The next morning, the obvious answer came to Harry. Acting as if there wasn’t anything amiss, he got up and headed to the shower. After he dressed, he pulled out his Invisibility Cloak and set it on the edge of his bed. He waited on his bed until Ron had finished showering.
“So how did it go last night with Hermione?” Harry asked.
“I’m still in shock,” Ron admitted. “I never thought Hermione would like a guy like me, you know? It’s almost too good to be true.”
Harry grinned. “You like her, don’t you?” he asked.
“Well yeah, of course I like her! How could you not like Hermione? She’s the greatest witch of our age, and she’s pretty, to boot. And she’s a great friend.”
Harry chuckled. “Who are you, and what have you done with my friend Ron?” he joked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked, putting on his jumper.
“I seem to remember a time when you thought she was a complete know-it-all,” Harry said.
Ron grinned. “That was another Ron, and a somewhat different Hermione. But this Ron and Hermione are your friends too, ya know.”
“You two are going to make an interesting couple,” Harry stated.
Ron straightened himself up. “So have you decided what you’re going to do about the dance?”
“Yup. I’m going to hide until it’s over.”
Ron sighed. “You can’t hide for that long, Harry. You still have classes, you know.”
“I know. But I have an Invisibility Cloak. It’ll have to do.”
“Suit yourself, Harry. I still think it’d be more fun if you were there.” With that, Ron left Harry in the room with his Cloak. Why am I so determined not to go, Harry asked himself. Not having a really good answer, Harry shrugged, donned his Cloak and headed to breakfast.
The scene in the Great Hall was one of utter chaos. Boys and girls alike were walking around, seemingly jockeying for position at the tables, trying to sit close to a particular boy or girl. Some boys were trying to stay away from certain girls; others were waving across the room. The chatter was almost deafening. To Harry’s surprise, the chaos made it easy for him to slip in and find an open seat. The room didn’t calm down until Dumbledore arrived and motioned for silence.
“Now, I would like you all to calm down and enjoy your breakfast. Ladies, you will not be allowed to begin asking the gentlemen until I declare breakfast to be concluded. That said, let’s tuck in.”
Breakfast appeared, and everyone began eating. Harry found it fascinating to watch his fellow Gryffindors; some ate very fast, others seemed determined to take their time. Harry ate lightly and finished in just a few minutes, then got up and repositioned himself so he could see Ron and Hermione. He just wanted to see Hermione ask Ron to the dance for some reason. As breakfast began to wind down, the chatter started again. Harry didn’t pay much attention until he heard his name mentioned.
“I don’t see Harry anywhere…”
“Has anyone seen Harry? I want to get a little closer to where he’s sitting…”
“Does anyone know if Harry is going to the dance?”
“You can’t ask Harry, I’m asking Harry!”
“Oh, like he’d go with you! Besides, I saw him first last night, so I have dibs.”
“Hey Ginny, do you know where Harry is?”
Harry looked up and spotted Ginny just a few seats away. He gave her his full attention as she answered.
“I haven’t seen him all morning, sorry,” she said offhandedly.
“You two are friends, right?” the same girl said. Harry couldn’t tell who it was; she was out of his field of vision and it wasn’t a voice he recognized. “Is he waiting for anyone to ask him?”
“No, and I don’t think he’s too keen on going, actually. He seems to have a lot on his mind,” Ginny answered somewhat impatiently.
“Well, I’d give him a lot more to have on his mind,” another girl said rather slyly.
“Not keen on going? This is going to be the best dance ever at Hogwarts! How can he not want to go?” the first girl asked.
Ginny shrugged and didn’t answer. The first girl then said, “You’re just winding me up! You’re going to ask him, aren’t you? Sneaky, Ginny, but I’m on to you.”
Ginny’s head shot up. “Look, I talked to Harry last night, and he doesn’t want to go, okay? So just back off,” she said, obviously annoyed.
Several of the girls let out an “oooooo” before the first girl continued. “Just a bit defensive, aren’t we, Ginny? I didn’t know you still had a crush on him.”
“Yes, I’m defensive, and yes, I did have a crush on him, but that’s not why I’m defending him. Harry is my friend, and he wants to be left alone, all right?” Ginny said firmly.
“I don’t suppose he’d accept an invitation from you anyway,” the second girl said. “After all, you did nearly get him killed in the Chamber…”
There was a collective gasp from the table which was immediately followed by several screams. Ginny was on her feet in an instant, wand leveled at the second girl. Before Harry could comprehend what had happened, the second girl was on the ground with a dozen bats flying out of her nose. The rest of the girls scattered to get out of her way.
