said, wiping her mouth with her napkin and dropping it on her plate.
Ron frowned as he picked up a plate containing the remnants of a roast beef. “After knowing me for eight years, you still sound surprised when I do something impressive.” He shook the scraps of meat into Crookshanks’s bowl and put the plate in the sink. “It’s rather offensive, you know.”
Hermione giggled. “I’m not always surprised,” she said. “Besides, that wasn’t just good by your standards. That was like…your mum good cooking.”
Ron felt his ears turn red and he quickly grabbed two glasses so he could turn back towards the sink. He had to admit, though, the meal was pretty good, and everyone looked stuffed. Harry had even gone as far as to unbutton his jeans.
Ron finished clearing the table and washed the dishes while Hermione, Harry, and Ginny remained at the table in a gluttonous stupor. “You know,” he said, checking his gold watch, the one he still wore from his parents on his seventeenth birthday, “we really should be getting ready. Neville will be there in less than an hour.”
“We really don’t have to go,” Hermione said. “This has already been a lovely night and I hate that everyone has to travel so far.”
“Hermione, we’re not sixteen anymore,” Ron said, wiping down the table one last time. “Distance isn’t a very big deal when you can Apparate.”
“I know, but I still feel bad…” she said, looking unsure.
“It’s your birthday,” Ginny said, pushing out from the table. “Seamus and Dean are meeting us, anyway, and it’s too late to cancel on them.” Ron smiled, noticing how his sister knew just the right buttons to press to send someone into a guilt trip.
“Oh, all right,” Hermione said, standing up as well.
“I think there’s actually going to be a fair amount of people there,” Ron said. A sheepish look crossed Hermione’s face. “I mean, yeah we owled Neville, Dean, and Seamus because it’s your birthday, but I know Seamus told Parvati who obviously told Padma and probably told Lavender and, well, you know how they get.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and headed upstairs, followed by the rest of the group to get ready for just a few quick drinks at The Three Broomsticks.
“This…is…not what I expected,” Hermione said as she, Ron, Harry, and Ginny entered the warmth of The Three Broomsticks.
Ron had imagined them getting a small table or two at the back and having a nice get together with Neville, Seamus, and Dean. But as he looked into the giant room of the bar, there were only a handful of people he didn’t recognize. It was like Hogwarts was holding a reunion and they were the last ones to show.
“Hermione!” Seamus said, emerging from the crowd of people, butterbeer in hand. His cheeks were rosy and his eyes already had a squint to them, making Ron wonder exactly how early he and Dean had gotten there.
“Happy birthday!” he cried out, giving her a big hug that sloshed some of his drink out of the bottle.
“Er, thanks!” she said, looking at Ron with wide eyes. When hearing that it was Hermione’s birthday, more people started to break off from the crowd until Hermione literally got sucked into it.
Ron rolled his eyes at Harry and without a word to each other, both headed for the bar.
Two butterbeers later, Hermione was still holding her coat and bag and looked a little uncomfortable.
“Ron,” she said, placing her empty bottle on the table. “I thought this was going to be a little more…mellow.”
He shrugged and glanced towards the large group. “So did I. But you know Seamus…”
She smiled and it made him feel good that he was able to make her do so. “If you want to leave…” he started to say, but trailed off.
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “We can stay for a little longer. I’m going to go put my stuff down I guess.”
Ron nodded, and while she was looking for someplace discreet, ordered two firewhiskeys from the bar. He glanced towards Harry, who was standing beside Ginny and Luna, who seemed to be executing one of her long, dreamy monologues. Ron raised his glass towards Harry, who raised it back before downing it all in one gulp.
“Here,” Ron said, holding out the glass when he finally found Hermione.
“Ron! That’s firewhiskey!” she exclaimed. She had a knack for stating the obvious when so surprised that words failed her.
“I know, but I think we both need to loosen up,” he said, forcing the glass into her hand. “Besides,” he checked his watch again, “in less than an hour, you’ll officially be older than me again! Finally not a teenager anymore.”
She simply smiled, took the glass, and took a big sip. She tried not to wince as the first sip went down, but even Ron could barely handle the stinging of the firewhiskey. He grabbed her hand and they turned back towards their group of ex-classmates. Before they entered the throng, though, Ron bent down to Hermione and gave her an innocent yet meaningful kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday.”
