2: The Night Before the Morning After and the Morning After the Night Before
Harry Potter wandered through the Great Hall of Hogwarts, smiling absently at the assorted Beaters, Seekers, Chasers and Keepers who flaunted varying amounts of cleavage, thigh and general flesh at him.
To Harry, it just wasn't Quidditch.
It was fine for women to try and look attractive. He appreciated attractive women as much as the next (straight) man.
And it was fine for women to wear Quidditch robes, as well. He knew plenty of fine female Quidditch players, including one or two captains who were scarier and far more intense than Oliver Wood had ever been during his time on his house team. He really had no problems with women wearing Quidditch robes.
But for women to try and make Quidditch robes attractive, well, it bordered on sacrilege.
After all, there were rules that stipulated how much flesh a player could show on the Quidditch pitch.
Most of the women were flouting those rules, and it made Harry uncomfortable, for some reason he couldn't explain. Their masks tended to conceal more of their faces than Harry was entirely comfortable with, as well. He'd had some bad experiences with people in masks.
And he rather thought that he had heard one or two girls say that they wouldn't have been caught dead in Quidditch robes if they weren't hiding their faces.
It made Harry feel slightly ill.
Especially as Hagrid had convinced him to wear something other than Quidditch robes.
Harry had to admit that the Muggle tuxedo did look good on him. It was cut nicely to emphasise the firm, tight muscles and pert butt that professional Quidditch had given him. Hagrid had insisted on an emerald-green bow tie and matching cummerbund, "Ter bring out yer eyes, lad."
Harry felt like a Muggle adrift in a sea of witches and wizards, searching for an anchor to hold him firm in the maelstrom sweeping around him.
(Secretly, Harry was rather proud of being able to slip the word 'maelstrom' into conversation, as his schooling in the English language had stopped after he entered Hogwarts. That he had found 'maelstrom' on a roll of Word for the Day toilet paper was completely beside the point. It was a good word, and he was proud of it.)
He was, however, rather regretting the three glasses of Firewhiskey that he'd drunk earlier in the evening, for he was now a very little unsteady on his feet, and not entirely sure that what his brain was reporting was the same as what his eyes were seeing.
The mask didn't help his mood. A simple strip of ribbon, it did nothing to hide his eyes or mess of black hair, and seemed somehow to highlight the famous lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. He was easily identifiable as the famous Harry Potter.
Especially to the two fairy Godparents crouched under an invisibility cloak.
"So that's Harry Potter," Ron muttered. "Short, isn't he?"
"That's who she wants," Hermione said, barely looking up. "He just needs a nudge in the right direction."
"It's my turn," Ron grinned. He waved his wand at Harry. "Locomotor Mortis!"
Harry toppled face first, flinging out his hands to try and counter the fact that his legs hand frozen mid-step.
Ginny, who had been standing just out of Harry's eyeline whilst plucking up the courage to approach him, found herself yanked forward, the front of her dress caught in Harry's grasp.
There was a loud crash.
This was followed by the unmistakable sound of a miraculously undamaged plate rolling away from the impact site before spinning to the ground with a womwomwomwom sound, as is customary when someone falls over at a fancy do in a grand hall with lots of fabulously dressed people.
Even when there're no plates involved in the falling over. It's just one of those things that defy explanation and must just be taken as fact. Like celery.
Harry managed to get the last of Ginny's hair out of his mouth, just as the feeling returned to his legs.
He stood up, automatically extending one hand to Ginny, who was sprawled in a rather unladylike way on the floor that nonetheless managed to hide the excess exposure of her flesh that Harry had tired of from the other women at the ball. The demure, attractively clad redhead who had absorbed part of his landing entranced Harry.
Ginny looked up, meeting Harry's eyes for the first time, and he was smitten.
Hermione waved her wand at the musicians who stood up and reached for their instruments a good twenty minutes earlier than had been intended. One of the cellists managed to spill his beer on his instrument, but as it was generally agreed that he was a poor musician at best, it did little to detract from his performance.
They struck up a tune which Harry had never heard but which he instantly liked.
"Would you, er, would you like to dance?" he asked Ginny, not yet having let go of her hand.
She blushed ferociously, and Harry almost laughed, but he didn't.
It didn't seem like the time to laugh.
So that you know how that feels, here's an exceedingly poor joke: A troll walked into a bar. The bartender looked at him and said, "Why the stony face?"
You see? Poor joke, definitely not time to laugh.
Ginny looked at Harry and felt the blush receding.
She wondered, briefly, why she was embarrassed. It was only someone asking her to dance. Admittedly, it was the most famous someone in the whole of the wizarding world, but that was okay. She could dance. She'd learnt how to when she was small.
Besides, if she said no, then whoever was standing behind her with a wand in the small of her back would probably hex her.
"I'd like that," she said, forcing as much calmness as she could around the trembling words.