“What in the name of… sweet Merlin, what is going on?” Professor McGonagall asked as she arrived and surveyed the scene.
“Cindy made a rude comment about me, Harry and the Chamber, so I hexed her,” Ginny said with no hint of regret.
“And you think hexing her is going to solve anything?” McGonagall asked.
“No, but she deserved it, and it made me feel better,” Ginny replied, not taking her eyes off of Cindy.
“That might be so, but we have ways of dealing with such matters without the use of hexes, Miss Weasley. Five points from Gryffindor, and you will serve one night’s detention, be confined to your dormitory for the remainder of the day, and are hereby banned from the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance.”
There was another gasp from the girls around Ginny. She didn’t flinch.
“Fine,” she said simply.
“Now, as for you Miss Conner, I would give you an appropriate punishment, but it seems Miss Weasley has taken it upon herself. I would suggest that, in the future, you be a little more sensitive to histories of your fellow students. After all, this dance is supposed to be a pleasant distraction.”
McGonagall marched off. Ginny put her wand back into her cloak and left in a huff. Harry grinned; he would have to find her later and thank her.
Just then, Dumbledore stood and asked motioned for silence again.
“The time is almost at hand. Now, before I declare breakfast to be concluded, I will give the gentlemen the opportunity to leave the Great Hall and return to wherever they wish, within reason and normal school policy. I will give you five minutes.”
Almost every guy in the room left. Some stayed behind, Ron among them. He and Hermione were sitting very close to each other. There were several girls sitting nearby, but Harry didn’t think they had a chance.
“Very well, the five minutes is done. I declare breakfast to be concluded.”
There was a mad rush for the door. Harry watched Hermione and Ron.
“Will you go to the Sadie Hawkings Day Dance with me Ron?”
“I’d love to Hermione.”
“Great! Now let’s go check on Ginny.”
Harry was a bit disappointed, but he understood. The asking was a forgone matter, and Ginny obviously needed some cheering up. Harry followed Ron and Hermione out of the Great Hall and back to the Gryffindor common room. They found Ginny sitting in a corner looking out a window. Her jaw was set, her face was red, and her eyes were wet with tears.
“What on earth did she say to you, Ginny?” Hermione asked, sitting down next to her.
“She blamed me for almost getting Harry killed,” Ginny answered, her voice breaking.
“She said what? That prat; what does she think she’s getting at?” Ron said defiantly.
“I don’t know what makes me angrier, the fact that she said it, or the fact that it’s true,” Ginny said through a fresh set of tears.
“What are you talking about?” Hermione asked.
“Don’t you see, Hermione? I told Tom all about my crush on Harry. If I hadn’t said anything Tom wouldn’t have lured Harry into the Chamber. Cindy was right; I did almost get him killed.”
“That’s not fair, Ginny,” Ron said, kneeling down next to her. “Harry would have come regardless of who you told Tom about. You might not have been Harry’s friend then, but you’re a Weasley, and Harry wouldn’t have stood aside and let one of the Weasley family waste away in the Chamber. Besides, it didn’t even have to be you; he would have rescued anyone who was taken down there.”
“Except maybe Malfoy,” Hermione said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Well yeah, there’s that,” Ron agreed.
“You really think Harry would have come for me?” Ginny asked Ron.
“Positive,” Harry said, taking off his Cloak.
Ginny wiped her eyes and tried to change the subject. “There you are Harry. Have you been hiding under your Cloak all morning?”
Harry nodded. “And it’s a good thing, too, judging from what I saw in the Great Hall. I wanted to thank you for standing up for me in there. I really appreciate it.”
Ginny smiled and sniffed. “That’s what friends are for, right?”
“Are you going to be all right?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. By the way, I wanted to thank you for saving my life in the Chamber. I’m not sure if I ever got around to it.”
Harry smiled. “Like you said, what are friends for?”
Ginny reached out and hugged Harry tightly. Harry hugged back as sincerely as he could. Just then, there was a commotion outside the entrance to the common room.
Harry broke off the hug gently. “Well, that’s my cue. I’ll be around but under the Cloak. I think it’s the only way I’m going to get through this.”
“We’ll try to deflect things from here,” Ron said.
