For a split second, Harry wondered if he had overshot the main gates of the castle and accidentally apparated into the middle of the Quidditch pitch. The moment he appeared, it felt like a Bludger had hit him full in the chest. It was only the flurry of auburn hair that made him realise that it was simply an enthusiastic greeting from Ginny, as she threw herself into his arms. Still off balance, he toppled over, and found himself flat on his back with Ginny on top of him. She burst into a fit of giggles, kissed him hard on the lips and then rolled off, lying on the grass next to him. Her laughter was so infectious that he soon found himself joining in.
“I’m sorry!” she told him, when they eventually climbed to her feet. “I’m just so pleased you could make it.”
Harry smiled. “Me too. It was touch and go, though. The whole office is on high alert since Jugson resurfaced. I’m on standby as it is.” He reached out and brushed some leaf debris from the shoulder of Ginny’s Quidditch robes. “I wasn’t sure if I’d see you before the game. Haven’t you got a team to motivate?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t resist coming to meet you.” She checked her watch. “I’ve still got few minutes before I have to meet the others in the changing rooms. Walk to the pitch with me?”
Harry offered her his arm, but Ginny just raised her eyebrows and took his hand instead. She led him through the gates and into the grounds, which looked truly beautiful. All the trees were in blossom, and every shrub was shrouded in green. Harry loosened his old Gryffindor scarf in the warm spring sunshine.
“So remind me. You need to win this match to win the cup, right?” he asked her, as they walked.
“We went through all this last night, Harry,” she scolded him. “Please tell me you were listening?”
“Of course I was! Well, I was trying, but that top you were wearing was really distracting.” Ginny turned to look at him, and he grinned at her. “Seriously though - it was pretty tricky to follow.”
“The maths is fairly complicated,” she agreed, “but basically, yes, we have to win today to win the cup. If we lose or draw, the party tonight will be in the Ravenclaw common room.”
“They have parties in Ravenclaw?” joked Harry
Ginny grinned. “Good point. Maybe a study party or something.”
“The thing I didn’t understand is why you have to win,” asked Harry, more seriously. “Surely if you draw, it would go to penalties?”
“No, because Ravenclaw scored more goals against Slytherin than we scored against Hufflepuff.” Ginny laughed when she saw how puzzled he looked. “I did warn you it was complicated, but it’s true. Hermione checked.”
“You know, if you’d just starting by telling me ‘Hermione says’, I would have believed you straight away.”
The walk through the grounds took them rather longer than it should have, courtesy of a brief interlude behind a handy rhododendron bush when Harry decided they really hadn’t said hello properly. By the time they finally made it to the Quidditch pitch, Ginny was running several minutes late. She took a final glance back at him before dashing into the changing rooms, still straightening her robes.
No sooner had she gone than Harry heard a familiar voice calling his name.
“Harry! What a lovely surprise!” Hermione exclaimed, embracing him warmly. “Ron not with you?”
“No, he had a surveillance shift today. But he sends his love.”
“Did he tell you that?” she asked, suspiciously.
“No,” grinned Harry. “But I’m sure he does anyway.”
Hermione was with a large group of Gryffindors, all of whom had arrived early to get good seats for the crunch match. There were so many of them that they filled their section of the stands to capacity. As Harry squeezed into a space on the hard wooden benches between Hermione and Neville, he looked around at the arena, festooned with red and gold on one side, blue and bronze on the other. It was still a strange sensation for Harry to be in the stands, watching a Gryffindor Quidditch match. Of course, he had missed plenty of games during his time as a student, but usually because he had been in detention. Or unconscious. Either way, he hadn’t been a spectator.
Glancing to his right, he saw he was not the only non-pupil in attendance; two older witches were sitting in the next section along. The one nearest to him was the elder of the two, with grey hair and a very stocky, muscular build. She reminded him of a bulldog. On her right hand side sat a younger woman. She was taller and thinner, and Harry could only see her profile. He thought she looked familiar although he couldn’t quite place her. Then, she turned to talk to her companion, and Harry suddenly realised who she was. It was Gwenog Jones from the Holyhead Harpies!
Harry turned to point out the famous spectator to Neville , but before he could do so, a loud male voice announced that the teams were taking the pitch.
“No Luna?” Harry asked Neville, disappointed.
