A/N: Harry's sixth year, after OotP. H/G, R/Hr, PG-13 rating.
* * *
Harry walked along the lake in the late afternoon by himself, gloomy thoughts filling his head about his life. With spring returning to Hogwarts, the day was warm and dry, which was a nice change from the recent wet weather, and he felt that he should take advantage of it while he could.
That morning, news had been sprayed across the Daily Prophet in huge letters announcing a massive Azkaban break-out. All the Death Eaters had escaped, including Lucius Malfoy. The mood at breakfast had felt very subdued, although Harry noticed that Draco's face held a particularly annoying smirk.
Harry tried to care about the break-out, but somehow the whole thing had a feeling of inevitability to him. The Ministry had apparently put in enormous amounts of security since the disappearance of the Dementors, but, in the end, it hadn't been enough. Many guards had died during the escape.
He briefly wondered what the ramifications would be, but his mind kept wandering back to more personal problems. Lately, many things had been settling down in his mind, yet many things felt extremely confusing.
One thing was certainly better, and that was Snape's class. Snape had exited the infirmary after a day (Harry had heard that there'd been quite a row between he and Madam Pomfrey about it), and in their next class, Snape began the lesson as usual with no comment about the previous events.
Although Snape's feelings about him had clearly not improved, as he periodically shot Harry looks of hatred, things had been much less tense. Instead of every lesson being a personal challenge, Snape appeared to embrace a new strategy of ignoring Harry for the most part.
Many students had seemed to look at him rather warily after the incident, but that all seemed to settle down after a week or so. In fact, many students seemed much more relaxed around him since the tension in Snape's class had died down.
One thing that didn't feel better was that Ron and Hermione had recently been spending a lot of time alone together, and Harry couldn't help but feel a bit left out. He was very glad they had finally admitted their feelings for each other, but the three of them didn't spend nearly as much time together, and he missed it. And if he were really truthful with himself, he felt a bit... envious. They were so happy together.
Most of his confusion these days revolved around his relationship with Ginny, which ebbed and flowed like a tide, as he seemed to get closer and then further away. After he'd let Valentine's Day pass without action, he had watched carefully for any sign of reaction, but all was business as usual. It was more evidence that Hermione was right - she had liked him early on for no apparent reason, had come to her senses, got over him, and was now just a friend.
And yet... sometimes she seemed to look at him as if she might want him to do something...
Harry sighed, kicking a rock into the lake. The only good thing was that he hadn't noticed Ginny spending any significant time around any other boys, although she seemed to count many boys among her friends. The biggest problem was that he just didn't know exactly what he wanted.
Sometimes at the end of their late night meals he would be so tempted to kiss her goodnight, to see what would happen... but he was fearful that he would mess everything up. It helped him so much to have her to talk to, especially with Ron and Hermione now a couple.
His situation with Cho had been such a disaster last year. What if it ended the same way with Ginny?
Somehow, when he would feel some temptation to explore where things could go, it seemed easier to maintain the status quo and not take such a huge risk. Endless problems would fill his head... what would Ron say? What would Mr. and Weasley think about their daughter going out with someone so, well, dangerous? What about Ginny's brothers?
He wasn't just risking his relationship with Ginny, which was bad enough. He was risking his entire relationship with the Weasleys, who claimed to love him like a son. It was one thing to accept him into their family, it was another thing to accept him going out with their only daughter, who had already gone through a terrible time.
So, whenever his urges struck, he would go through the same thought process over and over, finally being thankful for what he had, and putting off any decisions for another day. And then the days passed, becoming weeks, and weeks became more weeks, bringing him to his current state on this day at the end of April.
Harry continued walking, going over the same mental territory, wondering what he should do. Finally he reached the steps of Hogwarts again and entered back into the castle, not feeling any closer to figuring things out.
"Harry!" said a voice behind him, as he traveled back to Gryffindor Tower. "I've been looking for you!"
Harry turned and found Lavender running over to him.
"Hi, Lavender," he said. "What's up?"
"Did you hear about it?" asked Lavender brightly.
"Hear about what?" Harry asked blankly.
Lavender rolled her eyes. "The carnival, silly! They're going to have a carnival next weekend on the Hogwarts grounds."
"Sounds like fun," Harry said politely, wondering why she was telling him.
"Yes! But the best part is they're going to let us do some booths for charity," she said. "You'll help us, won't you?"
"Erm, what do you want me to do?" asked Harry.
