It was a spring morning in Paris when Ginny awoke early for the first time in nearly a month. After allowing her eyes to flutter open and look at the shimmering numbers floating over her bedside table, she groaned and flopped her head back onto her pillow. She was now faced with the knowledge that her Awakening Charm would begin making a horrid sort of noise in about twenty minutes. She was also faced with a choice: she could either close her eyes and grab the extra twenty minutes sleep - knowing full well she would be more drowsy in the end - or she could get out of bed now to get an early start.
It was a difficult decision.
The bright sunlight that was pouring through the open window next to her bed was very appealing and Ginny knew that once she set foot outside, she would want to take her time walking to school in her favorite weather, the sort that forced her to wear her light wool cloak and stop for a cup of warm chocolate before class. However, there was the comfort of her bed… and it was comfortable. Ginny hugged her pillow tightly, burrowing her face against the cool cotton. It was truly a difficult decision, she thought, as a fresh breeze came through the window, washing over her face. Ginny closed her eyes and nestled further… and decided an extra twenty minutes sleep couldn't do any harm at all.
"OI! Wake up, will you! You've got school in an hour!" There was a loud THUD which could only be a fist pounding on her bedroom door and then—nothing.
Ginny's eyes flew open and she saw red. "Thanks!" she yelled throatily to her thick flat mate. Still exhausted and now moaning in torture, she tried to close her eyes and relax again, but her heart was pounding from the sudden disruption and she knew there was no hope. She flung her covers away, pulled herself into a sitting position and sat miserably in bed for a good five minutes, contemplating, as she always did, if the repercussions on her life would be particularly horrible if she were to perhaps… not go to her morning lesson today. But as always, she shook the thought from her mind and stumbled out of bed.
Trying desperately to untangle her ankles from the sheet, Ginny fumbled around her room, looking for her dressing gown, finding it, and shrugging it on as she stepped over heaps of clothes and reached for the door. Walking groggily into the parlor and passing what was definitely not her mess on the sideboard, Ginny pushed through the door to the tiny kitchen of her flat.
Seated at the table was a rugged looking wizard Ginny's own age with messy gold-brown hair, light blue eyes and a wide, dimpled grin aimed right at her. The wizard was Brian McGuire, her very platonic flat mate—british, a helpless flirt, and rather brilliant in the art of linguistics, Brian was not the sort of flat mate Ginny would have guessed she'd end up with up with in Paris… much less the sort of person she'd ever become friends with. But she had.
However, good friend that Brian was, Ginny would never understand his cheerfulness in the morning so, ignoring the grin and him, she went immediately to the coffee.
"Sleep well last night?" Brian quipped.
"Last night," Ginny said in a clipped tone, her voice cracking from sleep. "This morning on the other hand…"
Brian lifted a brow innocently and sipped his coffee. "Right, remind me to save your lazy arse from being late again. Correct me if I'm wrong—"
"Shhh," she muttered, wincing and drawing her knees up as she slid into a chair. He was so bloody loud in the morning. Ginny wasn't even awake enough to think, let alone listen to his voice, and as much as she wanted to retort that he only chose to remember to rouse her at the most inconvenient times, she didn't trust her throat to speak yet. She brought the steaming mug to her lips and as the warm liquid absorbed her, she wondered if in fact coffee had any magical ingredients hidden inside its grounds.
Ginny was thankful that Brian didn't speak for another ten minutes as he sat reading the Daily Prophet. She could see the wizarding Paris newspaper on the worktop, looking disheveled and underneath that, the one from Rome. She would also never understand why he bothered to read newspapers from all over Europe, yet he subscribed to them all. He even read the Muggle ones.
"Did you study for Mermish Composition?" he asked her after a short while, sipping from his own mug.
Ginny rubbed her eyes and found her voice. "Yes. I'm still going to fail, though. You?"
"I'll study this afternoon."
Ginny sighed a bit grumpily. "Why couldn't I have been in the night class? I'm the one who needs the extra day to study."
Brian, knowing her all too well, lifted a brow, his eyes moving steadily over the article he was reading. "You want me to answer that?"
"No," she pouted. "Because if you say it—"
"That I leave everything to the last minute, including signing up for lessons, and that's why I never get good lesson times—"
"Then you'll throw the hot coffee at me," he supplied.
Her lips quirked. "Oh, yes. It will not be pretty, let me tell you."
He finally lifted his eyes from the newspaper and skimmed them over her face. "Can't be any worse than you look right now, love."
Ginny tried to look put-out but his completely straight face was about to make her giggle. "Fine. I'm going to get dressed and spare you from looking at me anymore than you have to."
"Thanks," he said gratefully and Ginny shook her head on a laugh as she left the room, her coffee in tow.
After dressing in jeans and a sweater, Ginny rummaged around her bedroom, shoving everything from quills, parchment, ink, and books into her bag and immerging from her room to find Brian now sitting on the sofa reading the comics and laughing to himself. Ginny shook her head and blew out an irritated breath. He'd probably sit there and read his stupid newspapers all day, forget to study and end up with an even better mark on the exam than her.
"Good luck on the exam, love."
"Thanks. Hey, Bri, this place is a mess. D'you think, maybe—"
He let out a bark of laughter at whatever he was reading and on a roll of her eyes, Ginny left the flat.
The distance to l'Acadèmie d'Aubervive was short and so familiar now that Ginny could probably walk there with a blindfold over her eyes. The university was situated at the very edge of wizarding Paris, Lacasse, atop huge lawns. Ginny hurried her steps along the wide cobblestone pathway as she approached, grinning at the wizard who had stopped to hold the gate open for her. A quick glance at her watch told her she was early, so she made her way through the crowds of students, under several stone archways and through the magnificent courtyard, finaly settling herself on a bench in front of la fontaine. Charmed to throw off heat in the winter, light up at night, and play soft accordion music twenty-four hours a day, the grand fountain in the middle of the courtyard was the center of life at L'Acadèmie d'Aubervive.