Neville chuckled. “No. It’s a 4th year from Hufflepuff called Marvin Martingale. Professor McGonagall blackmailed him in to commentating after she caught him selling sample Transfiguration essays to first years.”
“I hardly think blackmail’s the right word for it!” interjected Hermione.
Neville looked amused. “Call it what you like, but he swapped a month’s worth of detentions for agreeing to commentate. His first game was Ravenclaw versus Slytherin a couple of weeks ago. He’s actually quite good, although he hasn’t quite got Luna’s... style.
“And you’d know all about Luna’s style, eh mate?” teased Harry, thinking back to what Ginny had told him about the Christmas party.
Neville blushed scarlet and started to stammer out an excuse, but was saved from further embarrassment by Madam Hooch’s whistle. The balls were in the air, and the Gryffindor Chasers had the Quaffle. Minutes later, the team in red and gold were in the lead thanks to an early goal from Demelza.
“Excellent work there from the Gryffindor Chasers! Let’s see what the Ravenclaw team has in response.” Marvin told the crowd.
The answer turned out the be ‘not much’. It wasn’t long before the Gryffindor team had opened up a substantial lead. The whole team was playing well, but Ginny was simply incredible. She was the difference between two otherwise well-matched sides, easily the best player in the pitch. Of course, Harry had known that she was good, but watching her from the stands when he wasn’t distracted by his own game meant he could truly appreciate how skillful she was. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her, although that was hardly new.
Eventually, a roar from the crowd drew Harry’s attention away from his girlfriend. Looking up, he saw Crombie, the Ravenclaw seeker, go into a dive. Harry looked around for the Snitch, and sure enough, it flashed past almost in front of his nose. Instinctively, he stood up and reached forward as though to catch it, before his conscious mind kicked in. He sat back down again, embarrassed, but not before he heard an amused snigger from Hermione.
“Looks like Crombie’s spotted the Snitch, folks!” Marvin informed the crowd. “Can Etteridge possibly beat him to the catch?”
Harry looked around for Elfie. His protegee had seen what was happening and was already bolting across the pitch to join the chase, but she had a lot of ground to make up on Crombie.
Glancing up at the scoreboard, his heart sank. Gryffindor were well in the lead with 190 points to Ravenclaw’s 40, but if Crombie caught the snitch, the match would finish in a draw, handing the cup to Ravenclaw. Leaping up from his seat, he joined the other Gryffindors in roaring Elfie on, and was delighted to see her gaining on the Ravenclaw seeker.
It was not to be. Just as Elfie drew alongside Crombie, disaster struck. One of the Ravenclaw Beaters took a huge swing at a passing Bludger, and sent it barrelling towards the two Seekers. Harry winced when it made contact with Elfie’s head, knocking her clean off her broom.
“Oh no!” cried Marvin. “Bad luck Gryffindor! That Bludger blow seems to guarantee the cup is heading to Ravenclaw this season.”
Harry saw Madam Pomfrey scurrying across the arena floor towards Elfie, and was relieved when the younger girl sat up. His heart sank when he saw the nasty gash on her forehead. Elfie clearly would not be returning to the match.
“Is that right?” asked Hermione anxiously. “We can’t win it now?”
“We’re not out of this yet.” said Harry fiercely. “It’s a long shot, but if we score again before Crombie catches the Snitch, we’ll still win.”
“Do you think Ginny knows that?” wondered Neville.
“Looks like it.” Harry could see Ginny barking instructions at her team, wildly gesticulating as they dispersed around the pitch to comply with her orders.
“But Ravenclaw have the Quaffle.” pointed out Hermione
“Not for long!” said Harry, watching as Ginny accelerated towards the Ravenclaw Chaser that currently had possession of the Quaffle. She was one of the weaker players on the Ravenclaw team, and seeing Ginny bearing down on her, eyes blazing with determination, she panicked and made a pass to one of her team-mates. It wasn’t a bad pass at all, but Ginny anticipated the move and changed direction in a flash to intercept it. By the time she caught the Quaffle, she was practically upside down. There were gasps from the crowd and even Marvin seemed impressed.
“Bloody Hell!” There was a muffled thud. “Sorry, Professor McGonagall! Ginny Weasley makes what has to be the best interception we’ve seen here at Hogwarts all season. But surely she can’t hope to score in time to save this match?”