"We have just the job for you... we want you to be in the Dunking Booth!" she said enthusiastically.
"What's that?" he asked curiously.
"It's fun! You sit on a seat over a tank of water and people pay a Galleon to throw a Quaffle at a target. If they hit it, then you get dunked in the water," she said.
"Er, what am I wearing?" Harry said cautiously.
"A swim suit, of course," Lavender said.
Suddenly a picture of himself rose in his head, sitting in the middle of the carnival in his swim suit with every girl in Hogwarts staring at him... Colin Creevey would surely be taking pictures... Harry shuddered in horror. He shook his head at her vehemently.
"No way," Harry said firmly.
"But, Harry... it's for charity..." Lavender said hopefully.
"Not a chance."
"But we'll make so much money if you do it!" she said pleadingly.
"Don't you want to know what the money is for?" she asked.
"No. I'm not doing it."
"But... but, Harry, all the money goes to an orphanage..." Lavender said, looking at him with big puppy-dog eyes.
Harry opened his mouth to refuse once again, but hesitated. Lavender, sensing weakness, moved in for the kill.
"Think about all those children, without parents... this money will help them so much..." she said, looking sad. "That's why we thought of you... we knew you wouldn't let them down."
Harry closed his eyes, feeling that she was fighting entirely unfairly. He sighed, resigned. He couldn't turn down an orphanage.
"All right," he said. "How long do I have to do it?"
"Just a couple of hours," she said happily. "It'll be fun, you'll see. Oh, and Parvati made a special Gryffindor swim suit for you."
"A Gryffindor swim suit?" he said dubiously.
"Yes! You want to show your house pride, don't you? It's red and gold!" she said.
The whole thing just kept getting worse. Harry groaned. "Well, we'll see about that," he grumbled.
"You don't need to decide about the suit now," Lavender said soothingly. "We'll let you know what time to be there."
Harry continued on to the Tower, continuing to grumble all the way. A Hogsmeade weekend would have been in a little more than two weeks, but had been cancelled a few weeks before because of security concerns. Apparently Dumbledore was trying to make up for the loss.
He gave the password to the Fat Lady and entered into the common room to a buzzing of excitement. Seeing Ron and Hermione, he moved over to their table and sat down.
"Did you hear?" Ron asked excitedly.
"Yeah," Harry said, trying to force a smile to his face, but couldn't help but see images of himself on display for everyone in Hogwarts.
"What's the matter, Harry?" Hermione asked worriedly.
"Oh, Lavender made me promise to work one of the booths at the carnival," he said, annoyed. "I don't even want to talk about it."
Hermione looked like she was fighting back a smile as she pasted an expression of sympathy on her face. "Well, she already told us," she said.
Harry felt even more annoyed. "She was telling people before she even asked me?"
"Oh, Harry, it'll be all right. It's for a good cause," she said, her smile finally breaking out.
Harry looked unconvinced. "Well, it's just for a few hours, I guess, although I don't even know what time I'm supposed to do it. You both will meet me afterward, won't you?"
"Of course we will, Harry. And Ginny was talking about coming with us, too," Hermione said.
Harry's spirits brightened considerably, but he tried not to appear too excited about the prospect. "Oh? Great, that'll be fun," he said nonchalantly.
"Yeah, mate! It'll be great... me and Hermione, you and Ginny..." Ron started, giving him a meaningful glance, but Hermione glared at him. "Um, yeah," he said, coughing.
Harry wondered briefly what the glare was all about, but felt in too good of spirits to really care about whatever minor argument they might be engaged in. He felt good about having some sort plan in place where he could spend time with Ginny.
* * *
Harry felt simultaneously excited and apprehensive as the day of the carnival approached. On Friday, a large caravan pulled onto the Hogwarts grounds and began setting up. The whole school hummed with excitement. Finally Saturday morning arrived and Harry met Lavender in the common room to get his instructions.
"Hi, Harry! Here's your Gryffindor swim suit," Lavender said, handing him an incredibly light piece of material.
Harry took it from her and held it up. It looked very tight fitting, colored a Gryffindor gold color decorated with bright red flames. Harry stared at it in horror.
"NOT A BLOODY CHANCE IN HELL," he said loudly.
"But Harry, you promised..." Lavender said, pouting.
"I promised to do the booth. I didn't promise to wear... wear... that."
"But Harry... the orphans..." Lavender said hopefully.