Ginny had only two lessons today, the first being Educating Trolls: Advanced. She enjoyed the subject as much as the next student, but it was difficult to learn because of the professor. A former Auror, Professor Andel was an abnormally large wizard (there was rumor going round the university that he was indeed half troll) with an abnormally loud voice. Ginny was rather used to him by now, since she'd had him as a professor before, but this time, Professor Andel insisted that his entire lesson be conducted in Troll, even though the subject was more about Troll history than the actual language.
"TODAY," boomed Professor Andel in Troll and the class jumped in unison. "WE ARE GOING TO BE CHOOSING NAMES FOR YOUR FINAL PROJECTS. THERE ARE TWENTY NAMES OF PROFESSIONALS WHO HAVE AGREED TO GIVE OUT INTERVIEWS TO THIS LESSON. THEY HAVE ALL WORKED WITH TRAINING SECURITY TROLLS IN SOME WAY, BE IT BY ACTUALLY TRAINING THEM OR RESEARCHING THE SUBJECT MATTER. ACCIO!"
The professor summoned a beret from his desk and handed it to the front row of students. "PASS IT AROUND AND TAKE ONE NAME. WHO DID YOU CHOSE, MR. GRANT? AHH, STUART FRAGON, HE USED TO BE AN AUROR FOR THE MINISTRY, HE'LL BE A FASCINATING INTERVIEW. MISS MOLINGUE, YOU CHOSE MONSIER JEAN-CLAUDE PERDIQUE—HE KNOWS HOW TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE, SO YOU'RE INTERVIEW WILL BE ENTIRELY IN TROLL."
"GO ON, MISS WEASLEY, THAT'S IT, AHHHH, POSSIBLY THE MOST FAMOUS ON THE LIST, MADAME MILLICENT MARDEAX. ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT PEOPLE IN ALL OF FRANCE, NEARLY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY AND STILL AN AUROR. QUITE VICIOUS SHE IS, YES. NEXT, GO ON, PARKER, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, PICK FROM THE HAT, NOW."
Ginny blinked, the professor's voice penetrating her eardrums, and tried to study the piece of paper which read: Madame Millicent Mardeax—an Auror for France's Ministry for 157 years; she has worked with every type of magical beast, most famous for killing seven manticore in the space of four days, saving several small towns in Normandy from certain death and destruction during the first reign of the evil dark wizard, Lord Voldemort. She devoted nearly twenty years of her life to studying the moods, movements, thoughts and actions of many different types of Trolls.
As usual, by the time Ginny walked out of Educating Trolls, her head was absolutely pounding. She would have left the grounds to pick up a dose of Headache Healing Solution at the Magical Remedies shop, but she didn't want to be late for Mermish Composition. Mermish was perhaps Ginny's best language; it came incredibly naturally to her for some reason and she'd received top marks in every Mermish language course she'd had. However, Mermish Composition was an entirely different story; the witch who taught the course was not only difficult but it seemed as though she looked for reasons to give low marks.
Needless to say, the exam in Mermish Composition was something straight out of Ginny's nightmares. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Madame Horne's timer went off signaling the end of the exam—it was a figurine of a mermaid, which floated in midair and screeched "time's up!" in terribly loud Mermish. Ginny watched in horror as her exam, along with everyone else's flew to Madame's desk a split second after the screeching. I've failed, she thought madly, staring blankly at Madame who looked on with satisfaction as everyone's parchment landed in a neat pile. Apparently, Ginny wasn't the only one who thought this; from across the room, a witch with whom she'd had a few classes over the years let out a gasp of horror that sounded suspiciously like 'Eeeeeyoooouuuu!'—meaning 'nooooooo!' in Mermish.
Ginny would have stayed in her seat all day, staring into space and thinking that she would have to get top marks on everything else in order to pass the subject, but she didn't want to give Madame the satisfaction. Indeed the witch, who reminded Ginny of a female version of Snape, looked sinisterly jovial, as the girl who had screamed was lead out of the room, being consoled by her friends. So shoving her text, Eyek! Liiek! Twieeeaayeeey! —Advanced Mermish Language Companion, into her bag, Ginny left the room, unable to help herself from locking an evil eye with Madame Horne.
After her lessons, she went to the small café where she worked part-time to retrieve the book she'd left there the night before and by the time she'd made it home, it was late afternoon. Ginny stepped back into her little flat, noting with a roll of her eyes that it looked even more messy than it had when she'd left that morning. She tossed her cloak on top of Brian's clutter on the sofa, kicked off her shoes and headed for her bedroom. However, a loud squawk at the open window made her turn; her owl, Maurice, was perched atop the windowsill, rolling his huge gray eyes pointedly towards a letter on the sideboard.
"Hi, there, handsome." Ginny went over to him and placed a loud kiss on top of his soft, feathered head. "What have you got for me today?" She picked up the letter. "From Hermione? I haven't heard from her in a while…"
Absentmindedly, she placed it atop the pile of letters stacked up; there was one from Fred and another from Bill that she hadn't made the time to open yet, however, Ginny felt a twinge of guilt when she saw Sarah's familiar handwriting in pink ink on an envelope that had been sitting there for about two weeks. Ginny bit her lip.
"I can't answer these letters, just now, I truly can't," she said to Maurice. "Not when the flat looks the way it does and I haven't even started my Elvish composition yet. Homework should come first shouldn't it?"
Maurice hooted and Ginny bent down to peer into his eyes. "Was that a yes or a no?" Another hoot. Ginny sighed. "I wish you could speak English. Or French… or Mermish, or any other language I can understand. All right, since there's no hope in that, why don't you give me a sign? Hoo hoo means yes, and squawk means no, okay? Should I clean the flat?"
"But shouldn't I start writing my composition?"
Ginny couldn't help but laugh. "You are never any help, do you know that? You're almost as bad as Brian—" She yawned then and felt a pull of fatigue on her body. "Perhaps I won't do any of it, and just go to sleep. I was awake until three in the morning studying for Mermish, did you know that?"
