Ron sighed as he shut So You Want to Be an Auror? The book was no help at all and probably not even written by a real Auror, but he was getting desperate. Between squinting at the small print in minimal candlelight and having been awake so long, his head was killing him. His rumbling stomach also made him aware of how hungry he was. Calling it quits, he put the book back on its shelf and blew out the candle.
After his eyes adjusted to the light, he slowly made his way down the five flights of stairs to the kitchen, being careful not to make too much noise. It was after two in the morning and he was the only one awake. Hermione had retired long ago, after attempting to help him with his potions. Hermione, unlike him, had work in the morning. Because she was smart and ambitious and would never accept failure. It pained him to think about it. Sure, he had work tomorrow night. But it was only to restock George’s shop due to the busy Halloween weekend. Not only had things begun to sell out over the weekend, but that morning a lot of things went on sale. Even though it was a Monday, people still poured in to get cheaper jokes and tricks.
When he finally reached the kitchen, his bare feet padded around until he finished making himself toast with jam. He ate in silence as he focused on one of the pots hanging from a hook in the giant wooden cupboard. He couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a loser everyone must have thought he was. He was lucky he had Harry as a friend, because he couldn’t imagine still living at the Burrow with his parents. As for Hermione, he didn’t understand why she was still with him, especially because she could probably get any wizard or Muggle man that she chose.
As he washed off his dishes in the sink, he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not in the mood he was in. He also knew that there was no way he was going back up to the library again. It was bad enough he knew there was so much he couldn’t remember, he didn’t need it rubbed in his face.
As he was heading back towards the stairs, he caught a glimpse of the neat row of dusty bottles sitting on one of the bottom shelves of the cupboard. There was firewhiskey, mulled mead, and a clear alcohol that Ginny had bought at a Muggle liquor store. The drinks were just left over from celebrations of the past, like when Harry and Hermione started working for the Ministry. They were meant for happy times, but Ron grabbed the bottle of firewhiskey anyway.
He sat down at the table with the bottle and the glass and didn’t move for what felt like hours. When his eyes didn’t droop and his mind didn’t slow, he opened the bottle and poured some into the glass. He took a deep breath and threw it back, swallowing it all in one gulp. His throat and stomach immediately stung, but it felt warm and compared to how cold he was feeling, he liked it. He poured more into the glass until it was half full. He corked the bottle and sat at the table until his glass was empty.
He stood up, put the bottle back, and washed the glass on shaky feet. He’d been drunk before, but he’d never drank alone. He’d only had a glass though, so he didn’t consider it really drinking alone, like alcoholics do.
It did the trick, though, he thought as he climbed the stairs. He was able to make it up the stairs, do his business in the bathroom, and get into bed without waking Hermione. But his mind was no longer worrying about his failures. It was focusing on the tingly warmth that had spread through his body, all the way to his fingertips and toes. He didn’t have it so bad, was the last thought he had as he wrapped his arms around Hermione, buried his face into his pillow, and fell into a deep sleep.
“This is such a strange time for a meeting,” Ginny said, glancing up from the Witch Weekly she was reading. She was stretched out on the bed, one leg crossed over the other, looking comfy in pajamas.
“I know,” Harry said, shoving his arms through the sleeves of his jacket and straightening it. He looked at his watch. It was five minutes to nine. “Gawain has had a busy week, this is the only time we can meet.”
“He hasn’t been in at all?” Ginny asked.
“Not this week, no,” Harry said, sounding rather detached. He looked at Ginny’s puzzled face and almost felt bad about leaving.
“I’m gonna be late,” he said, patting his pocket to make sure he had his wallet.
“Alright, I’ll see you when you get home, then,” Ginny said, letting the magazine drop into her lap.
“I’m sure he won’t keep me too late,” Harry replied. After an awkward pause, he went over to the bed and gave her a quick kiss. With that, he went into the hallway and Apparated.
When he took form, he was standing in the all too familiar village of Hogsmeade. His breath came out in quick, nervous puffs, visible in the cold November air. He nervously glanced around to make sure no one was watching, unsure why. He technically wasn’t doing anything wrong. Shaking his head, he made his way towards The Hogs Head, which made him feel even sketchier. His first thought for the meeting was The Three Broomsticks, but there was too big of a chance that he would know someone there, even though it was a Tuesday night.
He saw a lone figure standing outside of the ominous looking bar, their back turned towards him. He saw a sudden image of himself at the Ministry, coming off the lift and heading towards the Auror department. He could picture Gawain standing in the same exact position and turning around with a friendly smile as Harry approached. In this vision, he wasn’t lying to Ginny.
But back in reality, he was. He could see the long black hair of the figure swaying in the chilly wind, and he thought back to Ginny. She would be furious if she found out he wasn’t telling her the truth about his meeting tonight. But then he thought back to the ridiculous fight they’d had the week before about his hair. It started out as an innocent comment about her thinking he should get it cut, and before he knew it, it had turned into a screaming match. That’s why he didn’t feel bad.
She must have heard his approaching footsteps crunching in the snow, because Cho turned around before Harry had reached her.
“Hi, Harry,” she said, grinning wide. Harry noticed how red her cheeks and nose were, and wondered how long she’d been waiting outside for him.