“Thanks,” Harry said, pulling on his Cloak. He headed up the stairs just as a throng of students surged into the room. He ascended the stairs as quietly as he could and entered his room, closing the door behind him. He almost removed his Cloak but remembered that girls were allowed in the boys’ rooms, so he left it on. No sooner had he sat down in his favorite chair overlooking the Quidditch Pitch did the door fly open and three girls barged in. They looked around and, not seeing him, uttered their disappointment and left.
The rest of the day was the same. Harry would do homework under his Cloak while he waited for the next girl to barge in. Some girls only came once, others came every hour or so. He managed to sneak out for lunch and made it back to his room undetected. Ron brought Ginny her lunch in the common room and Harry risked a wave as he returned to his room. He did the same for supper.
Finally, as curfew approached, his roommates showed up one by one. The last to show was Dean Thomas. Harry could hear a commotion outside the door.
“Girls, please, I don’t know where Harry is, so stop asking,” Dean was saying.
“We know he has to show up sooner or later. Could you ask him if he’s going to the dance with anyone yet? Please?” one of the girls asked.
“If I see him, I will ask him, okay? Now please, let me through,” Dean replied.
The door opened, and Dean jumped in and closed the door behind him.
“Those girls are mad! Mad, I tell you!” Dean exclaimed.
“You’re just jealous because they aren’t falling over themselves for you,” Seamus commented.
“Very funny, Seamus. I don’t see you basking in the glory of an invitation yet,” Dean rebutted.
“Yeah well, I’ll have one as soon as Harry decides who he’s going to accept,” Seamus said. “By the way, where is he? He’s gonna be late and lose us more points if he’s not careful.”
“He’s hiding,” Ron said. “He doesn’t want to go, but he doesn’t want to turn anyone down either. Heart of a lion, that one.”
“Yeah, well, I wish the girls would just accept that. Then maybe they would get around to asking us,” Neville said.
“Why Neville! Have our heart set on someone do we?” Seamus teased.
“No, not really,” Neville said. “But I’m a nice guy, aren’t I? I’m just hoping someone decides on me later. I know I’m not a first round pick or anything.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Neville,” Dean said. “You took Ginny to the Yule Ball, remember? She’s quite the catch, you know.”
“Speaking of Ginny, did you see her today?” Seamus said, eyes open wide. “Man, I would not want to be on the receiving end of that hex. Brutal.”
“I heard Cindy made some kind of comment about her and Harry in the Chamber,” Dean said. “I guess she blamed Ginny for almost getting Harry killed. I think it was wrong of McGonagall to ban her from the dance.”
“Rats,” Neville said to himself.
“Cindy said that?” Seamus asked, shocked. “Oh man, she deserved to be hexed.”
“So who are you hoping to ask you out, Seamus?” Ron asked, changing the subject.
“I’d go with anyone, so long as she isn’t a Slytherin,” Seamus said. “But if I had my choice, I’d want to go with one of the Patel twins.”
“Oh, indeed, they’re a couple of lookers,” Dean agreed.
“So, Ron, you and Hermione. Well done! I’m glad to see you two finally realized what we all knew years before,” Neville said. Everyone laughed.
“Yeah, well, I really don’t deserve her. She’s incredible, though,” Ron said.
“Oh Ron, will you please stop that?” Harry exclaimed, taking off his Cloak. “There’s nobody better for her and you know it.”
“Harry! There you are, where have you been?” Seamus asked.
“Right here all day, actually,” Harry admitted.
“Sweet Merlin Harry, do you realize how many girls are after you for the dance?” Dean asked.
“As a matter of fact, I have a really good idea. A good number of them were in here today looking for me.”
“You have to do something, Harry,” Neville said. “All the girls are going nuts.”
“Yeah, and how are we supposed to get dates if you refuse to go out there and disappoint them all?” Seamus added.
“You guys knock it off, it’s not like it’s Harry’s fault,” Ron defended.
“Easy for you to say, Ron, you already have a date,” Dean said.
“I know, Harry,” Neville said. “You can pretend to get severely hurt and hide out in the hospital wing. It would be believable, and Madam Pomphrey wouldn’t dare let anyone in to see you while you recovered.”
“Now there’s an idea,” Harry said. “And she could declare me unfit to dance, so I wouldn’t be able to go.”
“Yeah, but how are we going to fake the injury? And do you think Madam Pomphrey would lie to the whole school just so you could avoid the girls? Besides, Snape would probably want to examine you personally,” Ron said.
“Ugh, this is impossible. I’m sticking to my Invisibility Cloak. You lot get the word out that I’m not interested, okay?” Harry said.
“Fine by me, Harry, but just keep out of sight, okay?” Dean said.