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Ritchie were blasting whatever Bludgers they could directly at Crombie, trying to buy the Chasers some time. Harry had to admit that the Ravenclaw Seeker was playing brilliantly, rolling away from the Bludgers time and again. Jimmy and Ritchie were doing an excellent job, but Crombie could only be moments away from taking the Snitch
At the other end of the pitch, Demelza and Dean fell in beside Ginny, and the Gryffindor trio made a blindingly quick series of passes between them to fox the remaining Ravenclaw players. Harry was amazed by how well drilled they were. Ginny finished the move with the Quaffle while Demelza and Dean peeled away to leave her one-against-one with the Ravenclaw keeper. She drew back her arm, aiming for the left hand ring. Just as Crombie reached out to take the Snitch, Ginny switched the Quaffle to her other hand, completely wrong-footing the Keeper, and hurled it through the centre ring.
The bell rang for the goal, Crombie lifted the Snitch above his head in jubilation and Madam Hooch blew her whistle to end the game. Crombie’s triumphant expression changed to confusion when none of the Ravenclaws in the stands seemed to be cheering, then to downright fury as he checked the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Ginny had landed on the arena floor, where she was mobbed by her delighted team.
“And that’s it!” cried Marvin into the megaphone. “Crombie catches the Snitch, but that incredible interception and last minute goal from Ginny Weasley makes the final score 190 to 200. Gryffindor wins the cup!”
Harry leapt out of his seat and ran down the stairs as quickly as he could, rushing to congratulate his girlfriend, with Neville and Hermione hot on his heels. As he reached ground level he pulled up short. A bright blue light was hurtling towards him. It struck the floor just in front of him, where it grew rapidly until it became the most enormous Patronus he had ever seen - a grizzly bear, standing nine feet tall on its hind legs. Even before it spoke, Harry knew that whatever message the bear brought, it had to be from Ben.
“Harry,” said the bear, in Ben’s soft, cultured voice. “I’m sorry, but we need you back in London immediately. The entire team has been recalled to the office. The Jugson gang has hit another Muggle business.” The bear paused, and Harry looked over his shoulder towards the pitch. He couldn’t even see Ginny any more. The Gryffindor team was already surrounded by a mob of people, all dressed in red and gold celebrating the win. He thought about fighting his way through them to at least congratulate her and say goodbye properly, but to judge from the ever-growing scrum of people on the pitch, that could take quite a while.
“As quickly as possible please, Harry. We’re waiting for you in the Nexus,” said the bear. It was as though Ben had known Harry might waiver. With a sinking heart, he knew he had no choice. He hoped Ginny would understand. As the patronus dissolved, he turned to Neville and Hermione, with a pained expression on his face.
“I have to go. Can you tell Ginny I’m sorry? Really sorry.”
Ginny was at the centre of a teeming throng of people that was growing bigger by the second. First it was just her team mates, but within seconds, other Gryffindors were joining them. So many people hugged her, she lost track. Even Elfie joined the melee, blood still dripping down her face from the wound to her temple.
“Ginny!” called Neville. She pushed her way through the crowd to hug him, then embraced Hermione too, both of them jumping up and down with excitement. Finally, Ginny let go of her friend.
“Have you seen Harry?” she asked, still breathless with exertion and excitement. “He came to watch and I thought he would have come down here by now.” She looked around the pitch, but the familiar mop of untidy black hair was nowhere to be seen. When she turned back to Neville and Hermione, she didn’t miss the apprehensive glance that passed between them.
“He had to go. He said to tell you he was sorry.” Hermione told her.
“He left? Without saying goodbye?” Ginny’s eyes widened with surprise.
“Something happened at work. He had to go back to the office,” explained Neville.
Ginny’s mouth twisted with annoyance. Hermione looked like she was about to defend Harry, but before she could say anything, Ginny felt a hand on her wrist. She turned away from her friends to see Malfoy beaming at her.
“Well, Harry might not have stuck around to say it, but congratulations!” he said, as he pulled her into a hug. When he still hadn’t let go after several seconds, Ginny began to feel a bit uncomfortable and gently disentangled herself. Still standing very close to her, he looked straight into her eyes. “You were amazing, Ginny! Totally brilliant! That interception was breathtaking!”
