George Weasley walked along Diagon Alley, whistling. On any normal summer day, the sound would have been drowned out by the bustle of hundreds of wizards and witches, carrying on with their shopping. On this particular day, though, his whistle pierced the unnerving silence of the street, causing one or two frightened-looking cloaked figures to look toward him suspiciously.
If the proof given last summer of the return of Voldemort hadn’t been enough to keep people indoors, the shocking death of Albus Dumbledore on the grounds of the school that he had protected so powerfully was enough to convince them to only venture outside in the direst of circumstances.
For all of those reasons, Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes ought to have gone out of business long ago, and would have, like so many of their neighbors, were it not for their thriving mail order service. People were bored, after all, cooped up in their homes. Plus, the other end of their business, the serious one, had long ago surpassed the volume of the original, due also to the events of the past spring and summer.
Verity had been burning the candle on both ends, trying to keep up with the masses of owl orders. George had been running himself ragged in the manufacture of product with the help of his twin, and occasionally even the generous assistance of Lee Jordan, who was busy enough in an internship at Quidditch Weekly.
The main trouble, besides the obvious need for another full-time employee, was that their catalogue had been thrown together in a hurry and designed to appeal mostly to Hogwarts students. It had been added to many times over the past few years, the pages of new products tacked haphazardly onto the back of the catalogue. Now that adults were beginning to order by owl more often than not, the catalogue was in need of a serious overhaul, as were their order forms. They also needed to design a separate catalogue for their defense products - something that would convince customers to take them seriously. Fred had always been the brother who designed their advertising. But he seemed to be having trouble concentrating on the projects long enough to make any progress, let alone be creative. Today, he had finally admitted to George that he was at a loss.
George, however, was not at all convinced that he could do any better. The fact was, neither one of them was creative in that way. All of their previous attempts seemed now to be juvenile and amateurish. So George found himself looking for help. Specifically, help in the form of a book.
He entered Flourish and Blotts with trepidation. He had cheerfully assumed that he would never again enter the premises after leaving Hogwarts. For a few moments, he wandered around aimlessly, wondering in which section he would find a book that gave instructions for designing catalogues and writing good copy. So far he was having no luck, and clerks were nowhere to be found. Customers were scarce, also, which was disquieting, to say the least.
George thought back to a previous visit, right about this time of year, when the store, even magically expanded, had been bursting at the seams with students, parents, and lonely middle-aged single witches hoping to get a glimpse of the gloriously-coifed Gilderoy Lockhart. That had been a particularly memorable visit because he’d had the pleasure of watching his mild-mannered father launch himself, fists swinging, at Lucius Malfoy. As far as George was concerned, it was Arthur Weasley’s finest hour. Well, not to discount the momentous occasion when he had helped to conceive the two cleverest, handsomest and best-humored young wizards that the world had yet seen, but that was something George tried not to think about in too much detail.
He spotted a wizened old warlock perusing the curse-breaking section and muttering to himself. He wondered if the poor old bloke was searching for a remedy for the rancid smell that followed him around, but he suspected that it was more likely a result of failure to wash his robes and body than a curse. But perhaps inability to achieve basic personal hygiene was the curse. George thought fondly of the battles that his mother had been forced to wage in order to convince Fred and him to get into the bathtub. He remembered, with amusement and a little disgust, the two-week period when his Mum had declared that they were free to smell as bad as they wanted, that she was no longer going to bother trying to wash them. In the end, when nobody in the family would eat with them and, more importantly, every person whom they had tried to prank could smell them coming a mile away, they agreed between themselves that baths were not so bad after all. Baths were, as a matter of fact, the perfect opportunity to discover how much water they could transfer from the tub to the floor, walls, and linens of the bathroom, not to mention their mother, or Bill, or whoever else happened to be bathing them.
