Percy looked at Neville hopefully, but Neville was still staring at him as if he were mental.
“Percy. Have you gone completely barmy?”
“There is no way any girl at Hogwarts is going to wear one of those.” Neville gestured to the variety of hair . . . things on Percy’s table.
“Well, why not?”
“Well, that one, for instance, is pink with little hippogriffs marching across it.”
“But what about this one? I was thinking of this one for Ginny.”
“Percy. There are *bows* on it.”
“But they’re black bows.”
“Have you ever seen your sister wear a bow of any color?”
Before Percy could answer, Aunt Gussie’s vulture patronus appeared in front of them and said, “Potterwatch!”
Percy and Neville immediately apparated.
They arrived in Aunt Gussie’s sitting room to hear Lee Jordan’s voice coming from the wireless.
“ . . . with another edition of Potterwatch. First of all, I want to wish all of our Listeners a very happy Christmas. At least as happy as it can be with The Dark Nutter still running around.
Secondly, I need to give you a very important piece of information. DO. NOT. USE. YOU-KNOW-WHO’S. NAME. I know Dumbledore always told us fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself, but the name has been made TABOO. Potterwatch correspondent Royal barely evaded capture by Death Eaters yesterday when he dared to utter the V-word. Using the V-word, you know the one—it sounds like Moldyshorts— apparently breaks all protective charms surrounding the speaker’s location. Once again, no using the name, Listeners. Call him The Dark Nutter, The Chief Death Eater, Potter’s Nemesis, or evening the mundane You-Know-Who. I don’t care what you call him, but don’t use his name, or Death Eaters will be on your doorstep faster than you can say Quidditch.
Finally, Listeners, we have a couple of people here with us for a new feature “Pals of Potter”. First we will hear from Correspondent Random.”
Percy didn’t recognize the woman’s voice as she began speaking.
“Harry, I just want to tell you that Dumbledore had faith in you and so do I. I know you are out there fighting Lord Tosser and not hiding like the Death Eaters want people to think. Like Harry Potter would ever hide! Merlin’s Bollocks! Go get him, Harry! You can do it!”
“Thank you, Random, for those encouraging words. Next, here’s Rascal.”
“Harry, Mate, Give old U-No-Poo hell! I know you will, too. After all, you have been tutored in mischief by the best mischief makers of all time, and mischief runs in your blood. Happy Christmas, Harry, wherever you are.”
Percy felt his chest constrict at hearing George’s laughing voice. The only other time he’d heard George speak in two and a half years, he was yelling at him.
“Well, Listeners, that’s it for now. Just remember—no using the Taboo V-word. Whatever you do, do not say You-Know-Who’s name! Royal managed to escape and is on the run, but we do not want any more near misses, and we certainly do not want any more captures. Happy Christmas from those of us at Potterwatch, and we will see you in the new year. Keep the Faith and Goodnight.”
The wireless went quiet again. Percy turned to Aunt Gussie and asked, “Who was the first new person?” Neville looked up in interest as well.
“That was Nymphadora Tonks, I mean, Nymphadora Lupin. She married Remus Lupin this past year. She was the best young auror I have seen in ages. Extremely capable. Of course, she and her new husband are in hiding now, since the current Ministry does not approve of the marriage.”
Neville and Percy both nodded. Percy wondered if any Ministry would ever approve of the mariage, but he had liked Professor Lupin and wanted him to be happy. Percy had a sudden thought.
“Aunt Gussie, how did you know the password? Lee didn’t give one last time, or this time either, for that matter.”
The password for tonight was “Lovegood”. Fairly easy to guess. The next one will be either “1998” or “Kingsley Shacklebolt”. I would think Mr. Jordan would not want to make things too obvious in case any Death Eaters happened to be listening.”
Percy nodded. That actually made a lot of sense.
“Well, boys, I am going to retire for the evening. You two may return to . . . whatever you were doing.”
Aunt Gussie looked strangley at Percy, and he blushed as he realized he was still holding the black hair thing with bows. Neville snorted, as Percy hastily shoved the hair whatsit into his pocket. He and Neville said their goodnights to Aunt Gussie, and apparated back to Percy’s flat.