“Thanks, Draco,” she said, returning his smile. “I can’t believe we won! I really thought Crombie was going to catch the Snitch before I could score.”
“Well, I never had any doubts. I knew you could do it.”
“Nice of you to say so.” Ginny could hear other people calling her name, and she started to turn away from him, back into the crowd. He put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Can I see you later?” he asked her.
Her brows pulled together in confusion. “Erm... Well, I’ll be at dinner, so yes. I’ll see you there.”
Malfoy looked like he might be about to add something else, but the line of people that wanted Ginny’s attention wasn’t about to wait.
“Excuse me, Miss Weasley?” Ginny was stunned when she realised who was talking to her now. “My name is Gwenog Jones.”
The Holyhead Harpies captain was a tall, athletic looking woman, with a stern and commanding manner. Ginny was immediately star-struck. Oh Merlin! What on earth do you say to your all-time sporting heroine? she thought. “Wow! Yes, you are, aren’t you? Erm... hello.” she stammered, feeling like an idiot.
“I just wanted to say that was a first class performance.” said Gwenog, briskly. “Very impressive.”
“Erm... thank you!” faltered Ginny.
“Yes, I thought you were good last time I saw you play. I haven’t changed my mind. Enjoy your victory - it was very well deserved.”
Ginny stood there, gobsmacked, as Gwenog walked away, deep in conversation with a shorter, stockier woman as she left the arena.
Finally, the crowd began to thin out. Hermione was the last of Ginny’s friends waiting still on the pitch. Ginny thought perhaps she wanted to resume their earlier conversation about Harry, and annoyance about his abrupt departure flared once again. However, it turned out that Harry wasn’t what was on Hermione’s mind after all.
“I was a bit surprised about the way that Draco congratulated you, Ginny.” she said carefully.
“I know.” Ginny thought back to that awkward hug and winced a little bit. “I didn’t think he was the demonstrative type.”
“He didn’t seem to have a problem getting touchy-feely with Pansy, did he?” observed Hermione.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “That’s totally different. Pansy was his girlfriend.”
“Hmm. Yes, she was. That’s my rather my point.” said Hermione, meaningfully.
“I don’t understand.”
Hermione took in Ginny’s bemused expression. “I know you think about him as your friend. So do I. It’s just... are you sure that’s how he thinks of you?
Ginny laughed off her concern. “Of course! Hermione, can you really imagine Draco Malfoy having the slightest interest in a committed Blood Traitor like me?”
“Perhaps not,” Hermione sighed. “Just be careful, Ginny. The way he looked at you just then was quite... predatory.”
“I’m sure you imagined it, Hermione.”
“I hope so. I really hope so.”
Hermione’s warning was gone from Ginny’s head almost as soon as it was given. First she had her Apparition test to worry about, and once that was over, the first N.E.W.T. exams were barely three weeks away. With no other distractions, all her free time was given over to revision. As a result, she barely saw Malfoy outside lessons. He wasn’t the only one; Ginny didn’t speak to Harry for a full week after his disappearing act at the Quidditch match. Her initial anger faded quickly enough, but without Harry right there in front of her to force the issue, it was all too easy to maintain a frosty silence.
In fact, it was only when an owl-order delivery of a dozen red roses arrived at the breakfast table one morning that she eventually decided to forgive him. Even though Hermione’s ‘who, me?’ expression made her deeply suspicious that the flowers were not entirely Harry’s own idea, she appreciated the gesture. It was very unlucky that he had only just regained her good graces when he had to break another piece of bad news: His final visit to Hogwarts had been postponed.
“What do you mean, ‘postponed’? When to?” Ginny asked, bitterly disappointed. Despite their recent tiff, she had been very much looking forward to snatching some time with Harry between exams.
“I don’t know. Indefinitely. It might not happen at all now, depending on how things pan out.” Harry told her. He pushed his glasses up onto his forehead and rubbed at his eyes before continuing. “The whole team is on high alert at the moment because of these robberies. We’re so shorthanded, Gawain decided he can’t manage without me and Ron on surveillance shifts. I’ve either been in the field or on call for 48 hours straight.”
Ginny felt her irritation melt away. He looked exhausted. There were dark smudges under his eyes, and his robes looked dirty and crumpled, as though he hadn’t changed them since his shift started.