Maurice squawked and turned his head upside down to peer at her.
Ginny stood in the middle of the flat for a good five minutes, chewing on her bottom lip and trying to decided what to do. It would be just terrible of her to go to sleep when she had so many things she needed to do, but suddenly she felt like she couldn't stand up. She hadn't been getting much sleep lately what with her lessons doubling up on workload; it was always bad towards the end of term, however, since this was her last term, she'd never had more to do. It was nearly impossible to keep up with her correspondence; she was used to owling her mum and Sarah three to four times a week, now she barely found the time to read the letters, let alone write back.
It was quite simple to ignore the clutter sprawled across the sofa, Ginny discovered, when the soft cushions seemed to beckon her and her eyelids started drooping without any preamble whatsoever. Ignoring Brian's shirt and her cloak, Ginny plopped down onto the green plush cushions, winced in pain before pulling out the book she'd sat on, and laid her head back against her orange pillows. Just a few minutes, she said to herself as her eyes slid shut. Just a few minutes and then I'll write to Sarah….
"Oi! I've got dinner!" SLAM!
Ginny sat bolt upright as the sound of the door slamming echoed in her head a hundred times louder than it was. She looked around in confusion for a few minutes, then peered at Brian above the low wall that separated the parlor and kitchen. He set a huge paper bag down on the kitchen table and began opening cabinets, pulling out plates and glasses.
"What time is it?" Ginny croaked, fumbling for her watch before realizing it was on her wrist.
"Eight o'clock," Brian said cheerfully. "I finished the exam an hour early. Come on, I've got tons of food."
Ginny stared at him in shock, not sure which to demand first; how it could be eight o'clock, why he was making so much noise or how in bloody hell he'd finished his exam an hour early. She didn't get the chance; Brian was peering at her and shaking his head in amazement. "Tell me you've been asleep since you got home."
"I've been asleep since I got home," she muttered, tossing aside his shirt, which she must have pulled around her for covers, and getting up.
"You're the only person I know who has the sleeping habits of an owl."
Maurice squawked loudly from the desk in the living room and Ginny reached out a hand to stroke him as she padded into the kitchen. "I had to stop at the café to pick up the book I left there," she said, peering into the bag and humming with pleasure at the wonderful aroma of cheese and freshly baked bread. Then she remembered something.
"Wait a minute—did you say that you've finished the exam an hour early?"
Brian grinned. "Yes, and don't you feel stupid for being so worried? It turned out to be so easy!"
Ginny swore. "Easy? EASY? It was a bloody nightmare!" She dipped her finger into the cheese spread and said thickly, her mouth full of food, "Did we sit the same exam?"
"Come off it. Thirty multiple choice—if all exams could be like that…"
Ginny dropped a huge slab of bread. "Multiple choice? Multiple choice?"
Brian stared… then let out a crack of laughter. "Don't tell me… your exam consisted of ten essays—"
"Twelve essays," Ginny muttered disbelievingly. "I don't believe it! Different exams again!" It was Madame Horne's specialty. "That ugly, horrid cow!"
Brian held up a hand. "Now hold on just a minute here. She may be a horrid cow, but she certainly isn't ugly."
At once Ginny had an idea. "Hey, Bri—why don't you help me get a better mark? You can flirt with her, you know, soften her up a bit."
"I don't think that's possible…and what will that accomplish anyway?"
Ginny lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "I dunno—be creative. Tell her I once saved a mermaid's life or something."
"That'll work," he said sarcastically, taking a swig of his guinness (Ginny wrinkled her nose—she would never know why he insisted on buying that stuff). "You know, she is sort of… what's the word I'm looking for…?"
"A cold-hearted vulture?" Ginny suggested.
"The opposite of ugly… help me think…"
"Okay, so she's really beautiful—"
"Try bloody ravishing."
"So it won't be very horrible for you to go after her. Do it for me, please?"
"Next lesson… I'll use the old McGuire magic. Just for you, love."
"Fantastic. Anything I can do to repay you."
He lifted a brow and looked interested. "Anything?"
Ginny gave him a wink and was about to say something suggestive, but she just didn't have the heart for it. Sighing miserably, she let her bread flop to the table and whispered mournfully, "twelve essays."
"Well, don't feel too bad—the multiple choice wasn't exactly a walk in the park."
"Better than essays," she mumbled, then she laughed. "People were crying when her stupid timer started screeching—"
"—I like that little thing!"
"I thought I was going to stop breathing for a moment."
"Actually there was a witch who started crying at the end." Brian grinned. "I comforted her."
"Really?" Ginny asked dryly. "And…."
Brian glanced at the clock over the sink. "And…I'll be meeting her after I finish eating. Her nerves still need… soothing, I'm sure."
Ginny snorted. "I'm sure." Shaking her head, she pulled a jug of juice from the cabinet and poured herself a tall glass. "We had to chose people to interview in Educating Trolls today."
Brian looked up from his massive sandwich. "Really? Who did you chose?"
"Andel made us pick from a hat—did your class get to chose on your own?"
Brian thought about it; he'd had Educating Troll last term. "No, we were assigned as well, but I knew I was going to be back home in England for Easter holiday so I asked if I could interview my uncle. He used to be a member of the Magical Reverse Squad. He had a few encounters with Muggles seeing trolls, that sort of thing."
"That's right, I remember now. Well, we had to pull from a hat today and I got Madame Millicent… I forget her last name… what?"
Brian was staring at her with a mixture of amusement and regret on his face. "Madame Millicent Mardeax?" he asked carefully.
Ginny lifted a brow. "Yes… why are you looking at me like that?"
"Oh, love, I'm so sorry."
"Why, what is it? What the hell is wrong with her?"
"Well, her temper is legend. There was this huge rumor going round a few years back that she stunned a journalist just for asking her age."
Ginny nodded, chewing her sandwich. "That's nice to hear. You'll have to come with so you can perform the counter curse. What else, then?"