They walked through the crowd, which parted before the beautiful couple in a decent imitation of the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron that opens onto Diagon Alley.
Meaning that the women were red-faced as bricks, and the men were as stony as mortar.
Isn't jealousy grand?
Hermione and Ron, meanwhile, were bickering under the cloak.
"You were threatening her, Ron!" Hermione hissed. "You forced her to say yes to him!"
"You were the one who cast the Clear-Headed Charm on her," Ron countered, grinning smugly. "We're onto a winner here. It's half-past-eleven and they're as good as married. It's twue wuv."
"Just so long as Ginny remembers that she only has until twelve o'clock to kiss him, or the spells collapse."
"Well, you told her, didn't you? She won't forget that."
"I told her? Ron, it was your job to tell her that."
"Mine? What do you mean, mine?"
"You were told in the briefing that you had to tell her."
"Since when do I listen in the briefings?"
"Oh, Merlin," Hermione squeaked. "How are we going to tell her? Ron, you'll have to cut in on the dance."
Ron looked out at the dance floor. Ginny and Harry were stood in the centre, swaying gently as they stared into one another's eyes.
"I can't do it," he said. "I'm wearing a dress. I can't just muscle her off the dance floor."
"We're under an Invisibility Cloak. No-one would have to notice."
"Harry Potter would notice, Hermione. Honestly, he spent ten years fighting the Dark Arts with those two mates of his who you never hear about any more. He'd know if there was someone around under an Invisibility Cloak."
"Then what are going to do?"
Ron shrugged. "Let love take its course. There's thirty minutes left. Plenty of time for them to kiss. Come on, I need a drink."
Hermione had no choice but to follow Ron as he headed for the bar to purloin two bottles of Butterbeer. She hoped that he was right.
Of course, it would be nice if Ron was right, but then where would the dramatic conclusion to this story come from?
"Where did you get this Cloak from, anyway? You never did say."
"Oh, when we were at school, that kid we used to hang around with. You know the one I mean?"
"The green-eyed boy with messy black hair and glasses?"
"Yeah, that's him."
"You've had it all this time? Ron!"
"What? He said I could keep it for as long as I needed it."
"It's been years since we saw him. Years!"
"I'm sure he'd have found me if he wanted it back."
"Oh! Erm, sorry."
"Er, yeah. Sorry."
Harry and Ginny danced on, lost in one another's eyes, both thinking that they would make the fist move and kiss the other.
Any second now.
Okay, that didn't work. But really soon.
Okay, now then.
Well, really soon, anyway.
Such gorgeous eyes...
Eventually, and independently for, caught up in the throes of twue wuv, they hadn't said more than a few words to each other - and if you think that's a poor basis for a relationship than you may be right but this is a fairy tale and in fairytales waking someone up from a good century's sleep is enough to make them fall in love with you so let's not judge too soon, okay? - they both decided to kiss the other on the stroke of midnight.
Enter Millicent and Pansy.
For the record, Ginny's stepsisters had already had their tongues down the throats of a few blokes that night already. The combination of potent alcohol, no morals and drunken men had encouraged them to warm them up for the challenge that snogging Harry Potter would be.
So they appeared on the edge of the dancefloor, drunk and - forgive me - up for it, only to find their target in the arms of a rival, and a rival, they were forced to admit, who was a hell of a lot more attractive than they were.
Under such circumstances, there was only one thing for them to do.
Act like tarts.
Without even looking at Ginny - not that they would have recognised her, but still, they were rude - they grabbed Harry under each arm and dragged him away from her.
The clock struck the first chime of twelve o'clock, and Harry had just been dipping his head as Ginny tilted hers.
In other words, the sisters had interrupted the first kiss, the kiss that would have sealed the spell and Harry and Ginny's love.
Such is the fate of the wicked stepsister. They're not so much evil, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Harry fought back, and in a split second - for this was Harry Potter, the vanquisher of Voldemort - Harry had drawn his wand and transfigured the pair into octopuses. This was something of a tactical error on Harry's part, for the sisters now had twice as many limbs to grab him with, and suckers to boot. There was a momentary delay as he transfigured the girls first into elephants, with their inconveniently searching trunks, and then chickens, which pecked his ankles.
Finally, he settled on fig trees for the both of them, and just resisted the temptation to pluck a fruit from Pansy's branches as the clock struck for the twelfth time.
He turned, angry at missing his chance but eager to make up for lost time with the girl.
But she had gone.
And Harry Potter was far from impressed.
Ginny ran through the halls and corridors of Hogwarts.
Tried to, anyway.
Her robes were her own again, soot-stained, torn and ancient. They were the best her stepfather would provide, and indeed had been taken from the Lost Property chest in the school dungeons.
The shoes, though, had apparently not been part of whatever spells the Godparents had cast. She had lost one, somewhere behind her, and was limping along now, too wound up to think of removing the other shoe.
She stumbled into the kitchen, cheeks flushed and feet throbbing.