"Hang the orphans!" he said vehemently. "I'm not wearing that suit."
"All right, Harry," said Lavender, looking extremely disappointed.
"Right, then," Harry said, calming down. "When am I supposed to do this?"
"We scheduled you in the morning," Lavender said, quickly moving on to a safer subject. "First thing! From nine to eleven, so you'll be over and done with. We even cast some warming charms on the water and the tank."
Harry glanced at the clock. It was eight o'clock, so he needed to get moving if he was to eat breakfast beforehand. "All right, I'll meet you down there at nine."
"Thank you, Harry," Lavender said, giving him a big smile. Harry grumbled back.
Entering the Great Hall, he saw Ron, Hermione and Ginny sitting together, as he took a seat with them. They all gave him greetings.
Ginny snickered at the frown on this face. "Oh, Harry. It won't be that bad," she said.
Harry wasn't so certain. He was still mortified by the swim suit, making him wonder what other surprises were in store for him.
"Let me guess," she said, with a huge grin. "You saw the swim suit?"
Harry noticed that Ron and Hermione also seemed to be fighting back laughter. Finally he couldn't help but chuckle a bit himself.
"Yeah. Let's just say I was tempted to cast an inferno charm right there on the spot," he said, with a smile.
"I tried to tell Parvati that you wouldn't wear it," Hermione said, laughing. "But she was determined to try."
"Anyway, Lavender told me that I have to work the booth from nine to eleven, so after that I'll be free," Harry said.
"All right, Harry," said Hermione. "We'll meet you right afterward, and we'll stop by during to see how you're doing, too."
"Yeah, mate. And we'll save all the good stuff for when you're done," Ron said.
"Thanks," Harry said gratefully.
At the appointed hour, Harry headed down to the carnival. He was grateful that the weather seemed to be warm. Although Lavender had promised that the tank used warming spells, he'd rather it was a nice day. He looked about in fascination at various game booths, exhibitions and a whole section with magical rides. He was itching to go and explore, but sighed as he saw Lavender next to the Dunking Booth. It was a tank about six feet square filled with about five feet of water. Above the water was a platform suspended with no apparent means of support. A target with concentric circles was set up next to the tank.
"Hi, Harry. All set?" asked Lavender brightly.
"Yeah," he said reluctantly, eyeing the tank.
"There's a bathroom over there where you can change," she said, gesturing toward a set of temporary buildings that looked as if they were for administration.
Harry quickly dressed into his swim suit. He peeked out the door and noticed that many students had begun arriving. Sighing, he gathered his courage and began walking toward the tank. He saw a ladder behind the booth that he used to climb up and in, and then took his place, sitting on the platform. The air felt warm in the tank, so apparently Lavender had put on the promised warming charm.
He couldn't help but noticed that many girls were whispering to each other and pointing at him, but he figured that he might as well do the deed right, and so he smiled at everyone encouragingly.
A line began to form immediately to take a shot at him; Harry noticed that many of the students were Slytherins.
Lavender put down a line on the ground from where everyone was supposed to throw the Quaffle. Harry was grateful that she didn't make the shot too easy. About twenty people tried and missed, until a girl from the Ravenclaw Quidditch team took a shot, dumping him into the water. The crowd cheered as Harry swam back up. He grinned at the student and gave her a thumbs up. Lavender beamed at Harry for being such a good sport.
Harry had to admit that now that he was there, it wasn't so bad. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and he noticed a large stack of gold growing next to her.
Some time later, Ron, Hermione and Ginny arrived, who all immediately laughed at Harry on his perch. Harry gave them a sour look in return.
"How's it going?" Ginny called up to him.
"Oh, it's not so bad," he said. "Lavender seems to be making a lot of money."
Just then, Malfoy reached the front of the line, smirking at Harry. He handed a coin to Lavender. "Well, Potter, I've always said you're all wet."
Harry ignored him, keeping his eyes on his friends.
"I guess that famous Gryffindor courage is on display, too, eh, Potter?" Malfoy called to him. "If I had a body like that, I certainly wouldn't... flaunt... myself in public."
Harry gritted his teeth, trying not to give Malfoy the satisfaction of reacting.
"But I suppose you're the famous Harry Potter... we should all bow down and thank the gods above for the honor of seeing you in your... splendor."
"Are you going to throw it, Malfoy, or are you going to try and hit the target with your mouth?" Ron said, irritated. Hermione and Ginny laughed.