“…although perhaps wrackspurts do attempt crumple-horned snorkacks, but the snorkacks aren’t bothered…”
Harry took a deep drink of his butterbeer as Luna droned on. He didn’t know how Ginny could sit there and look so interested. With a stroke of complete luck, Harry made eye contact with Justin Finch-Fletchley from across the room, and as he waved, Harry excused himself from Luna and Ginny and made his way towards Justin.
“Heya, Harry,” he said in a friendly tone, grasping Harry’s outstretched hand for a shake.
“How have you been?” Harry asked. His uncomforting vibe of the party was slowly replaced by genuine pleasure of seeing an old friend.
“I’ve been just great,” Justin replied, taking a sip out of his own bottle. “What have you been up to? Still around?”
Harry chuckled. “Yep, still around. Living in London.”
“That’s great,” Justin said, enthused. “What are you doing?”
“I’m actually an Auror,” Harry said bashfully. He took a quick sip of his drink, hoping Justin wouldn’t say anything.
“Wow!” he exclaimed, proving Harry’s suspicions. “That’s so great! Really, Harry, congratulations. That’s a job anyone would kill for!”
Harry could feel his cheeks turning red, so changed the subject. “What are you doing?”
“Oh! I actually work at the Ministry too,” Justin continued. “I work for the Department of Magical Transportation. Broom Regulatory Control.”
“That’s really cool,” said Harry.
“Yeah,” Justin sighed. “I’ve always been shit at Quidditch, this is the closest I’ll ever get! I’m just trying to save up so I can move out of my parents’,”
Harry just laughed. He didn’t want to mention the fact that he had two extra bedrooms at Grimmauld Place. He was already having a hard enough time getting along living with the three people he was closest to, and now that Neville was gone, he didn’t see the need to let anyone else into the mix.
He caught Justin looking over his shoulder, back across the room. “Sorry, Harry, I’ll be right back,” he said. Harry turned to where Justin was looking and saw that the Patil twins had just walked inside. “I’ve been trying to get Parvati to go out with me for weeks. She works at the Ministry too!” was the last thing that Harry heard before Justin disappeared into the crowd to meet Parvati.
When Harry turned back around, he caught the eyes of someone he didn’t expect to see. Something stirred inside of him that he didn’t quite recognize. He knew that no matter how many issues they had, he loved Ginny, but maybe there’s just something about that first real crush that never really leaves.
“Hi, Harry,” came her voice, bringing him out of his trance.
“Cho,” he said softly. She opened her arms and he stepped to her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders in an extremely platonic manner.
Harry noticed that her voice was still sweet sounding. Like if she said something rude, it would sound too wrong. “How are you?”
“I’m just great,” he said, pulling back and dropping his arms. “How – how are you?”
“I’m very well,” she answered.
Harry glanced around, his mind racing for something to say. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” was all he came up with.
“I know,” she said. “I didn’t even know about it, but yesterday Michael – Corner – he owled me. I thought, why not?”
“That’s great,” Harry said, wincing when he noticed that he’d used the word “great” twice in about thirty seconds. “I didn’t realize you two kept in touch. Do you still see anyone else from school?”
“Oh,” Cho said, blushing. “I see him every once in a while at work, but that’s it. We’re not…seeing each other. I still see Marietta though.” Harry nodded, holding his tongue. Cho knew that he wasn’t the biggest fan of Marietta Edgecombe. “Who did you come here with?” she asked.
Harry looked into her curious eyes, and for a moment pictured going with Cho again. His life would be so much simpler. She was so much simpler. He would never have to fight with her, at least not about anything serious. She would rarely disagree with him. She would probably accept Teddy with open arms, because that’s just the type of person that she was.
But then he pictured Ginny. Even with all the arguing and disagreeing, Harry loved that she was passionate and stubborn and would never let anyone walk all over her, and he knew why he was with her. A life with Cho would be eventless. With Ginny, he was always on his toes.
“I came with Ginny,” he said proudly. “And Ron and Hermione, it’s her birthday.”
“Oh,” Cho said, looking slightly crestfallen. “I didn’t realize that you and Ginny were together.”
“Yeah, right after she finished school,” he said, quickly noting how lonely he felt while she was still at Hogwarts. “We all live together in London.”
“Wow, must be pretty serious,” Cho indicated.
“Yeah, we are pretty serious,” he answered. “She’s great.”
“She must be,” Cho said absentmindedly, glancing over Harry’s shoulder. “Well, take care, Harry,” she said. With that, she was gone, disappeared into the still growing mass of people.