Eventually the warlock’s odor got to be too much for George and he determined to move to another part of the shop altogether. As he crossed the center lounge, heading for the stairs, he nearly missed spotting the young witch with ash-blonde hair curled up in a chair, her head only just peeking out over the top of a book. He absentmindedly scanned the title as he passed: My Life with Quigloots; An Eyewitness Account of a Year’s Study of These Misunderstood and Often Dismissed Creatures.
He stopped in his tracks, experiencing a blinding flash of recognition and an odd twinge in his gut that he didn’t really want to think about too much. “Luna!” he said brightly.
A familiar pair of solemn misty eyes popped over the top of the book, their corners crinkling into a smile as they landed on him. “Oh, hello, George, how are you?”
He turned around and made his way to the chair opposite her. “Great. What’re you doing here?”
“Reading a book,” she replied, lowering the book onto her lap.
He laughed, making a mental note never to ask Luna an obvious question, or perhaps always to ask her obvious questions, because he enjoyed the expression on her face when she answered. “No, I meant…well, not many parents are letting their kids come to the Alley alone these days.”
“Oh, my father is at his office, just down the street. He sometimes lets me stay here while he works. He doesn’t want me to be at home alone.”
“Yeah, I reckon he wouldn’t. Hey, I just saw an article he wrote last week on the Ministry’s Emergency Floo Monitoring Act. It was pretty wicked.”
She beamed. “Actually, that was my article. He just signed his name because he didn’t think anyone would take something written by a sixteen-year-old seriously.”
“You wrote that?” he asked, his mouth agape.
“Yes, George. Sometimes Dad lets me write an article for him.”
“Blimey!” His respect for people who knew how to put words together well had been growing steadily as he tackled the catalogue project.
“So, what are you doing in here, George? I didn’t think you would have very much time or patience for reading. Are you buying a Quidditch magazine?”
She nailed that one. “No, actually, I’m looking for something for the shop.”
“You mean…” and here her voice drifted off into an odd little singsong, “Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes? I heard that it is a very interesting place.”
“You haven’t been in yet?”
She seemed to think this was very funny. “George, I certainly would have taken the time to say hello to you if I had.” She sighed a little, adding, “My father hasn’t had enough spare time to take me, with all of the fantastic rumors flying about--which of course, he needs to report on. And I am not supposed to leave this book shop by myself.”
George found himself strangely curious to hear her opinion of his shop. He said, “Oh, that’s too bad. I hope I’ll see you in there someday.”
Luna suddenly looked at him with wide eyes and a dawning smile. “You could take me, George.”
“I could?” he asked.
Her face fell, slightly. “But then you would have to bring me back again later, and I am sure that you are very busy.”
He reassured her, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t mind. Let me just…I’ll look for the books I need for a bit, then we can go.”
“I’ll be waiting, George.”
After about half an hour of searching, George found three books that he thought would help and, once again, wished ardently that he could have called on Hermione for advice. She had really come in handy on those rare occasions at school when he had trouble working through a troublesome homework problem, though he never would have admitted it to either Ron or Fred. However, Hermione and his idiot youngest brother had disappeared two days after the wedding, leaving nothing but a short letter for his panicked mother saying that they needed to follow Harry on a quest of some sort. Since then, the Weasley family had only received a few vague notes, assuring them of the Golden Trio’s immediate safety. George tried not to think too much about the trouble that his impetuous baby brother might get himself into, but he found himself grateful that Hermione would be there to ground him in reality and that Harry would be there to watch his back.
Once his purchases had been made, George approached Luna’s chair, calling out her name softly. She looked up eagerly. “Oh, hello, George. Are you ready to take me to Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes?”
With a nod and a friendly smile, he led her to the door, holding it open and following her down the street. George noticed that her book bag was positively bursting at the seams, and he wondered if he should offer to carry it for her. He would have done the same for Ginny, after all, but somehow it seemed like too much of a gallant gesture for the circumstances. He didn’t want to give her the wrong idea. The way that she walked, however, led him to believe that she didn’t find it too heavy to carry - in fact, she seemed to be almost drifting along with the breeze. As he wrestled with these thoughts, the silence stretched on, punctuated regularly by the soft clop of her wooden sandals. He looked over to find her humming happily and grasped for an innocuous way to restart the conversation. “Have you had a good summer, Luna?”