"Patience, Weasley," Malfoy said arrogantly. "For a Galleon, I intend to get my money's worth."
Malfoy pulled his arm back and took careful aim. He launched the Quaffle at the target, but missed by a foot.
Ginny laughed loudly. "Good thing you're a Seeker, Malfoy, because you'd make a really pathetic Chaser. Not that your Seeking skills are anything to crow about."
Malfoy sent her a poisoned look. "You think you could do better, Weasley? Maybe your great hero Potter will dive into the tank for you."
"I know I could, Malfoy," Ginny said coldly. "In fact, I'll bet you a Galleon I can hit the target on my first try."
The other students in line looked very interested at this. Malfoy smirked at her. "One Galleon, Weasley? Is that all you can afford? Well, I suppose it's not too surprising, considering your family's... well, financial means." He paused long enough to give her a sneer. "If we're going to bet, then let's make it worthwhile. Say, one hundred Galleons."
Ginny blanched a bit at that, but then said angrily, "If you're too frightened to bet, Malfoy, just say so. You know I don't have a hundred bloody Galleons."
He laughed at her mockingly. "Shall we just say a Knut, then? Or will that break your little piggy bank?"
"I'll cover her," Harry called, a smile on his face. Ginny looked at him with shock, and then walked over where Malfoy couldn't hear.
"Harry!" she whispered. "I can't pay you back if I lose!"
"You won't lose," Harry said confidently, leaning over to her. "Show Malfoy how it's done."
Ginny paused, then grinned at him. "Right, then."
She moved back to Malfoy, who was looking decidedly less confident. "All right, Malfoy. One hundred Galleons, one shot."
"May I...?" she asked the next boy in line. He nodded enthusiastically, allowing Ginny to take the place in line in front of him. She took the Quaffle and gave a Galleon to Lavender. She pulled her arm back and made a fake throw, pushing the ball forward, and then quickly pulling back. As she did, Malfoy made a loud coughing sound.
"You're so predictable, Malfoy," she said, rolling her eyes. "Are you so worried that you need to cheat?"
The crowd laughed loudly, causing Malfoy to appear extremely embarrassed. Ginny gave him one last derisive look and then turned back to the target, taking careful aim. She threw the Quaffle perfectly, hitting the target dead center, causing Harry to fall into the water. The crowd cheered as Harry bobbed back to the surface, grinning widely. Malfoy appeared extremely angry.
"Well, Malfoy?" Ginny said, holding out her palm. "Hand it over."
He appeared like he wanted to slap her hand away, but then began to reach into his robe.
"Unless..." Ginny said with a smirk.
"Unless what?" Malfoy said, his hand suspended in his robe.
"Unless you'd care to do a double-or-nothing," Ginny said.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "Double-or-nothing?"
"I'll bet you double-or-nothing that you miss your next throw. You hit the target... you owe me nothing. You miss... then it's doubled, two hundred Galleons," Ginny said, grinning widely at him.
The crowd had been growing during the exchange. The large crowd now looked at Malfoy with anticipation.
"Well, Malfoy?" said Ron, with a wide smirk. "Or are the stakes a bit... high for you?"
Malfoy appeared as if he was fighting a titanic inner struggle, but glancing around at the crowd, he finally snapped, "Fine!"
"Everyone!" Ron shouted beyond the crowd. "Two hundred Galleons says that Malfoy is going to miss this shot! Come and watch!"
More and more students came over to witness the bet, causing Malfoy to look extremely nervous.
"Any time you're ready, Malfoy," Harry said, grinning.
Malfoy pulled the Quaffle back, his hand shaking slightly. He finally launched it and the ball missed the target by a good three feet.
Simultaneous groans and cheers came up from the crowd. Ginny raised her arms over her head and gave a scream of triumph.
"Two hundred Galleons!" Ginny said, pulling out her money purse. "Pay up, Malfoy."
Malfoy looked as if he wanted to just walk away and pay her nothing, but glancing around at the crowd, he realized that he had no choice but to pay her. He reached into his robe and pulled out a sack of gold. He counted out two hundred Galleons and handed it to her contemptuously.
"Try not to wet your pants, Weasley," he said arrogantly. "I'm certain that's more money than your whole family has ever had at one time. Of course, it's pocket change to me."
"Yeah, yeah, Malfoy. Whatever you say. Just hand it over," Ginny said, taking the money and snapping her money purse shut. "It was a pleasure doing business with you."