“Harry, you are looking after yourself, aren’t you?” she asked, concerned. The mirrors were wonderful for keeping in touch, but sometimes it frustrated her that she couldn’t simply reach out and touch him.
“No time. I’ve delegated that to Kreacher.”
“Delegate it to me. I’ll apparate to London on Saturday. Make you some famous Weasley soup.”
Harry reluctantly shook his head. “I’m working all weekend. I appreciate the offer though. Nothing would cheer me up more.” Then he thought through the implications of what she had just said. “Hey, you passed your apparition test? Brilliant! Well done!”
“Thanks,” she grinned. “I’m pretty pleased. It was really annoying being the only one in the family that couldn’t do it. And at least now I really don’t have anything to worry about apart from N.E.W.T.s. ”
Harry tried to reassure her. “You’ve worked really hard this year, Ginny. I’m sure it will be fine. Just try not to get too stressed about it.”
“Easier said than done. Still, it could be worse. I could be Hermione.”
All the seventh years were nervous, but Hermione had developed a truly impressive degree of N.E.W.T. mania. She continuously rifled through the mountain of notes that she had amassed over her seven years at Hogwarts. Every spare moment was spent either scribbling in her revision diary, or cloistered in the library, and whenever Ginny looked at her, there was a wild, demented look in her eyes. Perhaps the most unsettling thing was that she kept muttering the same phrase over and over again. “I should be revising. I really should be revising.” It was akin to a religious mantra. More than once, Ginny awoke in the middle of the night to hear Hermione mumbling it in her sleep.
“Can you think of anything that might calm her down?” she asked Harry. He looked pained, and Ginny thought he was probably remembering Hermione in exam-panic mode from years past.
Unfortunately, despite his sympathy, he didn’t have anything useful to suggest. “Just try and look busy, nothing riles her more than other people who look like they aren’t stressed too,” he told her. “And duck if it looks like she’s going to start throwing things.”
N.E.W.T.s arrived far more quickly than seemed possible, a nasty habit shared by exams the world over. By and large, Ginny was happy with her performance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was particularly pleased with Defence Against the Dark Arts, and she also thought Charms went very well. The Transfiguration theory paper was particularly difficult, reducing more than one candidate to tears, but the practical was better. Her examiner was a kindly looking wizard with a bushy grey eyebrows, and Ginny was particularly proud of her success in transforming him into a swan and back. Her satisfaction was only reinforced when she looked at the other end of the hall. Zacharias Smith was standing there looking completely helpless as his otherwise totally human examiner flapped a large pair of white wings where her arms should have been.
Her final exam was Practical Herbology. It went fairly smoothly, apart from an unfortunate moment where she lost control of her Nepalese Fighting Orchid and had to spend several minutes rolling around on the floor trying to wrestle it back into its pot. The disapproving look on the examiners face told her she had lost several marks for that, but as she left Greenhouse Seven, she was relishing a sense of freedom; her schooling was officially over. With almost two weeks remaining before she boarded the Hogwarts express for the final time, she was free to enjoy the summer sunshine.
Ginny spent most of those two weeks relaxing by the lake, laughing and joking with a group of friends that grew larger every day, as more and more people completed their N.E.W.T.s. Unfortunately, Hermione was not among them. Since she was taking more N.E.W.T.s than anyone else, she didn’t finish her exams until the very final morning. Ginny expected to see her for lunch afterwards, but when Hermione didn’t turn up, Ginny went back to the common room to see if she could find her. When she climbed in through the portrait hole, she found Hermione sitting on a sofa, staring blankly into the unlit fireplace, gently rocking back and forth.
“We’re a bit worried about her,” said Parvati Patil, very quietly. “She’s been like this ever since she got back from her Arithmancy exam.”
Hermione whimpered as she heard the word Arithmancy. Ginny sat down on the sofa, and put her arm around Hermione, but her friend appeared not to notice.
“What happened?” she asked gently.
“My life is over,” replied Hermione, bleakly.
Ginny hugged her closer. “I’m sure it can’t possibly be that bad, Hermione.”
“It is! It must be! Why now, when I’m so close?” She dissolved into tears.
Just then, Neville came down the stairs from the boys dormitory.