"Well, it's her temper… like I said, it's legend. I read somewhere that there is only one time of the week and one time of day she allows herself to be questioned by the press and that means you'll probably have to contact her soon if you want to talk to her before end of term." Brian pointed his fork at her. "This is something you cannot leave to the last minute."
"I know, I know. I was really starting to think about it yesterday. In only a few short months we'll be finished, can you believe it? Then we can go home and stop the madness in our lives."
"I'll drink to that," Brian lifted his bottle and, after taking a long gulp, he looked at Ginny a bit cautiously. "Any ideas on that, then?"
"Ideas on what?"
"Going home… stopping the madness…."
Something twisted in her gut. "I dunno what you're talking about," she said evasively.
"I think you do."
"Right if you don't stop gloating that you already have a job lined up and I don't, you'll be sorry. Bastard," she added because she felt like it.
Looking amused, Brian took another bite of sandwich. "You do realize that you will have to make a decision on what sort of position you want eventually…?" he asked after swallowing his mouthful.
"Ehh," Ginny said carelessly, holding up a hand. "'Eventually' is a spectacular word, did you know that? It means… 'not right now'."
"All right, all right," he grinned. "That's not technically what it means, but all right."
Ginny rolled her eyes and was about to retort when Maurice swept into the room and landed on the table.
Brian put down his bottle. "Off. Now."
"Oh, he's not doing anything wrong," Ginny said trying to coax Maurice to her side the table.
Maurice squawked rudely at Brian and proceeded to flip the bread off Brian's sandwich with his beak
Ginny sat up and patted her knee. "Maurice, come here. You can sit here, come on now." Maurice fluttered to her knee and Ginny stroked him. "You know he's a prat, why do you have to bother him?" she whispered to her bird.
Maurice rubbed his head against Ginny's chin, hooting in agreement.
"One of these days…" Brian muttered, tossing his bread into the trash and cutting another slice.
Brian and Maurice didn't get on to well… in fact, Brian had been threatening 'one of these days' since Ginny had brought Maurice home a few years back. Ginny couldn't remember what exactly had started the animosity between the two, but she had a fleeting memory of one of Brian's dates running screaming from his bedroom with Maurice chasing after her. Ginny tried to remember… there had been a hat involved, hadn't there…or some kind of fur handbag…?
"What time do you have to work tomorrow?" Brian asked her, eyeing Maurice.
"Five right through until closing time… oh!" she exclaimed. "That is terrific, do you know why?"
"I'm dying to know."
Ginny ignored his sarcasm and leaned forward. "That means that I can get everything done! I can start my Elvish composition tomorrow before work—"
"What's your topic again?"
"The similarities between Elvish and English—"
"I know. And tonight, I can catch up on writing home. I've still a letter to Bill to write, one to Fred, and Sarah… poor Sarah, I haven't written to her in two whole weeks."
"Bloody hell, look at the time," Brian said, sliding his chair back. "Sorry, love, my sympathies are needed in a female dormitory at l'Acadèmie."
"You're not going to help me clean?" she demanded. "BRIAN, THIS PLACE IS A MESS AND IT'S ALL YOURS—!"
"Don't wait up, then," he said cheerfully and left. Ginny hurled a chuck of bread at him as he closed the door, only adding to the mess.
She managed to make the kitchen as spotless as she could, which didn't take quite so long as she was very adept at Scouring Charms from helping her mum so many times. When she stepped into the living room, however, she nearly broke her neck on one of Brian's huge shoes lying in the middle of the room and she grabbed the sideboard for balance.
"You know," she said loudly, startling Maurice who was at the window now. "If I'm awake when he comes home, I'm going to curse him into such a stupor, he won't be able to make a mess for days!"
Maurice hooted in agreement.
Later that night, after having made the flat sparkling and spotless (with the exception of her bedroom), Ginny found herself walking down the streets of Lacasse again, heading, not towards school, but to her bridge instead. Her bridge was located in the center of Lacasse, just over the huge canal that flowed through the city. Le Ponte des Lumières was very old and made of solid stone with a narrow cobblestone pathway along the center of it and a short, wide ledge that Ginny loved to sit on. She went there to write home and think, but as time was scarce for that lately, her visits were few and far between.
Pulling her cloak around her more tightly, Ginny walked swiftly, passing shops that were closed for the night and brightly lit cafés that were only starting to get busy. She felt a twinge of relief that she wasn't at her café right now serving tables and waiting for the night to be over.
At the center of the bridge, Ginny hoisted herself up onto the ledge, brought her legs up, and decided to get the simple person over with first.
Her lips quirked at the very thought of her brother and she began to write.
In response to the question in your letter, no, I will not venture into Darkside Row to purchase Veela hair for your "Squawking Mints," even if it costs less gold here than Knockturn Ally. And yes, I fear for my life more than I fear the end of your business. Especially since I know for a fact that it won't be too great a sacrifice to spend the extra gold and spare my life. I have it on good authority (Mum) that business is booming. Also, and I know I've asked you and George many times but I'll ask again: Have you ever thought of opening up a Paris shop? You would make millions of galleons, that's for sure. I can't wait to see the new location in Hogsmeade—Mum said it's twice the size as Diagon Ally's.
Another thing I cannot wait to see is THE book. It's true, then? You and George are writing a book? Mum is quite horrified, as you know. She can't believe you're writing out instructions on rule breaking for the entire world to read. Well, mostly she's just worried about Julian—she thinks you're going to corrupt her only grandson and Charlie will have to curse you for corrupting his son. Personaly, I can't wait to read it and sue you for anything in there that's mine that you nicked.
Anyway, I'll end this letter now, as I've got to write to Bill and I love him more than I love you. I'll see you very, very soon and have an advanced copy of that book waiting. Give George a big kiss on the cheek for me.
Love, your baby, baby sister (and former protégé),
Ginny skimmed the contents quickly and, smiling to herself, slipped it inside an envelope. "Onto Bill," she muttered and dipped her quill into the inkbottle next to her.