“Hey, Cho,” he said, returning the smile. As he gave her an awkward, one-armed hug, she stepped into him and gently kissed his cheek, which shocked him. He knew it was a common gesture, he kissed female friends on the cheek when greeting or saying goodbye to them. But for some reason, this felt different. Maybe it was Cho’s lingering gaze on his face, or the fact that Ginny was lying at home completely oblivious to the fact. It just felt…strange.
“Let’s go inside,” he said, holding open the door for her. As she started to walk through, he placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her. She didn’t say anything about it.
He’d tried that once with Ginny. He’d seen it before in Muggle movies and thought it was a very gentlemanly thing to do, but Ginny just screamed at him for “babying” her. She lectured about how she was perfectly capable of walking on her own and didn’t need any direction. It had shocked Harry at the time, and as Cho turned around and smiled at him, it was nice to have a girl show him appreciation for once.
“Where should we sit?” she asked once they were inside.
Harry almost had to laugh as his eyes scanned the room. There was one table in a dark corner being used by a few shady looking characters and only one barstool was taken by a shabby man who didn’t even appear to be awake. “Let’s sit here,” he said, motioning towards a table in the opposite corner from the other group, a corner that was better lit. It also was one of the only tables that didn’t have the appearance of being wet.
Harry asked Cho what she wanted to drink as he cautiously hung his jacket on the back of his chair. She answered, and by the time he was back from the bar with two butterbeers, she was already seating and looking marginally more comfortable than she had when they first walked in.
“I was surprised that you owled me,” she said, and Harry almost choked on his butterbeer. He knew it would have come up eventually, but she had really just dived right into it.
He let out an awkward chuckle. “Well I just thought it was nice seeing you a few weeks ago and we didn’t really get the chance to catch up.”
“I know,” she said, taking a swig of her drink. “It was really crowded that night. I was surprised.”
“Yeah, me too,” he replied. “We were initially only going to have a few drinks for Hermione’s birthday. But of course we told Seamus and he told just about everyone he knew.”
Cho laughed. “Yeah, it must have been a long chain. Michael invited me because he and Dean work together. That’s how he found out.” Harry just nodded and took another sip, having no clue what to say. “But like I said,” Cho added quickly. “Michael and I are just friends. We work together.”
“That’s cool,” Harry said. They were silent for a few moments and Harry could feel his cheeks burning. He started to wonder exactly why he did owl Cho.
“So you said you were an Auror now,” she finally said. “That’s really cool.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he replied.
“What do you mean? That’s like, what everyone wants to be when they grow up!”
“You’re right,” Harry said. “I should feel thankful because it is a great job. It’s just a little…slow at the moment. Which is a good thing, but it still gets boring.”
“Oh, come on,” Cho said, leaning into the table. “You’ve got to be doing some sort of dangerous things.” Her eyes flashed.
Harry smiled and his mind scanned, trying to think of the most dangerous thing he’d done since he became an Auror. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many things. “Well,” he said. “When I first started, we actually found Mulciber, one of the Death Eaters,” he explained. “I was the first to the scene, and he tried to put me under the Imperius Curse, but I was able to fight it off.” He finished, and immediately wished he hadn’t told the story. He thought he sounded rather like Ron. When she was silent, he quickly added, “He was the one who Imperiused Pius Thicknesse when the Death Eaters took over the Ministry.”
Cho’s eyes lit up when he told her. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “Harry, that’s really great!” He smiled as he felt his cheeks flush for what seemed like the fiftieth time that night. “You always were the best in your year, even the school,” she said, her eyes boring into his.
He felt a tiny stab of anger and was about to tell her that Hermione was always the best, but he took the false compliment in stride.
As if she knew what he was thinking, she said, “I’m serious. I know other people were very book smart, but you really knew how to do things. Remember Dumbledore’s Army?”
“How could I forget?” Harry joked.
“You were so great,” she said.
“Er…thanks,” Harry said. He took a big gulp of his drink. She seemed to sense his discomfort, and changed the subject.
They small talked for another half an hour, with Cho asking most of the questions. She asked about his work, Ron, Teddy (once Harry told her about him), and even Hermione, but Harry noticed that she never asked about Ginny. She didn’t even mention her name.
Once they had been sitting for a few minutes with empty butterbeer bottles in front of them, Harry checked his watch.
“I’d better get going. I took off Friday so I’m going into work early tomorrow,” he said.
“Oh, right,” Cho said as if she’d just realized where they were. “It is pretty late,” she noted.
They stood up at the same time and put on their jackets in silence. Harry held the door open for her and when they stepped back out into the cold, they faced each other.
“Well I’m really happy we did this,” she said, shivering as she tucked her hands into her jacket pockets.
“Me too,” he said. “It was good to catch up.” He tried to sound casual.
“It really was,” she said. They stood for a few moments, just staring at each other with awkward smiles on. “Let me know if you want to get together again soon. Maybe next week?”
Harry paused for a moment before answering. “Sure, I’ll let you know. I’ll owl you or something.”
“Alright, great,” she said. “Well, until next time, then,” she said. She stepped up to him and gave him a hug. As he wrapped his arms around her as well, she pulled her face back and leaned in towards his.
a/n: Sorry for the long break, I've been a very busy bee! Hope you guys enjoyed the chapter, I'd love to hear what you think!
And also, I realize this is a fairly depressing chapter and it seems things are going down a darker road. I'll be blunt - they are.