“What’s wrong with Hermione?” he asked, in what was probably meant to be a whisper. Ginny gave him a warning look and shook her head, but it was too late; Hermione had heard him. Jolted from her reverie, she launched into a frenzied tirade.
“What’s wrong?” she shrieked, “What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong! I’ve just failed Arithmancy, that’s what’s wrong!”
Neville looked desperately left and right, but there was no escape. He was caught in the full glare of her despair. Realising this, he gamely attempted to talk her down.
“Surely you can’t know that?”
“Oh, but I do! I completely forgot to change the final calculation to allow for Oggham’s second rule of Pessimistic Foresight! And I’m sure I should have adjusted the regressive prediction ratio to account for crimson eighths in question fifteen! Do you know what that means, Neville? Well do you?
“Erm… Well…” Neville floundered in the face of the onslaught.
“It means my life is over, Neville. That’s what is means!” Hermione’s shoulders sagged, and she looked distraught. Ginny pulled gently on her hand. Hermione sat down, and regressed into her near-catatonic state.
“Look, it’s over now,” Ginny told her, as kindly as possible. “You can’t do anything to change it now. You might as well relax and enjoy the party tonight.”
“Party? What party?” asked Jimmy Peakes, who was sitting nearby with Dean and Seamus.
“Sorry, Jimmy - seventh years only,” said Dean. “We’re celebrating finishing N.E.W.T.s, whereas you, my friend, have nothing to celebrate at all.”
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Ginny. “I was talking to George on Commemoration Day, and he told me it used to be a big tradition. Apparently, missing that party was the only thing he and Fred ever regretted about leaving school early.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard about this ‘tradition’ before?” Jimmy still sounded a bit put out.
“Because that’s a part of the tradition,” said Seamus. “You don’t tell the sixth years about it until after it’s happened. That way, you make sure next year’s party happens, but you don’t get any undeserving gate crashers.”
“And unfortunately, Jimmy, that means we will now be forced to kill you,” deadpanned Dean.
“There hasn’t been one for the past couple of years,” continued Seamus. “No-one really fancied it after Dumbledore died, and there wasn’t a graduation at all last year, so this year is going to be epic! We owe it to those who have gone before us.” He raised his chin and put his fist across his chest in a mock salute.
Hermione came out of her trance for long enough to comment. “I don’t care about a stupid party. Nothing matters anymore! Nothing can help!”
“You wait and see,” said Seamus, with a particularly evil expression on his face. “Thomas and Finnegan, party supremos extraordinaire, have something very special planned!”
“Be afraid. Be very afraid!” quipped Dean.
“I’m already terrified,” said Ginny, rolling her eyes.
At seven o’clock, while the rest of the school (and most importantly, all the staff) were eating dinner, a large group of seventh years gathered in the entrance hall. Almost everyone was there – or at least, everyone from Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. There were even one or two Slytherins, including Malfoy. Ginny returned his cheery wave. Eventually, Dean and Seamus arrived. Seamus had a large coil of rope over his shoulder.
Hermione clearly wasn’t in the party mood. She still looked deeply unhappy, tugging nervously at her dress. “I don’t like this. Do you know how many rules we’re breaking? I should be setting a good example.”
“Because you’ve never broken the rules before, have you Hermione?” teased Neville.
“That was different. I always had a good reason,” she replied, sounding a bit prickly.
“A party is a good reason,” said Dean confidently. “And besides, what are they going to do? Expel us? Exams are over and we’re going home on Saturday anyway. Now cheer up, or I’ll slip you some Euphoria potion.”
“Where the hell is this party, anyway?” asked Malfoy.
“You’ll see,” said Seamus, mysteriously.
“At least give us a clue,” agreed Susan Bones.
Seamus still wasn’t prepared to give much away. “Somewhere big enough for everyone to fit, but private enough that we don’t get disturbed.”
“The Room of Requirement?” suggested Neville. “But why are we meeting here?”
Seamus grinned, enjoying stringing the others along. “We’re not going to the Room of Requirement. Too predictable.” He dropped the rope to the floor and spread it around in a circle. He drew his wand and tapped the rope. “Portus.”
“Seamus? Is that an illegal portkey?” asked Hermione, sounding horrified.