Malfoy stalked off as Ginny beamed at Harry. "Thank you, Harry! I'll hold onto your half until after you're done."
Harry grinned back at her. "I already have my share just seeing Malfoy get humiliated. You won the bet; it's all yours."
Ginny looked uncertain. "Are you sure? Well... at least, lunch is on me, today."
"That sounds great," Harry replied.
The three promised Harry they would return after he was done, as they wandered off to look around some more. Harry sighed, wishing he could go with them.
Later on, when Harry finally completed his duties at the Dunking Booth, Ron, Hermione and Ginny met him coming out of the bathroom after changing out of his swim suit.
"All ready, mate?" asked Ron.
"Definitely," Harry said, glad it was over. "Let's go see the carnival."
"We've been wandering around. The carnival is bloody fantastic," said Ron exuberantly, as they headed out.
As they walked about the grounds, Harry was fascinated with all the displays. It was a lot like a Muggle carnival in certain ways. He saw a magic juggler using his wand to keep fifteen balls in the air swooping around in a complex pattern. Harry was impressed; the juggler would have to keep fifteen spells going at once for the effect to work.
As they passed by some game booths, a carny called out to him. "Right this way, sir. One sickle! Ring the bell and win a prize for your lady friend."
The carny was working a booth with a number of large signs with various slogans, such as, 'Prove your strength!' and 'How much of a wizard are you?'
Harry moved up to the booth. "What do I do?" he asked the man.
"Launch a spell at this target," he said, gesturing toward a round plate. The plate was attached to a tall staff with marks. At the top of the staff was a large bell. "The harder you hit the target, the higher the indicator goes. If you hit the top and ring the bell, you win one of these prizes."
Harry looked at the prizes, which consisted of very large, brightly colored stuffed animals. They resembled typical Muggle prizes, except these animals were animated, waving to people as they passed the booth.
"Aw, no one ever wins this," Ron said derisively. "It's a bloody scam. You can tell by how big the prizes are." The carny shot a glare at Ron.
"It has to be possible," Hermione said loftily. "They wouldn't just make it so that no one could do it."
"The little lady is right," the carny said smoothly. "We run fair games, here."
Ron appeared skeptical, but let it go. The carny looked at Harry expectantly.
Ginny grinned. "Go on, Harry. Give it a try."
Harry grinned back, pulled out a sickle and handed it to the man. Harry pulled out his wand, and, deciding not to take any chances, sent one of the stronger bludgeoning spells that he knew. It leapt out of his wand, hitting the plate violently, causing a beam of light to fly up the staff and hit the bell, causing a very loud GONG to sound. He noticed the plate now had a large dent in it.
The carny looked extremely annoyed. "All right. Pick your prize," he said in a surly voice.
Harry smiled at Ginny. "You choose," he said.
She beamed at him and pointed to a stuffed dragon. "That one!"
The carny pulled down the dragon and handed it to Ginny, forcing an insincere smile to his face.
"Thank you, Harry," Ginny said, hugging her new dragon, which was busily trying to nibble on her neck. "Oh, and thank you again for... earlier, with Malfoy."
"You're welcome, and no, thank you. Any excuse to put one over Malfoy is worth just about any cost," Harry said, grinning.
They continued on, coming upon a raised platform with another carny barking to the passing students.
"Hurry! Hurry! Step right up and see some of the most amazing things you will ever see in your life!" he said, playing to the crowd. Several students stopped to listen. "See the Amazing Splinched Man. He was splinched so severely that it could not be reversed. See the women who tried to make herself taller, but didn't quite get what she bargained for... she's over twelve feet tall with a six inch waist! An amazing Animagus Transformation accident... half man, half frog! Magical accidents of every sort! A once in a lifetime opportunity. Only two sickles!"
"Whoa! I need to see this!" Ron said enthusiastically.
"But, Ron," Hermione started. "These people are being exploited... for our entertainment!"
Ron blinked at her. "Hermione! It's a freak show! We have to see the freaks!"
Hermione looked extremely reluctant. "I don't know..."
"But... but... freaks!" Ron said imploringly.
"Don't call them 'freaks,' Ron! It's not nice," Hermione said haughtily.
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, trying to fight down grins. Apparently having the two of them go out didn't eliminate all the bickering. Ron appeared extremely disappointed.
"Well, you know, Hermione," Ginny said. "It's really compassionate to go see them... this is how they make their money. If we didn't go see them, they wouldn't have a way to make a living."