“Not really,” she said gravely. “I’ve spent most of my time at the book store or at my father’s office. I would really much rather be at home - there’s lots more to do there - but Dad thinks that because…well, a lot of Death Eaters have seen me, you know, fighting them…well, anyway he thinks that I am in particular danger.”
The thought caused a chill to wash over George, and an uncomfortable tightness settled into his stomach. It was one thing to know that his family was in danger. At least they all had each other and the Order to back them up. Here, however, were two people alone, vulnerable. He didn’t know what to say to reassure her. “Our mum was protective in the same way, even after we came of age. Ginny says she’s even worse now. After what happened to Bill, and now with Ron…,” he broke off.
She spun to face him, reaching out to touch his arm. “What happened to Ronald?”
“Oh, he’s okay. Or at least I think he is, anyway. He just upped and left. Mum couldn’t stop him - he was of age - but she would have tried if she had gotten the chance. Now she won’t hardly let Ginny out of her sight.”
“Is he coming back to school?”
She seemed particularly concerned about his youngest brother, and George wondered if there might be something lurking there underneath Luna’s placid exterior. He replied cautiously. “I doubt it, from what I can tell.”
“Do you know where he went?”
He reckoned that Luna had earned the right to information by her continued loyalty. “I have some ideas. I know it has something to do with Harry; they’re trying to help him to do something.”
“So Hermione Granger is with them, then?” It was more of a statement, and she nodded soberly as she said it.
“Yes,” he said, wondering if this fact would hurt her feelings.
She exhaled, observing, “It must be very important, then, whatever it is.”
“I reckon so,” he replied, then asked, “Will your father let you go back to school?”
“We are discussing it,” she said vaguely, but her face held an air of determination.
“He doesn’t want you to?”
“No, but I will be of age in only a few months, and I think it unfair that it is his choice to decide about the whole year, and my future with it.”
George nodded, remembering how it felt when his mother tried to interfere with his plans, particularly in regard to the Order. He asked, “How’d you do on your O.W.L.s?”
“Not as well as I had hoped,” she sighed.
He smiled encouragingly, saying, “Oh yeah? Don’t worry, you couldn’t have done worse than I did. I only got three.”
Her eyes widened. “Only three ‘Outstandings’?”
“Oh, no,” he said, and felt his ears going red. “Two ‘Fairs’ and an ‘Exceeds Expectations’.”
She blinked. “Oh. I suppose I do feel better, then.”
George continued, shrugging somewhat sheepishly, “Well, I reckoned I’d never be able to top Percy, anyway, not to mention Bill and Charlie, so what was the point? Didn’t have an academic career in mind, anyway, although now I wish I’d taken some courses that would have taught me about running a business. Some of it is a little too much like schoolwork, you know?”
“Yes, I know,” she replied. Luna was listening intently, but her eyes and occasionally her feet kept wandering back and forth across the Alley, looking at the shop windows. George felt that the other shopkeepers were making a mistake by lowering the standards of their window displays, but they still seemed to be eye-catching enough to distract Luna.
Finally, they approached number ninety-three and George said, with a note of pride in his voice, “Well, here we are, Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.”
Her eyes lit up in wonder and she exclaimed, “Ooh, its so colorful, George!”
He stepped forward to open the door for her and she entered with wide eyes and a delighted smile. “Oh it’s lovely, George. I don’t know what to look at first.”
George was reminded of a book that his mother used to read to Ginny at night about a girl who fell into a rabbit hole and discovered a strange and wonderful world within. George had made a habit of sneaking into the hall outside his sister’s doorway in order to listen to the story without being discovered. He found himself recalling the description of the story’s heroine and imagined that she must have looked a lot like Luna did at that moment. An irritated voice interrupted his flight of fancy.