Seamus looked a bit shifty. “No! Not quite illegal anyway. My cousin that works in the Portkey office, she arranged it for us off the books.” He looked round at the rest of the assembled crowd. “Okay, folks – everyone grab hold! Thirty seconds to lift off!” Hermione didn’t look convinced, but she took hold of the rope along with everyone else.
Moments later, Ginny felt the familiar pulling sensation behind her bellybutton as the portkey activated, and allowed it to jerk her upwards and forwards. She stumbled a little when they arrived, but managed to maintain her balance, and was pleased to find she was among the minority of people still upright. Most of her classmates were still climbing to their feet and sweeping dust off their clothes as Ginny took in her surroundings
She had no idea where she was. It appeared to be a large upstairs room in an abandoned house. It was sparsely furnished, very shabby and extremely dusty. Out of the window, she could see a forest. The view looked familiar but at the same time she couldn’t quite place it, as though she was looking at somewhere she knew well, but from an unfamiliar angle.
Most of the rest of the seventh years seemed just as confused about their whereabouts, but Hermione recognised it straight away.
“We’re at the Shrieking Shack?” she asked, surprised.
“Yep,” confirmed Dean. “It’s genius. No-one to complain about the noise, and no cleaning up to do either.”
It didn’t take long for the seventh years to get the party started. As night fell, the Shrieking Shack was buzzing with energy. Dean and Seamus had certainly taken the planning seriously. They had chatted up the house elves until they agreed to provide food, arranged music from somewhere, and organised an awful lot to drink. There was a bath packed with ice and dozens of bottles of butterbeer, as well as an enchanted punchbowl that seemed to have some sort of replenishment charm on it. People were drinking, eating, dancing and laughing, and everyone was in high spirits, born of the heady combination of freedom and alcohol. Everyone, that is, apart from Hermione. As the others enjoyed themselves, she perched stiffly on a rickety old chair sipping punch from a paper cup, her expression mutinous. Ginny sat next to her, watching the rest of the people in the room enjoying themselves. She longed to go and join them, but loyalty to Hermione demanded that she stay right where she was.
In fact, as the party became progressively more lively, Hermione got more and more wound up, until finally, she snapped. “Oh, fuck it!” she exclaimed suddenly. Ginny’s head whipped around in surprise, and she was just in time to see Hermione knocking back her entire drink. “My whole life is over. I might as well enjoy what’s left of it.” She stomped purposefully over to the punchbowl, used her wand to double the size of her cup, and helped herself to another (considerably larger) drink. Ginny watched, open-mouthed, as Hermione downed the second drink, poured herself a third, and then disappeared into the crowd of people on the dance floor.
“Oh dear. Hermione seems unusually agitated.” Luna had appeared next to Ginny. “I hope she’s going to be alright. I think there’s quite a lot of rum in the punch.”
“She’ll be fine,” replied Ginny, with more certainty than she really felt. “She just needs to relax a little bit.”
“Yes. I suppose she will be quite relaxed once she’s unconscious,” observed Luna, peering around the room, in that vague, ethereal way of hers. “Hmm. I don’t think she’s the only one either.”
Ginny followed Luna’s gaze, and saw Malfoy staring at her from the other side of the room. He took a long swig from a bottle of amber liquid, his expression thoughtful. “Come on, Luna,” said Ginny, looking away from him. “I’ve reckon I’ve been sitting here for long enough. Let’s dance!” She took her Luna’s hand, and dragged her on to the dance floor.
As she danced, she completely lost track of time. The euphoria in the room was contagious, and she allowed it to lift her, losing herself in the music. She was surrounded by so many friends, and it was hard to believe that soon, they would all be going their separate ways. People pressed drinks into her hand as she whirled around to the rhythm, dancing not only with Luna, but with Dean, Neville, a very unsteady-looking Hermione and many, many others.
All of a sudden, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun around and found herself face to face with Malfoy. He extended his hand and smiled at her. “Dance with me?” he asked.
She smiled back at him, and took his hand. They had only been dancing for a short while when the upbeat music changed to a much slower tune. Ginny stopped dancing, unsure of what to do, but Malfoy pulled her into his arms in a way she found disturbingly proprietary.
Moments later, he whispered in her ear. “I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this to happen.”
Ginny frowned. “Waiting for what to happen?” she replied.