Ron looked at Ginny like she was a savior. "Yeah! That's right!" he said. "We're being... being... noble by giving them money." Ron gazed hopefully at Hermione.
"Well," Hermione said half-heartedly. "All right."
"Besides," Ginny whispered to Harry, grinning. "I want to see them, too."
They paid the man and entered a large portable tent. Harry noticed with amusement that now that the decision was made, Hermione appeared extremely interested and was first through the door scanning avidly about the room.
They first went to Magical Livestock Accidents, which showed various animals that had undergone magical transformations. Harry stared incredulously at a lamb with ten heads, sticking out at various parts of his body. The lamb seemed relatively happy, however, as one of the heads ate his lunch calmly while various other ones Baa-ed at him. Reading a card next to the exhibit, the farmer from New Zealand had been apparently trying to create a lamb with more legs.
They moved through the tent, Harry fascinated with all the exhibits. He even saw a person blown up as his Aunt Marge had been, but apparently unable to be reversed. One man was covered head to toe with thick hair, except for the top of his head, which was completely bald. His story was that he'd tried a hair growth potion for his head, but had mixed up several ingredients.
Harry felt the best was definitely the Amazing Splinched Man, the last exhibit. They entered through a special door with an arrow that flashed in various colors. As they walked into the room, Ginny and Hermione audibly gasped, each grabbing Harry and Ron's arms respectively, while Harry and Ron glanced at each other in shock.
The Amazing Splinched Man grinned at them, which wasn't particularly noteworthy, except he grinned from a mouth in the middle of his chest. In fact, none of his body parts appeared to be attached in the correct spot. His head, which featured only a nose, was coming out the left shoulder, while one arm came out his hip, and the other arm out his back. The only thing that seemed attached almost in a normal way were his legs, except they were oriented at ninety degree angles, causing his feet to point straight out to the sides. His eyes and eyebrows blinked at them from the top of his neck, which ended in a stump. Finally, his ears stuck out the top of his shoulders, but were at least symmetrical.
He wore only a loin cloth, for which Harry was thankful. He definitely didn't want to see what was under there. Harry was also pretty certain his insides had been scrambled, as his torso was bumpy and misshapen.
They gawked unblushingly at the man, who appeared quite amused at their reaction.
"Hi, kids," he said from his chest, in a relatively normal voice, although it seemed to have an odd tone.
"Erm," Ron started, curiosity overcoming him. "What happened?"
"I tried to Disapparate from a Muggle airplane fifty-thousand feet in the air, going six hundred miles per hour, while drunk. Definitely not recommended. You should have seen me before the Magical Reversal Squad put me back together," he said, with the smoothness of a long practiced speech. "I count myself lucky to have survived at all."
He laughed. "An excellent question. Yes, believe it or not, everything works. Took some magic from the head of the Reversal Department himself working with a team from St. Mungos. I'm the most written about splinching case in history," he finished, a bit proudly.
"Er, thank you," Hermione said politely.
"No worries. Have fun at the carnival," he said, waving at them using his hip-arm.
The exited the tent, back into bright sunshine as they began looking around the carnival again.
"Let's go see the rides," Ron said enthusiastically.
"Yeah! I've been dying to go on them," Ginny said, appearing excited as well.
Harry noticed that Hermione looked a bit reluctant at this. "I've never been one for Muggle roller coasters... are they anything like that?" she asked.
"No idea," Ron said distractedly, walking along quickly, holding Hermione's hand and pulling her along. Ginny and Harry stole a glance at each other, chuckling.
The entered into a very odd area, filled with bizarre floating shapes. Ron and Ginny seemed to take it for granted, but Harry and Hermione glanced at each other. They moved over to the nearest one, which had a long line of students.
"Let's go on the Whipper-Snapper!" Ron said, gesturing at a ride. It had an assortment of large, floating pipes strewn haphazardly around a field. They entered into the line, Hermione appearing very nervous.
Harry watched the student at the front of the line walk over to an odd, upside-down funnel pointing straight up in the air. The student positioned himself underneath the funnel, his face a tad nervous. The rather bored-looking operator waved his wand. Suddenly the student flew straight up at an incredible speed and was shot in the air about 80 feet high. He hit a floating pipe shaped like an elbow, which proceeded to launch him vertically across the field, until he hit another pipe that shot him in another direction. Pipe after pipe the boy flew around until he finally landed on the ground. He was extremely dizzy as he staggered to his friends.