Ginny, when she got upset, got angry rather than teary.
Good for her, I say.
However, it scared Neville.
Ginny dropped the broom that she had been planning on smashing on something and looked at Neville, her face glowing and her chest heaving. Neville looked a trifle uncomfortable.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she sighed, the anger leaving her as swiftly as it had descended upon her.
"I was at the Ball."
"I know. You looked gorgeous," Neville said. "Not as nice as Eloise, but still..."
"Oh, Neville, I'm sorry!" Ginny said. "How was your night?"
"I'll tell you later," Neville said quietly, with a hint of pride in his voice. "What happened to you?"
"I was made up by a pair of fairy Godmothers and sent off to win Harry Potter's heart," she replied, pacing back and forth across the kitchen floor.
"Oh, one of those things. Happens to me almost every day."
"When the clock struck twelve, my gown disappeared and my hair just fell down and I looked dreadful," she said. "I couldn't look at him, or have him look at me. It was like he took off my mask and I knew that he'd not like what my face looked like."
"Then he'd be utterly daft. If I didn't have Eloise, I'd be after you, Ginny."
"I'm glad you have her," she said, before slapping her hand to her mouth. "Oh, I didn't mean it like that, I-"
"It's okay," Neville said cheerfully. "Go ahead, break my fragile confidence. I don't mind."
He grinned, and Ginny laughed.
"I was watching the two of you," he said. "From what I saw, he was as wrapped up in you as you are in him. Look at it this way, Ginny. If he thinks the way you're so worried about, he's an idiot and I'll hex him if I ever meet him. If he cares for you, then he's very lucky and you'll find each other again, with or without a little help from fairy Godmothers."
"I'm impressed," Neville said. "You said that without moving your lips, and you also adopted a rather masculine voice."
"That's because she didn't say it," Ron said, stomping into the room with a foul expression. "And one word about what I'm wearing, blondie, and I'll hex you from here to Azkaban and back."
"I wasn't going to say a word," Neville commented. "Er, nice wand."
Ron shot him a withering look that made Neville tremble slightly.
"It's okay, Neville. He's a friend, I think."
"Whose friend?" Neville asked, putting himself between Ginny and Ron.
"Hers," Ron said shortly. "There was a cock-up."
"Really?" Ginny asked, her cheeks flushing once more. Neville glanced at her, made his excuses, and left hurriedly, nearly knocking Hermione over as she appeared in the doorway.
"Yeah, you were supposed to kiss by the twelfth stroke of midnight," Ron said. "Without the kiss, the spells collapse and you're back to being Ginderella, parlour maid and soot magnet."
"I hadn't noticed," Ginny growled.
"It's okay," Hermione said. "We still have the One Last Hope."
"Yeah, the Million-To-One chance," Ron added.
"Does this have something to do with glass slippers?" Ginny asked suspiciously.
"Well, back in the day, yeah," Ron said. "But glass slippers? I mean, come on. Who really wants to see someone's foot? The whole reason we wear shoes is because feet are flipping ugly! Nowadays we prefer to call it the Killer Heel ending."
"All shoes are guaranteed 100% magical," Hermione added.
"And when it gets to midnight, one of them will always slip off," Ron finished.
"So you're the reason I've got a sprained ankle, on top of everything else?" Ginny asked, her voice a low growl. "And what if Harry doesn't have a footwear fetish? Did it occur to you that he might not know what sort of shoes I was wearing?"
"We can help you," Ron said hurriedly.
Ginny's eyes glowed as she looked at the two Godparents.
"Then do my homework," she said. "I'm going to sleep."
She turned and limped off. Hermione looked for a second as though she was going to protest, but as Ginny curled up in one slightly less dirty corner of the kitchen, she decided that it wasn't worth the effort.
"Come on," she said quietly to Ron. "It's the least we can do."
The next morning dawned bright and early, although for Harry Potter it was not such a pleasant awakening.
Never before in his life had he had cause to attempt entry to the female dormitories of Hogwarts.
Which, frankly, speaks of a life not lived to the fullest, but there you go.
In the last night, however, he had discovered that powerful charms and hexes protected the dormitories.
Nothing that the Boy Who Lived couldn't handle, of course - but a nuisance, nonetheless.
Especially the Slytherin third year girls' dormitory, which Harry was trying as something of a last resort, in case the girl he was after had a younger sister in the school.
There was something wholly undignified about trying to wriggle across the floor to your wand whilst under the influence of the Full Body Bind.
He woke up spread-eagled on the floor of the Great Hall, the familiar sensation of magic tingling along his arm. He looked muzzily towards his hand, which was clasped around a single female shoe. Around the heelstrap of the shoe was tied what Harry at first thought was a thread but which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a hair.
Her hair. Her shoe. If I find the redhead that this shoe fits, I've found her.
It's the sort of thinking that makes a lot of sense at twenty-past-seven on the morning after the night before.