Writing to Bill was quite different from writing to Fred. Bill's letter consisted of an array of questions regarding what type of job Ginny was going to apply for once she was back in England and some ideas on her options. Ginny concentrated on answering all of his questions and by the time she was finished, her head was spinning. The issues he'd brought up were not only on her mind constantly as it was, but Ginny was beginning to feel little chords of panic when she thought about it. She was truly torn over what to do with her life after she finished with l'Acadèmie in only—her stomach churned—a few short months.
The obvious choice for a degree in Linguistics would be to work at the Ministry as a translator in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Most people in her year were applying at their countries' respective Ministries and some had even been accepted—including Brian, who'd had a very praising recommendation from one of their professors. Even though Ginny's marks weren't as high as Brian's, she knew she would be able to work for the Ministry as a translator if she wanted to, but the truth was that the job just didn't spark her interest enough for her to decide on it as the thing she would be doing for the rest of her life. Brian said this was because she couldn't make a decision to save her life, and even though Ginny openly admitted that was true, she knew that she had good reason being undecided this time around. She was dealing with her future now.
At once, Le Papillon, the little café she worked in, came into her mind and Ginny heaved a sigh. Even though she would never say so out loud and Brian would curse her dead if she ever admitted this, Ginny sincerely wished she could work there for the rest of her life. She knew the people—she loved the people—and it was so comfortable. The atmosphere was relaxing and fun with the friendly customers, the excited tourists, the school children who came in after school, the rowdy crowd from university, with whom Ginny usually found herself joining by the time the night was ending. Ginny had taken the job after her first term to help pay for university and eventually to get out of the horrid dormitories of l'Acadèmie, but the little café with it's outdoor patio, flowery trellis, and cozy bar had rapidly become like a home to her.
However, spending the rest of her life working in a café in Paris was only a pipe dream—something she knew she would never truly be happy with. She'd spent five years being educated on Linguistics and there was really no question that she wouldn't get a job that could reward her for all her time and energy. Ginny only hoped that she would find a field in the subject that she could be passionate about and love—not just settle for.
Besides, she missed home… part of her felt like she could jump out of her skin in anticipation to go home—not just for a quick visit over Christmas, but for good.
Ginny opened Sarah's letter next and if she was feeling homesick before, this letter had her practically in tears by the time she finished reading.
Okay, I am starting to pack now for my holiday in Paris. Just kidding, good Lord, can you imagine? I'm not coming for months, yet. Which brings me to how utterly excited I am. I can't wait to finally take a break from working and mostly, I can't wait to see you. Did you know it's officially the longest time we've been apart now? I've figured it out. You haven't come since the Christmas before last, just under a year and half now and that is the longest we've ever been apart. I saw Fred and George yesterday in the new joke shop — it looks amazing, I have to admit — and they were teasing me something fierce about you and I pining away for each other. I hit George and told him that you and I are just like twins and what would HE do if Fred went away for five years. They pretended to start crying and hugged each other like a couple of idiots, but I know they miss you too.
Things have been so hectic here—there's this wizard at the office who fancies me and he's always tripping over his feet and things. He is sort of sweet, but Ginny, he reminds me of Colin Creevey and I just can't get over it. BY THE WAY, Colin is ENGAGED. Can you believe it? His fiancé is so pretty, too! I don't know what she sees in him, but to each her own, I suppose. Anyway, I'll stop rambling on now because I know you're busy and so am I come to that! And by the way, don't rush to respond to this if you don't have the time—just know that I can't wait for you to show me around Paris!
PS—By the way, if you write to Fred or George at all, tell them I found the Canary Cream they sneaked into my handbag and did they really think I'd be fooled into eating it?
Ginny laughed out loud and fumbled for her quill to start writing back to Sarah. The letter she wrote was jumbled and emotional and so refreshing. But then, it was always exciting when she wrote to Sarah lately because she knew that Sarah would be arriving in Paris after term was over for the two of them to enjoy a fantastic holiday.
Tucking her letters into her handbag, Ginny gripped the ledge with her hands and leaned back against the night, peeking over her shoulder at the flowing canal of black water behind her and enjoying the rush she always felt when doing this. She grinned and tried to imagine her family's reactions if they were here with her. Her mum would shriek that she was going to fall off and to get down; Fred and George would probably hold her further over, threatening to drop her; Ron would grab her hand and yank her out of their grip away from the bridge, always trying to be protective….
Sometimes she wished they could see her here. Her parents had been to visit, of course, a few times over the years; Charlie and his family had taken a holiday a year or so ago, but the others had never seen her in Paris… in her other home. Even her mum and dad and Charlie hadn't really seen her—the real her—when they'd been to visit. Those holidays were always rushed and packed with sightseeing and she was never able to show them her normal life.
Oh, well. Paris life was hers and hers alone and that felt even better.
Quite finished with her alone time she hopped off the ledge and swung her handbag over her shoulder as she walked back. She watched her feet stepping over the cobblestone pathway and thought how odd it was that this was so familiar to her…she'd even memorized the way the stones were set in the path— they would get lighter in color near the end of the bridge and begin to smooth out.
She was struck then, as she so often was when she came here, how odd it was to have a life away from England… a life that she couldn't imagine ever leaving much less leaving for good. Her brief time at the Burrow these past years had been fun and wonderful and familiar, but she'd always been ready to return to Paris—back to the norm. It was like coming home to deal with real life after being away on a sort of holiday and Ginny felt a prickle of fear at the thought of being back at the Burrow and not having Paris to return to anymore. She wouldn't have her flat to go home to, she wouldn't have her friends, or the café to speak French in and enjoy all the different personalities that breezed through there every day. She wouldn't have the bartender's ear to listen to her chatter or her friend Aurelie to gossip with or Pierre the chef to make some obnoxious comment about something or other. She wouldn't have her bridge or her school or the friends she'd made there from all over the world. She wouldn't have the city….