“Oi, George, where the hell have you been?” He turned to find a harried Fred, wrapping parcels like a house-elf who had been given too much coffee. “We’ve just got an order for fifty Shield Cloaks from the Dark Forces Defense League. You’d think that a Defense League would know how to throw a ruddy Shield Charm by themselves, but I’m not going to turn down the Galleons.”
Luna’s serene voice interrupted Fred’s rant. “The Dark Force Defense League is a very nice group of grandmothers in Dorset.”
“What?” Two identical red heads whipped toward their visitor, as did another, which sported short blonde hair.
Luna continued, “Oh, yes, they get together to play bridge, and then they are supposed to have a discussion of defense techniques. However,” Luna giggled and went on, “that part of the meeting usually gets sidetracked by gossip and an exchange of recipes.”
Fred sputtered incredulously, “But Lockhart…honorary member…he made such a big deal about that!”
“Oh goodness, yes,” Luna said. “They liked Professor Lockhart a lot. He’s rather handsome, you know. He used to go and speak at their meetings every six months or so, according to Gladys Gudgeon. She is the head of the club.”
George let out a big guffaw, and Fred looked at Luna suspiciously, asking, “ How do you know this?”
“My father has spoken there every second month for about five years. In fact, just last week he gave them a workshop about protecting against Wrackspurts. They’re really very nice. The Defense League that is, not Wrackspurts; they’re horrid. One of them - the old ladies, that is - made me these earrings.” She pointed toward her ears, which were currently adorned with a pair of dangling objects that resembled kumquats. “She has a small orchard and vegetable garden, and she petrifies a small part of the crops, creating jewelry from it. She even gave me a pair of radish earrings for my birthday three years ago.”
Verity stared at Luna’s earrings, clearly torn between puzzlement and the urge to laugh, making George feel strangely protective of Luna. He said, “Fred, Verity, Luna here has never seen the shop so I’m gonna give her a quick tour. Then while she’s looking around by herself, I’ll help you wrap up that order, then I’ll get started on the catalogue. I’m going to walk her back when she’s ready to leave.” When Fred started to object to George’s second desertion of the shop, George replied pointedly, “Luna, in case you’ve forgotten, has fought Death Eaters in person on two occasions in the last two years, which is more than any of us three can say for ourselves. And it’s not safe for her to walk back on her own. Would you let Ginny do it?”
Luna interrupted. “I can look around the shop later. Why don’t I help you get that order finished?” George started to object, but Verity was no fool. She thrust a Shield Cloak into Luna’s hands, and Luna proceeded to wrap it up using the exact same method that the other two had been using earlier. She placed it in the enormous box, smiling serenely and said to George, “I did tell you that I tend to notice things, didn’t I?”
Fred grinned excitedly, meeting his twin’s eyes, and the foursome made quick work of the rest of the order. Afterward, Luna asked George, “Why do you need to work on your catalogue? I would love to see it, if you don’t mind. My father’s first job was writing catalogues, so he tends to collect them as a hobby. I wonder why he never managed to get a copy of yours?”
George objected. “No, first a tour, as promised, Luna.” He took her around the small shop, showing her the various sections and pointing out a few objects that he was particularly proud of. She asked intelligent and sometimes very strange questions, and George found himself appreciating her unique sense of humor all over again. After a few minutes, he reminded himself that he really had a lot of work to do and left her looking around the defense section. George returned wearily to the open catalogue in his desk in the tiny office at the back of the shop. He sighed over the project, opening up the first of the books he had purchased and rubbing the back of his neck in exasperation.
About an hour later, Luna glided into the room, saying, “Oh, there you are, George. I wondered where you’d got to. What are you doing?”
“Trying to rewrite this catalogue, Luna. We’ve grown past it.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, and he looked up at her in confusion.
“Nice?” he asked.