As he staggered out of the Great Hall to find Hagrid, a change of clothes and something to wash the taste of incontinent rodent from his mouth, Ron turned to Hermione and said "See, we had to be that blatant. He's a dopey sod, I knew he was. He needs to be led by the nose."
"Fine, Ron," Hermione sighed, anxious to get out from under the stifling Invisibility Cloak. "You were right. Where now?"
"Back to the kitchens. He'll get there sooner or later."
"Ginderella? Ginderella! GINDERELLA!"
Ginny awoke with a start. Her eyes fell upon the pile of homework and she sighed.
In fairness, it had been a trying few days for our heroine.
Clearly it had all been a dream. No fairy Godmothers - although, she thought conscientiously, one of them had been a Godfather - no handsome prince, no beautiful dress.
"GINDERELLA YOU BLOODY LAZY GIRL!!! GET UP NOW IF YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOOD FOR YOU!!!"
Ginny muttered something unprintable and stood up, lopsidedly.
She looked down, past the tattered robes that were far too short for her, down further past the shapely calves that stuck out of her robes as fairy Ron's skinny calves had stuck out of his dress.
Her gaze came to a halt on the toe of what, on further inspection, turned out to be one half of a pair of killer heels.
Further thought was interrupted by the abrupt intrusion of Pansy and Millicent into Ginny's distracted line of vision. Ginny bent down swiftly and pulled off the shoe before the other girls could notice, shoving it into her pocket.
"Ginderella, there you are! Make us some breakfast, and make it snappy!" Millicent barked.
"Excellent idea!" Pansy said. "Ginderella, alligator sandwiches all around!"
The sisters collapsed in hilarity as Ginny muttered something even ruder than before under her breath.
With breakfast on the table in front of them, Millicent and Pansy became chatty and began to tell Ginderella about their night at the Ball.
"Draco Malfoy propositioned me personally-"
"- Blaise Zabini! I was flattered, of course -"
"- Crabbe -"
"- Goyle -"
"- Ernie McMillan, if only father could see him as anything other than a commoner -"
"- Harry Potter! I could have died -"
Ginny's head snapped up. "What about Harry Potter?"
"Well, he was there, of course. We had some fun together."
Harry was thinking fondly of the fun that he'd had with the Snape sisters as well.
Specifically, how hexing the entire female population of Hogwarts would make his task that much easier.
He'd been going around the school for hours, Hagrid in increasingly amused tow. He was beginning to wonder how hard it could possibly be to find the one girl he knew could love him for who he was and not what he'd done or for the vast fortune in his bank account.
It wasn't so much finding the foot that fit the shoe. There were five hundred girls at Hogwarts, many of whom had the small feet necessary to get a comfortable fit. Many of these girls had red hair, although this number was mercifully small compared to the number of blondes and brunettes. He could eliminate the girls who lacked the build of his mystery date as well, for she had been pleasingly curvy.
And Harry would freely admit that this had played some part in his attraction to the girl.
Okay, given that they'd exchanged maybe five words, it was pretty much the entirety of the attraction.
It's twue wuv, folks. Reason isn't a huge part of the process.
Harry had to admit that there had been something else about this girl. Something that made him doubt the likelihood of her being among the seven red-haired, small-footed, pleasantly curvy, pale-skinned and small-nosed girls whom Hagrid had noted on the 'Most Likely' list.
The mystery girl hadn't looked at his scar.
And Harry wanted to know why.
For the scar on his forehead was usually the first thing people noticed about Harry.
That or his firm butt, anyway.
It depended which way he was facing when he met someone new.
His head throbbed, but he ignored it. It was a mild hangover, rather than a message that Voldemort was trying to kill him.
If it was a severe hangover, of course, he may have had trouble telling the difference.
"Why don't yeh just ask someone?" Hagrid suggested, as they left the first year Gryffindor girls' dormitory. "Someone mus' know this girl, if she's as grand as yeh think she is."
"Yeah, can't hurt I guess," Harry replied dispiritedly. He really didn't want to look like a complete idiot, but what choice did he have?
Excuse me, do you know a girl, about 5'4, curvy, quite pretty I think, but I was a little bit drunk so I don't remember exactly. Oh, and she's got red hair so if she's your sister or girlfriend can you please not punch me?
"Hallo Neville," Hagrid said cheerily.
"Hi Hagrid," a boy about Harry's age replied.
"'Ow's yer toad?"
"Trevor? Okay. He met a lady toad in the lake the other day."
"Ah. When's the babies due?"
Harry boggled as his faithful butler discussed amphibian mating with the boy. When they'd finished, Hagrid looked at Harry, as though remembering something.
"Oh, Neville. You don't happen to know the girl Harry here is looking for, do yeh?"
Neville turned his face to Harry's, and met Harry's gaze evenly.
"Maybe," Neville said, and once again Harry found himself face to face with someone who didn't look at his scar and think that he knew all there was to know about Harry Potter.
