The End of the Beginning

By Andrew Crawford

Drama / Romance

Chapter 31

Harry felt the knot in his stomach tighten while he waited on Hermione and Luke to come down the stairs. Ginny was non-chalantly checking her reflection in a mirror.

"Why so tense Harry?"

"I'm not tense."

"Harry, I can very well see that you're tense. Relax. Why are you so worked up over Hermione and Luke?"

Ginny was feigning an air of light curiosity, but Harry could hear the warning in her tone.

"I can't worry about my best friend? I don't even know this bloke."

"He's sweet. He'll be good to Hermione. Don't worry about it alright?"

Harry nodded and checked his watch again. Hermione and Luke were running late, which was uncharacteristic of Hermione. Finally, after ten more minutes of twiddling his thumbs and checking his watch, Hermione and Luke descended the stairs.

"Sorry we're late. My hair just wasn't cooperating today." Hermione grumbled. Her hair had been straightened into loose curls and framed her face nicely.

"What's wrong with how it normally looks?" Harry replied.

"Oh please Harry, that's a nice sentiment but it's normally a mess." Hermione smiled.

"It looks great, where we off to?" Luke asked.

"Let's get some Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. Then we can go browse around the new W.W.W. premises before heading to Tomes and Scrolls." Hermione rattled off what was to her a clearly designed schedule.

"Oh come on, no Madame Puddifoot's? It'd be fun!" Ginny winked devilishly at Hermione who blushed.

"Er….not today. Maybe some other time." Hermione responded.

"Yeah I'd rather steer clear of that place." Harry chimed in.

"Oh come on Harry….one bad date there and now it's off limits?" Ginny whined.

"Pretty much."

"It sounds great, let's get going before we sit around and it gets dark." Luke grabbed a freshly blushing Hermione's hand and set off, Harry and Ginny on their heels.

Ginny was trying to talk to Harry about ideas for the next quidditch match, but he kept his answers short as he was trying to catch whatever it was that Hermione found so interesting in what Luke was saying.

"Uh huh." Harry nodded.

"Harry, that wasn't a question. Are you even listening to me?"

"Uh.." he could see the daggers forming in Ginny's eyes, "Sorry Ginny, just got a little distracted is all."

"Harry, for the last time, relax. How are we supposed to enjoy our date when all you care about is catching every little thing between those two? Leave them alone. Hermione is a grown woman, she can handle herself just fine."

Harry sighed, "Alright Ginny. Now what is it you were saying?"

Harry indulged Ginny all the way to a corner booth at the Three Broomsticks that Hermione and Luke had found for them.

"Bad luck at that last match Harry, especially since our house is bound to give you guys a run for your money." Luke didn't look very threatening with a smile on his face and talking about quidditch.

"Yeah, we're still in the thick of the Cup race, we just can't afford another loss." Harry replied.

"We'll see just how close you Ravenclaws can stay when we're on the pitch." Ginny chimed in.

"Must we talk about quidditch?" Hermione moaned, "You know our lesson yesterday in Potions was very…." She stopped at the blank looks on Harry and Ginny's faces. "Ugh, I'm surrounded."

"You mean the one on Wolfsbane? Tricky thing isn't it?" Luke grabbed Hermione's attention, "hard to believe old Snape spent a whole year brewing it perfectly for Lupin." Hermione and Luke both smiled at one another before quickly looking in opposite directions.

"What can I get you dears?" Madame Rosmerta appeared at the end of the table.

"Butterbeer all around please? Thank you Madame and put it on my tab please." Hermione looked approvingly at Luke.

"Of course dear." Madame Rosmerta smiled as she disappeared to fetch the drinks.

"So Hermione, what's it like being Head Girl?" Ginny and Hermione launched into a discussion of Hermione's Head Girl duties with Luke looking appropriately enthusiastic.

Harry followed the conversation, paying close attention to body language. It was clear that Hermione was nervous, but nervous in the way anyone would be on a first date. Ginny wasn't doing a great job at hiding the fact that she was trying to play up Hermione's good qualities to Luke. Luke….

Luke was being a perfect gentleman. It irritated Harry to watch him being perfectly polite and respectful to Hermione. Aside from holding hands he hadn't touched her at all, was being perfectly deferent to her, and he was showing interest in everything she talked about without going over the top.

Maybe Harry had spent so much of the past few years dealing with humanity's worst that it was just hard to accept that Luke really could be a good guy. That beneath his nice exterior there wasn't a dark wizard lurking underneath. Maybe he just had trust issues with anyone he hadn't personally fought beside for all those years. Maybe he was just worried about not having his best friend around as much. Or maybe….

"Yoo-hoo, Earth to Harry." Ginny was waving her hand in front of his face. "Where have you been the past five minutes?"

"Er…here with you of course."

"Please, you were a million miles away." Ginny playfully smacked his arm. "We'll talk about it later. Come on, we're headed to the shop."

Luke helped Hermione to her feet and held hands as the four made their way into the street. Hogwarts students were passing every which way making their way in and out of the shops, all of them stopping to politely wave and greet Harry and Ginny. Ginny stopped on several occasions for an extra word or two with someone, with Harry keeping an eye on Hermione and Luke who were immersed in conversation.

Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes was jam packed with people when they reached the violent purple building. It was slightly larger than the Diagon Alley premises and seemed to have a slightly different inventory more obviously geared towards the Hogwarts crowd. Luke and Hermione had already melded into the crowd, so for perhaps the first time that afternoon Harry let them slip out of his mind as he and Ginny perused the shelves. Ginny liked the line of trick makeup sets, while Harry could think of plenty of ways to use the brand new line of prank broomsticks.

"What's this?" Harry reached out and picked up what looked to be a jack in the box.

"Careful, Harry." Ginny giggled.

Harry would up the toy until the chime reached its end, he pointed it away from him but when the final note sounded nothing happened. Just when he let his guard down and pointed it upwards again, it exploded in a cloud of purple powder.

Harry was spluttering and attempting to get the powder off his glasses while Ginny was collapsing in fits of laughter. Even Harry gave into his laughter once the initial shock had worn off.

"Geez, you think I would know better than to satisfy my curiosity about a Weasley product." Harry laughed. "I look ridiculous."

Ginny laughed, "It could be worse. Purple isn't really your color…" she gave him a light kiss on the lips, "but it will do."

Harry looked into her brown eyes and they both smiled at each other. Right when he looked up over Ginny's head, he caught site of Luke who was looking avidly over the joke broomsticks and Hermione who was looking right at Harry with a distinct frown on her face. Before Harry could adequately process it, she was back to talking with Luke.

"What was that all about?"

"What was what all about?" Ginny's voice reminded him of her presence.

"Oh, er….some first years outside were yelling at one another. They've moved on up the street now."

"Oh. Where are Hermione and Luke?"

"Over by the broomsticks."

'Thank you Harry."

"For what?"

"For being so nice today. I know you don't know or trust Luke and that you worry about Hermione, but Luke really is a nice guy and Hermione deserves to be able to have a nice day out with a handsome guy."

Harry suddenly felt very selfish. "Of course she does and he seems alright." He almost made it sound sincere.

"Ready to go you two?" Hermione suddenly appeared behind Ginny.

"Sure. Off to Tomes and Scrolls right?" Harry responded.

"Right. Say Ginny, could I have a word?" Hermione looked a Ginny who followed Hermione out the door giggling.

"They couldn't possibly be talking about us now could they?" Luke grinned at Harry.

"Nah, probably talking about quidditch or dragons or something." Harry couldn't help but laugh as he made his way into the busy street with Luke tailing behind him.

"Listen, I know you and Hermione are close. She talks about you quite a bit. You don't know me and I don't really know you outside of the stories."

"Okay.."

"I won't ever purposefully hurt her and not just because she's a powerful witch or you're the most powerful wizard alive to hear the tales. I genuinely like her and want to get to know her better and spend more time with her. I just want to make sure that you and I understand one another."

Luke had stopped walking and was looking Harry in the face. Harry looked into his eyes and saw that behind his calm demeanor, Luke was nervous but determined.

Harry looked up the street where Hermione was stopped with Ginny talking to Madame Rosmerta. "She's my best friend. I can't control who she spends time with or goes on dates with. You don't need my blessing. Just treat her right and we won't have any problems."

"Count on it." Luke grinned and happily changed the subject back to quidditch. That subject carried them all the way into Tomes and Scrolls.

"Luke, could you help me get these books to the counter?" Ginny appeared right as they walked in the doorway with a load of books that, judging by their titles, were clearly Hermione's.

"Of course." Luke took the load of books and followed Ginny to the front counter. Harry saw Hermione biting her lip and flipping disinterestedly through a book in the first row.

"I take it you wanted to speak with me?" Harry grinned at his clearly anxious friend.

"Ginny hasn't really learned the art of subtlety." Hermione smiled weakly, "What do you think?"

"Well a book on Goblin runes wouldn't be my first choice, but…."

"Oh, come off it Harry, you know what I mean."

"Luke?" Harry glanced at Luke as he helped Ginny get Hermione's books paid and bagged, "He seems alright. Not good enough for you, but then that's a given."

Hermione blushed. "I had a hard time believing at first he was really interested in me and not just playing me or wanting to hear stories about you or something."

"Come on Hermione, why wouldn't he want to spend time with Hermione Granger? The Brightest Witch of the Age, the woman who helped take down Voldemort, Hogwarts Head Girl, future Minister of Magic?"

Hermione laughed and punched Harry in the arm. "Stop it! I'm being serious!"

"So am I Hermione. You're great, any guy would be lucky to have you."

Hermione crushed him in a hug. "You're the best Harry. Please play nice alright?"

"I'll do my best." Harry forced a smile.

The four of them walked to the castle together, the two couples holding hands and chatting idly. Harry was quiet, speaking only when spoken to. It wasn't that he hadn't had a great afternoon with his girlfriend, best friend and her new boyfriend.

No, the problem was that there was something crawling around in Harry's chest and twisting his insides into knots.

He had thought to himself many times in his life that Ron or some other guy was going to be really lucky to have Hermione one day. He had been entirely truthful when he had told that to her in the bookstore. That wasn't what was bothering him.

The problem that was slithering around in his chest was that today was the first time he had included himself. The first time he had thought that he would be really lucky to have Hermione.

Something about that was very disquieting to Harry indeed.

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