Ginny descended the short steps at the end of the bridge, holding onto the railing as she made a sharp twirl to the left to head back to the flat. She wondered how she was going to adjust to being home. The picture of her tiny bedroom at the Burrow fluttered into her mind and she felt her heart lift a little. Her bedroom… her family… suddenly she couldn't wait to sleep in her old bed. Ginny thought of Brian and grinned—she supposed she would miss him yelling at the top of his lungs for her to get out of bed, but she felt a huge relief that Brian was not someone she had to say goodbye to; he would be back in England, working for the Ministry and probably getting on fantastically with her father in a few months time; the two of them had hit it off from the start.
When she passed a nearby pub which was always brimming with people, Ginny spotted a table of students which contained some friends from her Mermish lesson through the large picture window. As several of them spotted her, Ginny found herself being beckoned over and she spent the next hour laughingly reliving the horror of the Mermish exam with her friends and informing the outraged group how different Brian's exam had been.
Much later, as she stepped into her cool flat and flipped off her shoes, leaving them laying on their sides next to Brian's, it occurred to Ginny that she'd forgotten to read Hermione's letter. She groaned out loud before walking over to Maruice and attaching the responces that she's written earlier to his leg, watching him fly through the window, and wondering if she would ever catch up.
She was too wired from the loud music in the pub to write anything else tonight, so there was no way she could start her Elvish composition. Flipping on the wireless, she pulled her hair from its ponytail and grabbed the Muggle novel that she'd been reading on and off for months now (she just didn't have the time to read for long periods of time anymore). Then, raising the volume on the wireless with her wand, she slipped into the bathroom to run her bubble bath, leaving the door open, but setting her wand on the edge of the tub in case Brian came home and she had to close the door. She was just about to pull her shirt over her head when a noise from the living room caused her to whip her head around.
It was an owl—not Maurice—but Ginny grinned at the site of his tiny little body flying up and down, bobbing excitedly in midair.
"Pigwidgeon!" she cried gleefully, stepping back into the living room. "Come here—no, stop, Pigwidgeon, stay still!" Giving up any notion of cuddling her pet, Ginny rolled her eyes and snatched the letters that were attached to his leg. "Here you go, no – not on Maurice's perch, he'll die. Over here." She poured a few owl snacks onto the windowsill and Pigwidgeon happily tucked in, sending bits flying.
Ginny surveyed the letter from her Mum and wondered why she would use Pig to send a letter and not the family owl, but when she slipped open the envelope and saw another addressed in Ron's handwriting, Ginny smirked. She'd be willing to bet everything she owned that mum had coerced Ron into writing a letter by telling him to use Pigwidgeon for her delivery as well.
Giving up on her bath and tossing her novel onto the table, Ginny curled up on the sofa and, after flicking her wand to stop the running bath in the loo, opened her Mum's letter. Laying her head back on her embroidered pillows, she began to read:
In answer to your last letter everything is fine here. Ron's letter is included as you've seen, of course, provided this owl makes it to Paris at all. Do send your own owl back with your response, dear, he is very professional and Julian loves him.
Speaking of Julian, Charlie and Emma are doing wonderfully! They are very excited— Emma performed the Gender Charm and they made the announcement the other day. It will be a little baby girl—the second Weasley girl in generations! Julian is excited about having a little sister, it's all he can talk about. I simply can't wait… I've started knitting the pink blanket already.
Ginny let out a little squeal and pressed the letter to her heart. She was going to have a niece! She positively glowed as she continued to read on.
Your father is working on a coming-home present for you. It has to do with Muggles, of course, but he's made me promise not to say anything about what it is. Just pretend you like it, dear, but then, I know you would anyway.
How are your lessons? You mentioned a big exam last time—in Mermish—how did that go?
Bill wants you to answer his letter straight away, he's been looking for job opportunities for you since he wrote to you and he's come up with quite a few. You'll probably be interested in that if you haven't already thought of something yourself.
Ginny smiled after reading this paragraph. This was her mum making it ever so subtle that she was interested to know if Ginny had come up with anything, but making sure not to press her. Mum knew what she was doing, Ginny thought to herself with a sly smile.
How is Brian? Send him my love and be sure to tell him to keep the Sunday after you arrive open—I'll be having a dinner for you and everyone will be invited of course. Charlie even mentioned renting a room at a restaurant in Hogsmeade for a welcome home party… how would you like that? Ahh… look at me, talking about your return as if it's tomorrow. I know it's not for a few months yet, but I can't wait to have you home again. You're bedroom is still waiting, the same as you left it. I miss waking up my little girl in the morning—or afternoon.
Anyway, things are rather calm here—nothing like the city of Lacasse, I would suspect. We did have a large dinner tonight even though I hadn't planned on it. Mostly everyone had chosen to stop by and even Harry managed to get off work early to eat—that boy works so many hours he's barely around anymore. Hermione was telling me that she wrote to you—you'll probably be getting her letter soon—she's very excited for you to be home.
And that's everything I can think of. I'm sitting in the kitchen now while your brothers de-gnome for me because Merlin knows your father will never do anything to hurt those things. I know it's twice as hard to de-gnome at night, but there is nobody to do it during the day. The house is practically empty in the afternoons. That's why I can't wait for my girl to come home to keep female company with me again. I miss her.
Ginny reread the letter more slowly, going back to the last paragraph again and again. It was quite a few minutes before she finally stood and went to bed.
By the time Friday came round, Ginny felt as though she was months closer to the day she had to go back to England. Indeed every subject seemed to be planning for the final tests they would have to take to complete the degree, the A.L.Y.Ls (At Last You're a Linguist) and the pressure was on to get the highest marks possible for job applications. Needless to say, the students of L'Acadèmie d'Aubervive were highly strung and worn out—Ginny and Brian being no exception.
"What's the Troll for 'golden?' " Ginny asked one night, not wanting to have to go searching for her English to Troll Dictionary. She and Brian were occupying opposite corners of the flat, each flipping through books and muttering to their charmed quills, which were writing furiously on long pieces of parchment. There were brief interruptions when Brian would fling his book off the table in frustration or Ginny would stomp her feet in tantrum-like fashion.