Harry turned, once again, to where Cho was looking. Ginny was staring at him, a glare in her eyes that made him shudder. He knew he was in for a lashing, and tried his hardest to delay it.
His plan was thwarted, though, as he was cornered by Ginny when he came out of the bathroom.
“Hi,” she said.
“What’s on your mind?” Harry asked, getting straight to the point.
He could smell the firewhiskey on Ginny’s breath, and knew that it was going to be ugly. “Oh, nothing really,” she said, faking a light and airy tone. “I just spent the last fifteen minutes listening to Luna drone on while you cozied up to Cho Chang.” Harry just met Ginny’s stare, refusing to cave in and give her what she wanted. “So tell me, how is your lovely ex?”
“Ginny, it wasn’t like that,” Harry said, his tone already drained, too tired to fight her.
“Then what was it like?” she demanded.
“She asked how I was, and who I came with. I told her I came with you.”
“I bet she loved that,” Ginny replied, her head whipping around, her eyes scanning the room for Cho.
“Ginny, stop,” Harry sighed. “It was a completely innocent question and when I told her we were serious, she backed off. Just drop it.”
“No, we’re going to talk about this,” Ginny spat.
“No, we’re not,” Harry said, his voice firm.
As he started to walk away from her, she called after him, “I’ve got my eye on the both of you!”
He rolled his eyes and spotted Ron and Hermione at a table. He went over and sat down by them, and it was obvious that Hermione was in no state to notice him. She was sitting on Ron’s lap, swaying back and forth, and she would have fallen off at any moment if Ron’s arms weren’t tightly around her.
“But Ron, would you leave me for her if she wanted you to?” Hermione asked, slurring the majority of her words. She was glaring across the room, and for the third time that night, Harry followed someone else’s eyes, and found Lavender Brown on the receiving end of Hermione’s stare. It appeared that Ron had just had a similar ex-girlfriend experience.
Ron let out a huge laugh, holding tighter to Hermione. “No! Absolutely not! There’s a reason I’m with you.”
Hermione’s unfocused eyes looked toward Ron’s face, and for a few moments, Harry thought she would explode just like Ginny did. Instead, she let out a lazy laugh, and threw her arms around Ron’s neck. “I know,” she said, nuzzling into him. “What are some of the reasons!?”
Harry had to question just how much Hermione had actually drank, because that question was very uncharacteristic of her. But Ron, instead of pointing this out, turned bright red and answered. “Well…you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met. And you’ve recently started laughing at my jokes. You’ve always done all my schoolwork. And I think you’re the prettiest -” he said, but stopped himself short. His ears turned as red as his face, and he closed his mouth into a straight line.
“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed, bouncing up and down. “You just said I was the prettiest…something! You think I’m the prettiest.” The smile on her face showed that her intoxication level was the real reason she was so flattered, but Harry still had to smile.
He turned around so his back was facing Ron and Hermione just as they started to kiss. They were both his best friends, but that didn’t mean he wanted to see them sucking face, especially in public. He did envy them at the moment, though. Public display of affection put aside, Ron and Hermione had moved so quickly through her absolutely ridiculous spat of jealousy that Harry barely remembered that Hermione was upset. Now they were sitting there kissing, and he was sitting alone while Ginny was across the room chatting with Seamus and Dean. Harry sat in a daze for a few minutes, before he was finally tapped on the shoulder.
It was Ron, who had stood up. He had Hermione slung over his shoulder like she was just a rag doll. “I’ve got to get her home,” was all Ron said.
“Yeah, I’ll get Ginny. I’m ready to get out of here, too,” Harry replied. He started to cross the room to get to Ginny, when he was tapped on the shoulder again.
“Harry?” It was Cho.
“Hey,” he said.
“Listen,” Cho said, taking a deep breath. “I’m leaving right now, and I know you said you’re serious with Ginny, but it was great running into you tonight. We don’t have to make definite plans, but here’s my address.” She reached out a shaky hand clutching a small slip of paper, which she pushed into Harry’s palm. “You should owl me sometime. We can catch up.” With one last smile, she turned and disappeared, alone, out the door.
The paper with Cho’s address on it felt like it weighed two million pounds as he turned it over in his hand. He thought of the problems it would cause, and crumpled it up, planning to throw it away.
He continued towards Ginny and as she threw her head back in laughter, he paused. Surprising even himself, he tucked the crumpled up paper into his pocket and continued on to his girlfriend.