As soon as they arrived, Percy exclaimed, “Neville! I have an idea! Try to disarm me.”
Neville looked at Percy curiously, shrugged, pointed his wand at Percy, and said, “Expelliarmus!” Nothing happened.
“Yes!” Percy shouted.
“I had the hair thing in my pocket, so apparently you don’t have to actually wear it properly for the shield charm to be effective. So you can give these to anyone without worrying about what they look like.”
“Take the thing out of your pocket for a minute. I want to make sure I didn’t just mess up the spell.”
Percy did as he was asked. Neville again pointed his wand at Percy and said, “Expelliarmus!” Percy’s wand flew to Neville, and he caught it easily. “Wow! It really does work!”
Percy grinned as he collected all the hair things, put them in the WWW bag, and handed them to Neville. Neville said, “For a laugh, I think I’ll give Seamus the pink one with little hippogriffs.” Percy and Neville both laughed.
“So why don’t we open one of the bottles of whiskey Aunt Gussie gave me for Christmas?”
“Good plan. I could use a drink.”
They walked over to Percy’s sofa and he began to pour drinks. “Hard to see your parents today?”
“It’s always hard to see my parents. I know they won’t ever get better, but every time I go visit, I still hope it will be different. Then it isn’t.” Neville downed his shot in one, and Percy poured him another.
Percy drank his shot, too, and said, “You’re a better man than I am, Neville. You faithfully visit your hospitalized parents, and I can’t even go talk to my perfectly healthy ones.”
“You’ll have a chance to make things right, Percy.” They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. “It’s Christmas Day! We need to talk about something more cheerful than our parents.”
“Good plan. Any ideas?”
“Actually, yes. Er . . .May I ask you about something, Percy?”
“How did you really meet Audrey? I mean, I know you said you met her at the Ministry, but I thought there was more to it than that.” Percy began to stammer and blushed. “And the fact that you’re blushing makes me think I’m right.” Neville smirked at him.
Percy took a deep breath, and told Neville about Audrey’s seeing him fall flat on his arse in the corridor at the Ministry. Neville laughed, and Percy did, too. He realized, looking back, that it was rather funny.
When Neville had stopped laughing he asked, “So how did you ask her to go out with you?”
“Well, I asked her to have dinner with me, first, and then, on our third date I asked if she’d be my girlfriend.” It was Percy’s turn to smirk at Neville. “So, who do you fancy that you need to ask these questions?”
Neville blushed, but replied, “Hannah Abbott.”
Percy didn’t remember her, but he had a sudden thought. “I have just what you need!” He got up and went to his bookshelves, while Neville watched curiously. Since Percy’s bookshelves were alphabetized by title, he found what he needed very quickly. He handed the book to Neville.
Neville took it and looked at it with interest. “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches?”
“It’s a wonderful book. Charlie gave it to me for my fourteenth birthday. He said he didn’t need it anymore. Apparently, Bill had bought him a copy. I don’t know how Bill found out about it. He bought the twins a copy, too, since he thought I might still need my copy.”
“Well, I don’t have to take it if you still need it.”
“I don’t still need it. I have the last three chapters memorized anyway.”
Percy watched as Neville opened the book and looked at the list of chapters. Percy could name them off from memory.
1. Be the Best Version of Yourself
2. Talking to Witches
3. Meeting the Witch You Fancy
4. Getting to Know Your Special Witch
6. The First Date
7. From Acquaintance to Girlfriend
8. The First Kiss . . .
9. . . . and More
10. The Proposal
11. The Wedding Night
12. Continue to Charm Your Witch Forever
“Merlin. This looks really helpful. Thanks Percy.” Neville was blushing. “Um, since you don’t need it anymore, does that mean that you’ve already . . . er . . . you know?”
Percy stared at Neville in confusion as he continued to stammer. Then his brain started to work. “No! We haven’t . . . I mean, I’ve never . . .” Now Percy was blushing, too. “I’ll be fine. Take the book.”
Neville nodded. “Thank you.”
“Well, I did say I’d get you something in addition to shield socks, so . . .”