Brian cracked his neck with a roll of his head. "Ghur. Accent the 'G'."
Ginny nodded and commanded the quill accordingly.
"I'm hungry," Brian said, slamming his book shut.
"Finite!" Ginny commanded the quill and continued writing by her own hand—the quill was loosing it's magic very quickly owing to the fact that it had been working non-stop for the past week. Ginny had spent the entire night dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's of her essay which the quill had failed to do and now the cheap thing was going far too slowly. Then she realized Brian had spoken and she barely lifted her eyes from her parchment to reply, "we just ate."
Brian started to agree, but stopped in mid-sentence. "Gin. That was nine hours ago."
Ginny shook her head and wished he would shut up. "No, it wasn't, we ate at one, it's only—" She looked up and followed his gaze to the clock over the kitchen sink. "Oh, wow, it's almost ten o'clock!"
"Let's get out of here, seriously, before I go mad," he said, sitting back and running his hands through his hair.
"I could have sworn it was only … six or… something…" Ginny mumbled and shoved the quill in her mouth to gather her papers together. When she stood and finally got a close look at Brian, she almost laughed. His light brown hair stood up in every direction and his eyes looked wild and un-focused.
Before Ginny could comment, however, Brian eyed her. "You look like hell."
"I was thinking the same thing about you."
They both laughed as their stomachs gave identical growls.
Basically, the only things Ginny had time for all week were studying and eating (barely) with the occasional shift at the café thrown in for good measure. Her shifts at the café weren't all bad; Ginny could easily let her friend Aurelie handle most of the tables while she finished her homework behind the bar. Working had even benefited her on Thursday night when a family of goblins came in (quite a rare occurrence) and Ginny wound up talking to them for one solid hour about Gobbledegook dialects and rarities in speech. By the end of her shift, her entire composition had been practically written from the notes she'd taken.
Despite her busy agenda, however, Ginny did feel like everything was coming along nicely. Taking Brian's advice, she'd contacted Madame Millicent immediately and her secretary had told Ginny to come in one afternoon next week to make an appointment—which added a whole different stress to the situation. Ginny had never set foot inside France's Ministry and she had no idea how to go about any of it. The secretary had been very nice in her response, explaining that the Ministry was, of course, unplottable which meant Aparating would not work. She also sent Ginny extensive directions on how to get to the furthest Apparition spot on foot. It was a long walk, and Ginny almost wished she could venture into Muggle Paris and see about taking a taxi, but that would be too expensive and she didn't have much time to convert her gold into Muggle money.
"Please come with me, Bri," Ginny pleaded on the morning of her appointment. "Honestly, you don't need to go school, you're smarter than Professor Aale."
"Ha." Brian said through a mouthful of croissant. "Buttering me up won't work. I can't miss class, love, I've already told you—"
"Are you mad? Look, why don't you wait until three o'clock and I'll go with you then-"
"Because I've made the appointment for twelve. That was the only time the secretary had an opening."
Brian made a face. "You have to make an appointment to make an appointment, how dense is that—"
"It's the Ministry, Brian. The Ministry of Magic. It's top security in there… they might… body search me." A light came into his eyes and Ginny cut him off before he could make some sordid comment. "Look, stop being such a … Hermione and skive off, will you? For me?"
Even as she gave him her most vulnerable eyes, Ginny knew it was no hope—getting Brian to miss school was like trying to get him to cancel a date.
"Look, Gin, I'll even leave my Mermish lesson an hour early—two."
Ginny shook her head. "I can't wait that long. Thanks for nothing, though," she snapped, her temper getting the better of her and she slammed from the room.
Ginny knew she shouldn't be angry, but she just couldn't help it. She had full confidence that she could make it to the Ministry on her own, but having some company would have made the journey a great deal less nervewracking. And it wasn't as though Brian couldn't afford to miss a lesson or two.
So later that morning, Ginny ventured out on her own. The first step was to Apparate to a park, which was located at the very borders of the city, and she did so from the flat. It was huge and picturesque with high iron fences and hundreds of trees dotting the lawns and lining the long broomstick-riding paths, which twisted over the small hills. Ginny realized at once that she was standing on the path as three small children riding miniature broomsticks zoomed by, giggling madly, followed by a witch on an adult-sized broom who called out to them in French. Ginny scooted out of the way, smiling at a young couple who passed her hand in hand and pulling out the piece of parchment on which she'd written the directions.
It took her over an hour to walk to the Ministry, including getting lost and having to ask a few suspicious looking street sellers for help, but finally she made it to the huge stone gates of the Ministry of Magic. There were five large security Trolls standing at the entrance, who Ginny recognized at once as Highland Trolls—quite vicious, but extremely calculating and smart. Thinking that she needed all the help she could get, Ginny approached them and introduced herself in their own native language. They looked only slightly surprised at her speaking Troll and one of them pulled a long slab of stone from his pocket; Ginny could see that there were names and times carved into the stone and hers was one of them.
"Inside," he grunted back in Troll. "See the receptionist."
Thanking them, Ginny walked inside the gates and up a long pathway that looked very much like the one in the park and before she knew it, a huge structure came into view. It looked like l'Academie, only much older and much bigger. As she neared, she saw people coming out of the many different exits, some appearing from around the sides of the building, some walking down a huge stone stairway. They all looked very professional in business robes and Ginny heard two nearby talking in French, "…got splintched while trying to Apparate to Montauban—in the Muggle world. Twelve Muggles saw the leg—it was moving and everything—many of them went mad and had to be institutionalized. Now the Magical Repeal has to Apparate into the Asylum and fix their memories and the all the doctors' memories. It's a forty-person job—" Ginny would have grinned if she hadn't been so nervous—she missed hearing stories like that from her father.
As she approached the entrance, however, people seemed slightly more scarce. She gazed up at the two huge wooden doors as she walked up a tall stone steps and as she reached for the handle, the door opened and voices sounded. Instinct had her jumping aside but as the talking continued and nobody emerged from the doors, Ginny reasoned that they were standing on the other side, finishing up a conversation. She wondered if she should pass through and excuse herself, but the thought flew from her mind as one of the men spoke.