"Uh, uh," Hermione said emphatically. "I'm not going on this one."
"Aw, Hermione..." Ron said, grinning. "Don't you want to try it... once?"
"Once would be far too much. I'll go on... that one," she said, gesturing toward a slow-moving ride. It resembled a Muggle merry-go-round, except the horses were various magical animals, the animals were animated, and floated in the air while moving in a circle.
"All right, all right," Ron said chuckling. "You're in, aren't you, Harry?"
Harry felt a bit nervous, but noticing Ginny grinning at him, he felt he had no choice but to go. "Yeah, looks like fun," he said, doing his best to fake a calm exterior.
They finally reached the front of the line. Ron and Ginny went first, both whooping and screaming as they flew around. Harry then took his turn. The sense of speed was incredible as he flew through the air, suddenly changing direction with each pipe that he hit. He landed on the ground and wobbled unsteadily toward Ron and Ginny, who were openly laughing at him.
"Wow," Harry said. He'd never been on a Muggle roller coaster, seeing as how the Dursleys didn't allow him to have any sort of fun, but he couldn't imagine those were much more fun than this ride.
After going on a few more rides (Hermione only went on the merry-go-round with Ron), they decided to have lunch, Ginny keeping her promise to treat Harry. They spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Carnival, riding more rides and playing more games.
As the sun began to go down, they headed back up to the castle for dinner. Harry was feeling exhausted, but cheerful. He noticed Ron and Hermione holding hands as they walked back. He glanced over at Ginny, wondering what would happen if he reached over and took her hand.
As usual, he decided it was better not to risk it and potentially spoil a good day.
* * *
It was a week after the carnival when Harry sat in the great hall, eating his dinner when the room suddenly quieted down. He glanced around curiously and noticed that Dumbledore had risen to his feet.
"Students, your attention, please," he started. The room immediately grew silent as he smiled to the room, his eyes twinkling. Harry felt some slight relief; whatever he was going to say, it didn't look like bad news.
"I have an announcement that some of you may find extremely interesting. As you all know, the third Hogsmeade visit was cancelled for next weekend. However, Professor Melanadray has just made an alternative suggestion, which I thought was an excellent idea," he said, gesturing at her.
Many of the students appeared much more interested in the announcement upon hearing this. Dumbledore gave a dramatic pause.
"Since we have an open weekend, we are going to hold a Ball next Saturday," he said, smiling.
An excited murmuring ran through the room. Harry noticed that Parvati and Lavender were particularly squealing at each other.
"It's short notice, of course - we only have seven days to put it together, but I believe everyone will have a lot of fun. Further announcements will be forthcoming as the plans come together. All prefects should expect this to be a busy week," he finished, chuckling.
Ron blinked for a few seconds, then turned quickly to Hermione. "Hermione, will you go to the Ball with me?" he said, the words tumbling out.
"Of course I will, Ron," she said, smiling at him. "But there wasn't much doubt about that, was there?"
"I'm not taking any chances this time," he said emphatically.
Harry, for his part, felt a bit stunned by the whole thing. Should he ask Ginny? Part of him was very tempted - but other parts were still uncertain about his feelings. Asking her to the Ball could possibly be committing him down a path he wasn't sure about. He knew she was very important to him... but what about her family... dare he risk it?
And he wasn't even certain about her feelings...
He had been putting off any decisions about her, but maybe... maybe this was an opportunity to test the water. They could go to the Ball together, and he might be able to get some hints about how she felt about it... that was safer than a lot of his other options.
But what if she turned him down? What if she accepted, but didn't really want to... maybe she had some other bloke in mind whom she wanted to ask her... it could make things really awkward between them.
Harry sighed as he took another bite of his breakfast and decided to think about the whole thing some more before making any final decisions.
* * *
Ginny sat in the library, trying to finish her Charms essay, but was finding it very difficult to concentrate. Her thoughts kept wandering to a place that they had been returning to quite a bit lately... Harry. She sighed as she put down her quill.
The Ball had been announced two days ago, and he didn't seem to be in any hurry to ask her. With the short amount of time, students weren't wasting any time about pairing up. She had already turned down three boys who had asked, and if this kept up, she was afraid she would end up with no one to take her. It was especially annoying because she had money to buy nice dress robes this year, and she fully intended to make use of it.
And the truth was, she was getting just a bit tired of waiting for him... on many levels.