Harry was beginning to realise how much he missed being able to surprise people.
"Who are you looking for?" Neville asked, a steely note appearing in his voice as he addressed Harry. It didn't escape Harry's attention that Neville's wand had appeared in his hand suddenly, either.
"She's a beautiful redhead that I think I may be in love with and I didn't get the chance to get to know her as well as I wanted to last night," Harry said quickly. He was remembering for the first time in a long time what it felt like to be nervous as he looked into Neville's eyes.
"Try the kitchens," Neville said. "If it's who I think it is, and you hurt her, then I'll do everything in my power to make sure that you're cursed by toad for the rest of your life."
"Toad?" Harry asked, momentarily distracted
"Whenever you take off your robes..." Neville said menacingly. "All you'll hear will be 'Croak, croak, croak...'"
Harry blinked repeatedly for a few seconds as he took this in, and then shuddered.
"And that'll just be the first curse I put on you."
"I... don't think I'm going to hurt her," Harry said. "I hope I'm not, anyway."
"Then I'll go back to perfecting the curse so that I can use it on Malfoy."
"Draco Malfoy?" Harry asked.
"You know him?"
"Er, sort of," Harry said, grinning slightly. "Let's just say that something already happens when he takes off his robes, and it isn't toads croaking."
"What is it?" Neville asked, his mask of protective friendship slipping momentarily.
"Er, laughter. Gnome laughter."
"Gnomes as in the six-inch high, anatomically correct scale models of human beings gnomes?"
"Anatomically correct down to the last, how can I put this, half inch," Harry confirmed.
Neville grinned delightedly. "Well, maybe it won't be the curse of the toad I use on you then..."
The kitchens were easy enough to find, once Harry realised that taking directions from the twin pranksters had left them hopelessly off course. Hagrid collared a pudgy Slytherin who looked as though he had the route to the kitchen memorised from every point in the school.
"I can't believe I've forgotten how to get down here," Harry said as he looked at the painting of a fruit bowl that covered the not-very-secret entrance to the kitchens.
"Yeh had a lot on yer mind, last time yeh were here," Hagrid said.
"Yeah, but forgetting where the kitchens are? The Marauders would be embarrassed of me."
"Yeah, well, if the Marauders had put as much effort into work as they did into breaking all the rule o' this place..." Hagrid tailed off as he realised that the four Marauders had all left Hogwarts with high marks. "Well, anyway..."
"It must run in the family," Harry said. "I never had to work very hard for my marks."
"Yeah, well, that's 'cause you had that girl helpin' yeh, weren't it? What was her name now?"
"I... don't remember. I don't see her anymore. It's like she vanished from my life. But yeah, she was really smart, and dead helpful, too."
"Right, so..." Hagrid said.
"Yeh goin' to do anything?"
"Anything about this girl yeh've bin trackin' though the school tryin' to find all mornin'. We've bin standin' in front of that paintin' now for half-an-hour, and I for one am beginnin' ter wonder if there's a cup o' tea in these kitchens."
"Ruddy kids," Hagrid muttered, reaching out and tickling the pear in the fruit bowl with one of his big fingers. It squirmed and giggled and then the painting popped off the wall and swung open.
And there, standing on the other side of the painting, gaping at Harry as he gaped at her, was the girl from the Ball.
The problem was, it was entirely the wrong girl.
Harry, slightly drunk though he had been the night before, rarely forgot a face that looked as though it belonged on a Wanted poster. It had been a skill that had saved his life more than once.
Millicent, poor lass, had just such a face.
She had been dancing around the kitchen for the amusement of Pansy - for Ginny had long since left to work in the great larders that lay beyond the kitchen - and re-enacting her courtship of Harry the night before.
It was elaborate.
It was detailed.
At one point there were villagers.
It was also, of course, complete and total Hippogriff dung.
In every single way, it was completely false.
Its single redeeming feature was that it was marginally less a bunch of Flobberworm droppings than Pansy's own retelling had been.
That had also been elaborate.
That had also been detailed.
Indeed, at one point there had not only been villagers, but a meeting of the village council.
Pansy led a very complicated fantasy life.
It saved her from having a real life, and from inflicting her presence on real people. And for that we can all be grateful.
"Harry!" Pansy screeched, dropping the last of her alligator sandwich down the front of her robes.
(Hey, say what you like about Ginny's temper, obsession with Harry or her tendency to sigh loudly, but she knows where to lay her hands on fresh alligator. Out of season, too. It's a much-underrated skill.)
The sandwich left a stain. Pansy was wearing a silk dress. She didn't let it stop her as she threw herself at Harry.
You would not believe how hard it is to get alligator out of silk. It's really a give-up-and-save-yourself-the-trouble job.
Pansy didn't even notice.
Harry, for his woes, got a chestful of alligator as well. As he was wearing his tuxedo from the night before, he knew that he too would be left with a lasting stain.