Amidst the French accents, one male voice spoken in perfect English made the blood drain from her head. She forced her ears to open, trying desperately to hear it again, but there were a few others speaking and she couldn't tell if it had only been a mistake in her mind….
But then he spoke again, bidding farewell to someone and Ginny's eyes slid closed.
There was no mistake.
The door opened wider. There were many emotions racing through Ginny at that point, but none were stronger than her basic senses of sight and sound. Her eyes burned into the door as if she were able to see through and her ears were strained, trying to catch any hint of that voice again. But all she saw was the dark wooden panels of the door and the only voices she could hear were the throaty sounds of French-accented English. Eventually the talking stopped and there was a short silence before the door inched opened even wider and one polished shoe stepped out.
Denial coursed through her.
Her mental protests, however, didn't have much power and he emerged anyway, swinging on a long black cloak so that Ginny couldn't see anything of him. She watched the cloak billow in slow motion and as it settled around his shoulders, her eyes flew to his face.
The breath that had been caught in her throat rushed out in a long sigh when she found herself looking into the face of a wizard with brown eyes and a thick brown mustache.
It wasn't Harry.
But it had been Harry… hadn't it?
Her brow furrowed, Ginny looked at the door, then at the man's retreating back. A few years ago, this episode would have been a common thing—she used to see Harry everywhere she went, hear his voice all over the place even though it had been quite obvious that he was a million floos away where she had left him. But that hadn't happened in a long time, and she stood there for a moment, coming to terms with its return now, years later, on a day when Harry was the very last thing on her mind.
She didn't have to reason it out, but her brain began to put the pieces together, automatically collecting evidence that she was right—if Harry were in Paris, she'd have heard something about it. Her family would have let her know or Brian would have read about it in one of his newspapers and made some comment to her. Over the years he had, much to Ginny's disinterest, kept her up to date on various news events and the subject of Harry had come up before (though Ginny had shown even less of an interest in Harry as she did in the rest of Brian's subjects). The logic of it all, combined with the fact that the wizard who had emerged from the doors was now calling out to someone in his very British voice had her starting to relax.
Pressing a hand to her jittering stomach and taking a moment to gather her wits, Ginny lifted her other hand to look at her watch and saw that there were only a few minutes before the hand struck twelve o'clock. She felt the flutters in her abdomen double, but for a completely different reason. She was going to be late if she didn't hurry. Assuming what she hoped was a professional posture and trying to push thoughts of Harry from her mind, Ginny lifted her chin and pulled one of the heavy doors open—and found herself face to face with him.
As though greeted by a rush of wind, she took a physical step back. Then, suddenly, instantly, her eyes became hungry. He looked brilliant… all broad shoulders, strong, square jaw… hard, angular face… an adult. His frame was still thin but it wasn't that of a lanky teenager… he was lean and so much taller than her, his longish black hair falling into his eyes with a hint of that unkemptness and his eyes…his eyes….
The only clear thought in her brain was that she had gone far too long without his eyes.
"Sorry, er, pardon," he muttered, interrupting her trance.
If Ginny had thought that opening a door in Paris and seeing an adult Harry standing behind it was the shock of her life, she'd been wrong. He continued to stun her by brushing right past and walking down the huge staircase without another glance at her. She twisted her head around to watch him, still clutching the open door and she wondered what the hell to do now. Time had seemed to stop when she'd seen him and now it was moving so quickly—or rather, Harry was moving so quickly. He was walking away from her with the speed of someone who was undoubtedly in a hurry.
Should she say something to him? She knew she should, but something made her want to turn and walk through the doors of the Ministry and be on with her own business, just as he was doing with his. In the end, her mouth made the decision.
"Harry," it called without thought or reason.
He stopped in his tracks. After a moment, he turned, a flash of annoyance crossing his face. Ginny watched with half-shock, half-amusement as his wary brow lifted above the rim of his glasses. It was unimaginable that he didn't recognize her, but seeing him regard her with such removed interest said differently. There was a moment of that veiled look before his eyes slowly widened. He was looking at her hair.
She found herself smiling before calling out, "Yes. Hi, Harry."
He stared at her for a moment before he let out an astonished laugh and started to walk towards her.
"Hi. How are you?"
Ginny stepped down a few steps to close the remaining distance and in doing so, caught the angle of the sun. Squinting against it, she smiled up at him, even though he was standing on the stair below her. "I'm fine, thanks. How are you?"
"Okay," he said with a smile of his own—it still held a hint of that boyhood grin. "Are you working at the Ministry now, or…?"
Ginny opened her mouth to speak but found herself a bit confused by that. "No, I'm not working here, I'm here doing an assignment for one of my courses."
"Oh, right, you're still at university," he nodded as if just remembering. "How's that going, then?"
The wind was strong. Ginny tucked a lose strand of hair that kept assaulting her face behind her ears. "It's going well. I'm almost finished, actually, I should be home this summer."
"I knew that," he said, shaking his head at himself. "You're mum told me."
She gave a little laugh. "You're here on business, I take it?"
"Yeah, for a bit. Ministry things…" he said vaguely and Ginny started to nod back in that same monotonous agreement, but then she allowed herself a grin.
Harry expelled a laughing breath. "Not this time. Actually, it's been rather dull."
"How long will you be here?"
"A few weeks."
Ginny waited for him to continue, then realized that he didn't intend to. "Well, that should give you a chance to see the city," she said quickly.
Harry smiled back and nodded, and just when Ginny starting thinking she would be late for her appointment if she didn't hurry inside, Harry glanced down at his watch and lifted a brow. "I hate to cut this short, but…."
She shook her head. "No, not at all. I've got to be inside, actually."
"Right then, well…I suppose…I suppose I'll see you…" he trailed off, looking uncertain as how to say goodbye.
"Right …" she said, trailing off as well, trying to think of a way to end this without simply walking away. And because it was t