He leaned back and looked at her, the expression on his face somewhere between a smile and a leer. “You really do like playing hard to get, don’t you?”
“You’re not making any sense, Draco. How much have you had to drink?”
“Oh come on, Ginny! You’ve been flirting with me for months. Don’t get coy about it now.” Draco’s arm’s tightened around her waist and he tilted his head to kiss her.
Ginny squirmed her head away from him, and his lips landed on her cheek.
“Draco! What the hell are you doing?” she hissed, Hermione’s warning suddenly echoing in her mind.
“Don’t fight it, Ginny – I know this is what you want.”
“No, it isn’t, Draco. Now stop being such a prat! You’re embarrassing yourself.” she told him, very sharply. She tried to wriggle away from him, but he tightened his grip on her waist.
“This is one of the things I love about you, Ginny,” he said, with a breath of laughter. “You’ve got such a lot of spirit. I guess pure blood always shows itself, no matter how much you try to hide it.”
Ginny was really starting to lose her temper. “Seriously Draco, let go of me! You know I’m with Harry.” Her voice was much louder now.
Malfoy’s lip curled in an unattractive sneer. “Potter?” he said, incredulously. “You barely ever see him. You fight like cat and dog when you do. And do you think I haven’t noticed the way you look at me? Staring at me in lessons, standing so close to me all the time.”
Their raised voices were audible even above the music, and heads started to turn in their direction. Several people stepped forward, Neville and Dean among them, looking like they might try to intervene. Hermione raised her wand, although it wavered alarmingly in her hand.
“The way I look at you? I don’t look at you in any particular way at all! And certainly not in the way that I look at Harry. Who, despite what you might think, is still very much my boyfriend.”
“But what about all the time we spent together this year? Are you seriously telling me there was nothing going on there?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Ginny seethed. “That was just me being friendly! You have no idea how much I regret bothering! Now get your hands off me!”
Genuine confusion flashed Draco’s face as she finally pushed him away. Ginny could see hope fading from his eyes, to be replaced by desperation. “No, I don’t believe you.” he said, grabbing her wrists and pulling her to him, pushing his lips on to hers.
Anger and embarrassment adding to her strength, Ginny pulled her hands downwards and twisted them away to break his hold on her, a neat little trick she had learned from Charlie one summer. “I said, get your hands off me!”
In a flash, her wand was in her hand, an incantation was hurled, and, for the second time in his life, Draco Malfoy was on the receiving end of Ginny Weasley’s famous Bat Bogey Hex. He started a violent sneezing fit, and then he was surrounded by a cloud of angry, sticky bats.
Anyone in the room who hadn’t been aware of what was happening up until that point couldn’t fail to notice the commotion. Every face was turned towards them. People were laughing and pointing. Seamus silenced the music, so everyone could hear properly.
“You bitch!” Malfoy shouted at her, in between frantic attempted to wave away the bats. He managed to draw his wand and, expression malevolent, wordlessly hurled a ferocious curse at her.
Ginny managed to block it, but it still had enough force to knock her to the floor. She was incensed as she climbed to her feet. It was way above the level they had been practicing! For months now, he must have been pretending to need her help. She had been utterly taken in by him! “You’re pathetic, Malfoy! Desperate and delusional!” she yelled.
“And you’re a nasty little tease! How dare you lead me on like that? You’re not even worth it! I can do so much better than a cheap tart like you!”
Magnificent in her rage, Ginny just bawled back at him. “You’re utter slime, you know that? You disgust me, Draco Malfoy! Get out!” She flicked her wand with real purpose, and the number of bats multiplied four-fold, attacking Malfoy with a new fury.
Then the jeers started from around the room, as other students joined it.
“Yes, get out!”
“You sleaze, Malfoy!”
“No-one wants you here! Loser!”
The barrage of abuse finally proved too much for Malfoy, and he stumbled towards the door. His face was contorted with anger and humiliation as he spat his parting shot at her. “You’ll regret this, Weasley! I promise!”
A/N - Merry Christmas, everyone! I really hope you enjoy this chapter! Thanks, as always, go to CambsAngst, my beta reader. If you want another festive treat, then please do check out his story Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood. I love it, and I'm sure you will too.
Reviews are very welcome. If you can take a few minutes to tell me what you think, I would really appreciate it!
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