And he'd rather been hoping to wear the tuxedo on his wedding day.
Which, he'd also been hoping, would be in a few days, once he got the details sorted out with the redhead and stuff.
Like her name.
And her age.
And whether she felt the same for him as he did for her.
He extricated himself from Pansy's grasp with some difficulty, not wanting to resort to the measures he'd taken the night before, but eager to distance himself from her and her now-deceased sandwich.
"Ladies..." he began, before stopping while Hagrid ambled over to the pump, filled two buckets with ice-cold water, and threw them over the girls, who had swooned at the sound of his voice.
And we all know what water does to silk, right?
The girls sat up, sputtering and gasping, not happy at having been drenched so unceremoniously.
But I enjoyed it.
How was it for you?
"Ladies," Harry began again, for he believed in politeness and if in doubt, always used it. "You may have heard of my quest," he added.
Pansy, at the sound of the word 'quest' looked ready to swoon again. But she caught sight of Hagrid, with bucket still in hand, and decided against it.
"I seek the lady who won my heart at the Ball last night," Harry continued. "But she ran when I was... distracted," he said, with a venomous glare at the sisters. "I was told that she might be down here."
The sisters looked at one another, and knew that they were sharing the same thought.
They stood up, shook themselves dry - the resemblance to dogs was remarkable - and spoke with one voice.
"What?" Harry barked.
"We're the girls you fell for last night. Don't you remember?" Millicent said.
"You were a little drunk, of course," Pansy said, in what she clearly thought was an understanding tone. "We forgive you. You just have to choose one of us today."
"Choose... one of you?" Harry asked carefully.
"That's right," Millicent said.
"But, you don't look anything like the girl I met last night. And you've done nothing but stare at my scar and try and look at my arse since I came in here!"
"We're just making sure that you're the real thing," Pansy said, coyly. "And we certainly remember being with you last night, Harry dearest."
"You may be a bit fuzzy on the details, but that's okay. We're the girls you were with," Millicent said. "Now just choose one of us, love, and be done with it."
Harry looked in horror at the two of them. Red-faced Millicent grinned victoriously down on him, her meaty forearms crossed over her ample bosom.
Pansy, in contrast, was doing her utmost to appear feminine and attractive. She was bent forward slightly, showing her neck and rather too much cleavage for Harry's taste. Her slender form was emphasised at all the right points by her flowing robes.
There was no getting away from the fact that she was pug-ugly though.
"Jus' stick the shoe on 'em, Harry, and let's get on," Hagrid growled.
Harry sighed in relief. Neither of these girls could possibly fit the shoe. He produced it with a flourish, eager to have the business done with, only for it to be snatched away from him by a triumphant looking Pansy.
"Does one of us have to fit the shoe? Well, it looks more my size then my sister's. You won't mind her living with us, will you dear?"
"It's as likely to fit me as it is you, you cloven hoofed trollop!" Millicent snarled as she snatched the shoe. "I'm sure my love won't want you when he sees the bunions, corns and blisters on your scraggy feet!"
Pansy gasped. "Bitch!"
"What is going on here?"
Pansy and Millicent, well used to ignoring their father, ignored their father.
Harry, the fear of Professor Snape ground into him through hundreds of Potions classes, span around so fast that he nearly fell over.
"Potter. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Snape spat.
Harry looked at Snape, realisation dawning on him.
"Hey, I'm taller than you," he said.
"What?" Snape was nonplussed, a noteworthy event.
"I am! Merlin's teeth, the whole time I was here I felt like I was about eleven around you. Now I'm a prince, and you're still..."
"Shut up, Potter," Snape breathed.
"Yes, sir," Harry said at once. Damn! I have got to learn how he does that...
"What are my daughters doing?"
"Arguing over who gets to marry me, I think."
"Of course." Snape looked venomously at Harry. "I thought to myself 'What do I least want the answer to be?' With you involved, what else could it have been? Girl!"
While Pansy and Millicent bickered, a third girl entered the room. She was short, and pleasingly curvy with flowing red hair that was pulled back into a pony tail, but her face was hidden by the wide-brimmed witches' hat she wore incongruously with her tattered robes, but which allows your narrator to spin out the suspense a little bit further, if that's okay with you..
Harry looked once, twice, three times.
Harry looked around, but before he could speak, a star-topped wand was waved in his face and his jaw clamped shut.
"I just wanted to say, alright, that I spent all night doing poxy Potions essays and I'd appreciate you not taking the piss just because I happen to be wearing a dress."
Harry's mouth popped open and he brought his own wand up on the two gaudily dressed people in front of him.
"Okay, so you've slowed time," he said calmly. "I'm impressed. Now would you find telling me exactly what's going on here?"
"Well, I'm Hermione, this is Ron, and we're your fairy Godmothers."
Ron made an unintelligible noise ignored by Harry and Hermione.