“It’s good that your business has grown, isn’t it?”
“You’ve been out of school for less than a year and a half and you’ve already put your old joke shop out of business.”
He was having trouble following her line of reasoning. “My old joke shop?”
“Zonkos. I was told that it was your second home.”
“Oh, yeah, I reckon it was.”
“I was really very sorry to see you leave school,” she said in an absent tone, looking around the office curiously.
“You were?” Considering that he could only recall seeing her at D.A. meetings while at school, he was surprised to hear this.
“Oh, yes. It was a lot of fun to watch you and your brother Fred. You were nearly always smiling or laughing. And I must say, your exit was very interesting, too.”
As this was a point of particular pride, he agreed. “Yeah, I reckon it was.”
“People tried to make up for your absence with pranks, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good.”
“No?” He had heard that the school had basically descended into chaos soon after his departure.
“I even tried to make more jokes, but nobody really got them,” she said sadly.
In an attempt to make her feel better, he said, “Oh - well, I reckon not everybody is smart enough to get your jokes, are they, Luna?”
“Or maybe they’re just not as funny to everyone else as they are to me. May I look at your catalogue, George?”
“Oh, yeah, I guess so.”
She walked around to lean over his shoulder, and George could feel the warmth of her breath near his ear. To his surprise and dismay, he felt the hair at the back of his neck prickle and the tips of his ears begin to heat up. He tried to scoot away from her, but in the process, one of her long wavy locks of hair spilled over his shoulder and onto the desk in front of him. He stared at it, mesmerized, until she reached around him to turn the page, brushing her arm against his shoulder. He moved aside quickly. “Listen, Luna, I have to go down and restock those cloaks. I don’t think I am going to get anywhere tonight with this ruddy catalogue, so I’d better get going on something else.”
With a nod, she sat down in his recently vacated chair, then looked up at him with a luminous smile. “This is really quite fascinating, George. Do you mind if I make a few notes?”
He felt rather desperate to leave the room. “Err, no. I reckon not.”
“I’ll see you in a while then.”
The shop was due to close in about fifteen minutes when Luna emerged into it once more. George looked up to find her carrying the catalogue with a large number of parchment scraps sticking out the top of it. She called out, “George, I was wondering. Would you mind very much if I took this home with me? I have some ideas that I think would make it look better and possibly function better.”
George grinned, experiencing a great wave of relief. He would have felt a little uncomfortable asking her for help, but she seemed to be volunteering. He said delightedly, “Would I mind? I could positively kiss…”
He broke off. That won’t do at all, you ruddy perv. “Well, anyway, feel free.” He looked over to find Verity eyeing him inquisitively. Fred, luckily for George, was not in the room. Luna walked over to tuck the catalogue carefully into her already bulging book bag. He was about to offer to walk her back when the bell on the door went off, quacking like a duck rather than jingling. Lee Jordan walked in, a few locks of his dreadlocked hair the only part of him visible behind the large box he was struggling with.
“Oi! Got twenty boxes of Canary Creams and fifteen cases of Peruvian Darkness Powder with the Anti-Dark Mark security measures added,” he called out cheerfully.
“Blimey, Lee, you are a true mate. How can we ever thank you?”
Lee grinned. “Buy me a pint at the Leaky, George. I’m in dire need of a night of drinking and debauchery. Oh, excuse me, Verity…and, um…Miss?”
George stepped forward quickly, taking the box from Lee’s arms and setting it on the worktop. “You remember Luna, Lee. She’s from the D.A.”
“Luna…oh I think I remember…wow, you’ve grown up some!” Lee walked to her, smiling broadly and holding out his hand. Halfway there he stopped. “Hey, you’re Lovegood, aren’t you? I’ve been hearing about you.”
Luna’s eyes were enormous. “You have?”
“Yeah, I heard that you gave the best Quidditch commentary Hogwarts has ever heard!” He shook her hand enthusiastically.