"Godmothers," Harry repeated, looking suspiciously at Ron. "I see. Do I get three wishes?"
Time snapped back into motion, and Harry had the minor pleasure of seeing Snape start slightly at Harry's apparent instantaneous change in position.
In the background, Pansy and Millicent continued their bickering over the shoe.
"Girls!" Snape shouted, covering his momentary loss of concentration. "Act your ages, rather than your shoe sizes!"
"Actually, I think that acting their shoe sizes would make them grow up a bit, Sev," Ron said, appearing from thin air at Harry's side. "They've got really big feet, those two," he added as the girls pulled off their own shoes and compared their feet with the shoe they'd snatched from Harry. "You sure they're not boys in drag? I don't reckon you could raise normal kids, somehow."
Snape glared at the red-haired, dress-wearing, male Godmother.
"Weasley," he said. "What the blazes-"
"Shut up," Ron muttered distractedly, waving his wand at the older man. Snape clapped his hands to his throat and looked highly affronted.
Or pissed off, if you prefer.
"You're a fine one to talk about boys in skirts," Hermione huffed as she appeared behind Snape and stunned him just as he leapt at Ron, hands outstretched and clawing for Ron's throat.
"That was fun," Ron said fondly, staring happily down at Snape's prone form. "I've waited a long time to do that."
Hermione looked at him, frustration evident on her face, but she was also biting her lip in an effort to stop herself smiling.
Harry looked from one to the other, absently noting two squawks of pain behind him but not bothering to inspect them.
"So," he said.
Silence, but now Hermione and Ron were looking at him expectantly.
Ron looked at him, his expression one of mixed pity and amusement.
"Harry," he said. "Remember what I said about waiting on the opportune moment?"
"This would be it, mate."
Realisation dawned, coincidentally at the same moment as the sun.
You have to love the messed up clock that the Hogwarts kitchens run on.
Harry turned to look at the short witch who, so far, had remained silent.
He reached out and hooked two fingers beneath her chin, wanting to lift her head so that he could see her face beneath her hat.
He held his breath.
He could feel her swallow, her quick nervous breaths tickling his thumb as it rested against her lip.
"Harry, darling," Pansy cooed. "The shoe fits both of us... Have you made a decision yet?"
Yes, now DROP DEAD!
Harry, being polite, turned away with barely a groan of disappointment. He turned to look at Pansy who was brandishing her foot at him.
There was a moment of silence as everyone took in the slightly bizarre sight. It was broken by Millicent swooping down and snatching the shoe from Pansy's foot.
There was a spray of blood that spattered the floor.
There was another moment of silence, broken only by Millicent's grunts as she yanked the shoe on.
"You cut off your toe?!"
"Only a little," Pansy said.
"I didn't cut off my toe," Millicent rumbled, showing her foot in the shoe.
"No, you cut off your heel!" Harry grimaced, watching the blood pooling at the back of the shoe.
"Well, whatever," Pansy said. "The whole school knows that you're looking for the girl you danced with last night because you've fallen in love with her. Do you know anyone else who fits the shoe?"
"Actually, there were plenty o' girls we've seen who look like Harry's ladyfriend," Hagrid grinned. "Short, red hair, nice figure..."
Millicent made a dismissive noise. "It's one of the girls in this room, Harry, so choose."
What followed would have been a moment of perfect silence, except that Ron leaned over to the mysterious servant girl and said, in a stage whisper, "Did you hear all that?"
Ginny, for it was she, had heard all that. She hadn't dared to hope that Harry could have been as affected as she had been by the events of the previous evening, and when word had reached the kitchens of his quest, she'd stomped off in a fit of the sullens. That he'd apparently fallen for one of her stepsisters was simply further proof that the world was deeply unfair.
And now he was standing before her, had apparently been looking for her, and was being harangued by her stepsisters.
She wasn't about to allow that, not even for a second.
"Shut up, you stupid cow!" she yelled, glaring ferociously at Pansy. With an entirely artificial jangly sound effect that Ron and Hermione would later deny all knowledge of, she yanked off her hat and threw it at Millicent.
Ron would later take credit for the spell that increased the mass of the hat several times over, meaning that when it hit Millicent in the face, she was out cold before anyone could blink.
Harry couldn't help but grin as Ginny swooped forward and stood toe to toe with Pansy.
"You'll get the same if you don't go away," the red-haired witch growled.
"But... But..." Pansy stammered, glancing at Harry.
Credit where credit's due, she was brave enough to stand her ground.
Or, possibly, too stupid to realise when she was beaten.
Ginny glared at her.
"In words of one syllable: Back. Off. He. Is. Mine."
She waved at their fallen sister. "Pick her up, take the bits of your bodies that you cut off, and go to the hospital wing. And then come back here and clean the floor. If you think I'm mopping up your blood, you can stick a broomstick up your arse!"
Pansy scurried away.