Her mouth seemed to hit the floor. “I did? Who on earth would have said that?”
“Lots of people. But my cousin Robbie wrote me a letter the next day with a near transcript of it. Bloody brilliant, you were! Wish I could have seen old McG’s face.”
Luna blushed. “I thought I was awful. She didn’t invite me back.”
With a hearty laugh, Lee finally released the hand that he had been holding, patting Luna on the arm. “Not much of a sense of humor, that one. But she’s okay most of the time.”
Lee sat down next to Luna, beginning an easy conversation about Quidditch and then moving seamlessly to the daily routine of working at newspapers and magazines. George had seen Lee chatting up many a girl in his life, but he had never before found it as disquieting as he did at that moment. He told himself that he felt protective toward the young Ravenclaw, seeing as she was the same age as his sister, but then wondered why he had never felt these sorts of feelings toward Dean Thomas or Michael Corner. He looked away from them, trying to think of something he could do to distract himself, when he caught Verity giving Luna a look of deepest loathing. Taken aback, he watched his clerk for a moment, until she sensed him and turned to meet his eyes. Her pale face became bright red and she looked away, grabbing handfuls of powder packets from the box that Lee brought in and stuffing them angrily onto a nearby shelf.
At this point, Fred entered the room, distracting Lee and Luna. After greeting his old friend and thanking him profusely for the work he had been doing in his parent’s basement, Fred agreed to close the shop a little early and walk Lee over to the pub at the entrance to the Alley. George reminded them that he had to take Luna back to the bookstore in the opposite direction, and after a little cajoling from Lee and Fred, Verity agreed to join them at the pub. Fred changed the doorway sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed,’ Verity reconciled the cash register against the receipts, and George put away the merchandise that needed to be locked up. As Fred and George headed upstairs to quickly change into casual clothes, George pulled his twin out of earshot and said, “You, my lesser half, owe me ten Galleons.”
“I most certainly do not,” Fred said confidently.
George grinned, relishing his victory over his brother. “Yes you do. You were completely and utterly wrong about Verity. She is not, as you were so determined to believe, secretly lusting after your sorry arse.”
Fred disagreed vehemently. “Oh yes she is!”
“No she is not, and I have proof.” That took the smile off Fred’s smug face.
“Just because you managed to cop a feel, little brother, does not mean that she does not prefer me. She has just sadly accepted the fact that my heart belongs to Angie.”
George protested, “I did not cop a feel. And I never said that I thought she preferred me to you. I simply said that she doesn’t fancy you!”
Fred’s curiosity won over. “So, who does she fancy?”
“The third twin, my brother.”
“Oh yes, I just caught her throwing daggers at Miss Lovegood.”
“But why…you don’t mean Lee and…Loony?”
This annoyed George, somehow. “No, I don’t think so. But Verity sure as hell didn’t like Lee talking to her.”
Fred argued, “You’re imagining things. I think you’ve decided to take a fancy to little Luna yourself and you’re projecting your own jealousy onto poor Verity, who wants nothing more than to shag me senseless.”
“You already are senseless, especially if you think that I fancy little girls! I say let’s double the bet. I guarantee that our very fit and fanciable Miss Verity and our best mate Lee will be exchanging some sort of bodily fluids by the end of the night.”
Fred grinned maniacally, admonishing his brother with a wagging index finger. “No Wonder Witch products, dear brother.”
George assumed his most innocent expression. “No enhancements of any kind, I solemnly swear!”
Fred held out his hand for their secret shake. “Deal. And you do fancy little girls. Or one of them, anyway.”
“Do not, you wanker!”
“Telepathy, my dear twin, telepathy.”
“You’ve got your signals crossed, then.”
George walked with Luna down the cobbled alley, a little unnerved by his twin’s teasing remarks. Luna walked beside him, humming a song which sounded suspiciously like ‘Weasley is our King.’
She broke off long enough to say, “I had a really good time at your shop today, George.”
He felt a little relieved to hear it. “I’m really sorry they put you to work. I never meant for that to happen. I wish you would have taken some of those products I offered you in thanks.”
“It would be silly for me to take home joke items. I have nobody to prank except Dad, and his nerves are quite torn to pieces as it is.”
He tried to imagine a nervous man having a daughter such as Luna and stifled a laugh. “Well, you might have had some fun with a couple of the Daydream Charms.”
She gave him an odd look and laughed softly. “My daydreams are vivid enough as it is, George.”
He grinned. “I’ll bet they are.”
“So, I think I could have this catalogue back to you in a week, and you may not recognize it. I hope I do a good job.”
“Really, Luna, you don’t need to…”
“I want to, George. I’ve been terribly bored this summer. And I think I’ll make a good job of it. I often help my dad with the advertisements in the back pages of The Quibbler.”
“Well, then, you’re going to get paid for it,” he insisted.
“No, George -” she started to say.
“Yes you will,” he said in a firm voice. “I’m officially hiring you as our Advertising Executive.”
“Don’t you think you ought to discuss this with your brother?”
“Nope. I saw your work last week in the paper and I’m impressed. You’ll do a hell of a better job than Fred or I could.”
She beamed proudly. “Well, then. I’ll try to find a way to bring it by when I’m finished.”
“Just send me a message and I’ll come for you.”
They walked a little longer in near silence, finally approaching the bookstore. She stopped humming again and said, in a distant voice, “George? Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Would you like me to kiss you?”
He stopped walking and turned to stare at her. “What?”
She met his eyes without blinking, explaining, “Well, I thought you might like it, but I was very wrong about Neville, so I thought I’d better ask first this time.”
He hurriedly interjected, “Er, Luna, when I said that ‘I could kiss you’ I was joking. It was just an expression.”
She shook her head, laughing softly. “Oh, I know that. But that’s not why I thought you might like it. I have been thinking about it for some time - kissing you, I mean. Since the wedding, actually.”
He had an absurd urge to grin stupidly, which he suppressed. “You have?”
“Yes, I have. And I thought that you might have been thinking about it, too. Have you, George?”
He gulped. “Oh. Well. I reckon…Luna, don’t you think you’re a little…I mean, don’t you think I’m a little too old to be thinking of kissing you?”
She stared at him solemnly. “Don’t be silly, George. People much older than you think about kissing all the time. Why, your brother Bill is much older than you and he kissed his wife in front of about two hundred people.”
He stifled a nervous laugh and continued, choosing his words carefully. “That’s not what I meant. Don’t you think you’re a little young to be kissing me?”
“You kissed Katie Bell when she was younger than me, out by the lake,” she pointed out.
He felt heat rising up the back of his neck. “How did you know that?”
“I saw you. It made me a little sad and I couldn’t understand why. Is that why you aren’t sure you want to kiss me? Do you want to kiss Katie instead?”
“Oh, no. I mean, that’s been over with for a while. What I’m trying to say is that I am of age and you are…”
“Nearly of age.”
“Well, yes, but there are a few years between us.”
“Three. Less than three, actually.” Luna really seemed to have thought about this, based on the readiness of her answer. “But perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t think you really want to.”
“It’s not that…” he burst out with surprising vehemence.
She beamed. “So you do want to?"
He coughed, “I didn’t…”
“But, you need a little time to think about it?”
“Yeah. Reckon so,” he said, feeling lame. George Weasley, you idiot, since when have you been worse at this than Ron?
“Oh, that’s okay, I don’t mind. Maybe you’ll have a decision made the next time I see you. I’ll hurry up with this catalogue.” She smiled happily and began to walk toward the door. Just when he began to tell himself that he had imagined the whole conversation, she rushed back and hugged him, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, George. I’m looking forward to getting your answer in about a week.”
Momentarily robbed of the use of speech, he nodded, finally coming up with, “Bye, Luna.”