At least she tried to, but was rather hampered by the bulk of her sister. The most she could manage was a tortuously slow limp.
Still, it takes them out of the story, which is all that matters.
Ginny turned to face Harry, Ron and Hermione, her cheeks as red as her hair.
"As for you three..." she said, glowering at them.
"Whoah, hey, what did we do?" Ron asked.
"Why are you even here?" Ginny seethed.
"Well, some say... but that's not what you mean, is it?" Hermione added hurriedly.
Ginny just glared.
"We're here to finish the job," Hermione amended.
"Well, you have to try on the shoe," Ron said. "That's traditional."
Ginny looked down at the blood soaked shoe she was holding in her hand, and then up at the others. Hagrid was grinning, Harry looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, and Hermione and Ron looked as though the next sentence would be the difference between a pass and a fail on their NEWTs.
"If you think I'm putting this thing on, you can go-"
"I get the idea!" Harry said quickly. "Bad enough I have to ride on a broomstick. That can get pretty uncomfortable. I wouldn't want one any other way."
"Well, if I don't put the shoe on, you won't believe it's me you danced with last night, will you?"
Harry looked at her curiously.
"You weren't wearing a mask," he said. "Of course I know it's you."
"There's always a contingency plan, see?" Ron said, sauntering over and throwing an arm around Harry's shoulders. "Just in case it all goes pear shaped."
He nudged Harry in the ribs. "There's something else you need to say," he added.
"Ron!" Hermione said, warningly.
"Oh, come on," he said, turning to face her. "These two are bloody useless. They didn't even snog last night."
And that was all Ron managed to say. Being on the receiving end of three Stunning spells was enough to drop him limply to the ground. Fortunately, only Harry was in a position to see up his hooped dress.
Ron's unmentionables remained unmentioned, although Harry looked mildly queasy as he turned quickly away.
"Er, could you help me with him please?" Hermione asked Hagrid.
"No problem," Hagrid said, picking Ron up easily by the scruff of the neck. "Dump 'im in the lake, shall we?"
Their voices faded from hearing. Harry and Ginny looked at one another. Just above their heads, and quite unbidden by either of them, a pixie orchestra appeared from nowhere and struck up a love melody.
Harry and Ginny didn't notice.
They were looking at one another.
And being silent again.
Twue wuv, I'm telling you.
"You don't mind that I'm only a maid, do you?" Ginny asked, eventually.
"You don't mind that it took two fairy Godmothers, a masquerade ball, a quest, my old Potions master and two girls I'm considering reporting to animal control to get me to notice you, do you?" Harry replied.
Apparently the answer to both questions was 'No', although if I were Ginny, I might have wanted to have a long talk with Harry about his particular difficulties in recognizing a good thing when it's in front of him. And his tendency to answer a question with another question.
Still, that's probably why I'm just the narrator and not the heroine.
Without seeming to move, they stood in front of one another, eyes still locked, lips scant centimetres apart.
There was the faintest brushing of lips as they leaned forward ever so slightly.
The orchestra shifted into a passionate number without missing a beat.
Ginny and Harry's eyes fluttered shut.
They leant fractionally closer.
Several minutes later, Harry asked, "Will you marry me?"
Ginny replied, "Of course."
It was that kind of courtship.
And just to prove it, Ron reappeared, showing no ill effects from being stunned three times over.
"I love weddings," he declared. "Drinks all round."
"Hear hear," Hagrid chorused.
And, as these things go, there were announcements and invites, dresses to choose, robes to select, shoes to try on...
The shoes, of course, were particularly important.
Then there was the stag-do, where Ron caused a huge shock by appearing in a pair of trousers.
And Hagrid got incredibly drunk on mulled mead, which was less shocking.
And Seamus had a fight with an Italian waitress who was a second cousin once removed to the Corleone family.
Harry had to hex an entire chapter of Hell's Angels who took offence to Dean's slightly inebriated "Make you an offer you can't refuse" spiel.
And Dumbledore won Time magazine's Man of the Decade award.
Long story, that last one.
Then there was the hen-night, where Hermione arranged for a dozen strippers in Quidditch robes to liven up the evening.
Pansy and Millicent ended up, well, going somewhere and doing something with some people which I wouldn't feel comfortable telling my old mum about.
Eloise snuck Neville into the club and they were discovered in a broom cupboard having a very private party.
Ginny had to hex a new guy every three minutes, on average, to protect her virtue for her wedding night.
And then, when the hangovers cleared up, there was, at last, the wedding.
With Professor Dumbledore presiding, the wizarding world's most eligible bachelor pledged his life and his love to the prettiest witch ever seen.
And there was much rejoicing.
That is, except for Ron, who was forced to perform Best Man duties in his work dress after losing a bet to Hermione over whether Harry could be persuaded to wear a Chudley Cannons shirt under his dress robes or not.
Still, for most people, it was a Happy Ending, especially once they saw Ron in the dress.