She felt a surge of anger at herself. Didn't I say I wasn't going to be like this before the year started? she thought. She didn't feel as if she was pining for him, but neither was she giving much attention to any other boys. She was very happy with the time she spent with Harry, but if it wasn't going to go anywhere, shouldn't she start to... look elsewhere?
She hated to think it, but it was possible that Harry simply didn't want things to move further, and she had been wrong about the whole thing. They had been spending even more time together since Ron and Hermione started going out, but lately... he almost seemed even less interested, more hidden than he'd been before...
"Ginny?" a boy said, coming up to her.
"Oh! Hi... um, Matt," she said, a bit shy. Matt Prescott was a very popular seventh year Gryffindor, whom she had to admit was very good looking. He was rather tall, with wavy brown hair and dark, brown eyes. They hadn't spoken very many times, but had recently chatted together at the carnival, after she had won the bet from Malfoy. He had seemed very nice.
"Hi," he said, smiling. "Busy with your OWL studies?"
"Yes," she said, sighing. "I should be working harder, but... hard to concentrate."
"Yeah. I know what you mean... NEWT studies are even worse," he said.
"Don't tell me that!" Ginny said in mock horror, then grinned at him.
"All right, NEWT studies are a cinch," he said, grinning back. "Piece of cake."
Ginny laughed. "Oh, now we have a bit of a big head, don't we?" she said, tilting her head and looking at him out the corner of her eye appraisingly.
"All right, they'll be easy for you, but are murder for me. Is that better?" he said, smiling.
Ginny nodded her approval. "Much better," she said, feeling good about flirting with a boy who, for a change, actually seemed to respond.
"Listen..." he started, with a smile. "I know that you're probably already going with someone, and I'm sorry for not asking you sooner, but I wondered if you would care to go to the Ball with me?"
Ginny felt stunned that he was asking her. She was extremely conflicted; she had hoped Harry would ask her... then suddenly all her frustration with him took over, and she realized she really was tired of waiting for him. If Harry didn't want her, there were certainly other boys that did. She smiled warmly at Matt.
"I'd love to," she said.
* * *
Harry looked across the common room, watching Ginny work on her homework, trying to work up some nerve. He had made his decision, and he intended to ask Ginny to the Ball. All week he had been struggling to find some way to ask her, only to find some excuse for putting it off. He just didn't know how it was going to go, but there wasn't much time left. The Ball was coming up like a runaway train and he had to ask her soon.
She abruptly closed her book and packed up her work. Getting up from the table, she headed over the portrait hole, apparently deciding to continue in the library. Harry panicked, he couldn't put it off any longer. He got up from his table and ran after her.
He caught up to her in the corridor. "Ginny! Wait..."
She turned around, looking at him curiously. "Hi, Harry. What's up?"
"Um... Er..." Harry started, his breathing suddenly getting very shallow with nervousness. Finally he called on some reserve of courage and decided to get it over with. "Would... would you maybe want to go to the Ball with me?" he asked.
Ginny blinked at him in disbelief. There was a long pause as Harry felt extremely anxious. She didn't appear pleased or happy to be asked as he'd hoped; on the contrary, her eyes were slowly narrowing at him.
"You're asking me? Now!? Three days before the Ball?" Ginny asked angrily.
Harry was taken aback. "Uh, I thought you might want to..."
"For your information, I'm already going with someone, Harry," she said, crossing her arms.
"But, I, uh, thought... well, maybe you would have liked to have gone with me, I mean, maybe not..." he said, disappointment filling him.
This seemed to make Ginny even angrier. "You are the bloodiest, thickest git I've ever known," she said, her voice rising.
Harry started growing a bit angry himself. "Well, sorry for asking," he said, his feelings hurt.
"What did you think, Harry?" Ginny was shouting now. "That no one else would ask me? That I would just sit around waiting for you to ask? How long was I supposed to wait?"
She stormed off angrily, leaving Harry confused and hurt. He walked back into the common room and saw Parvati across the room. Before he could change his mind, he went over to her.
"Parvati?" Harry said.
Parvati appeared surprised, but recovered quickly. "Hi, Harry!" she said brightly.
"Do you want to go to the Ball with me?" he asked.
Parvati looked thrilled. "I'd love to! Sit down... I know just what we'll wear," she said, pulling him down into a chair next to her. She began pulling some pictures out of her notebook. Harry blinked. Apparently she had been prepared for this moment. "What do you think of this robe... we don't have much time, so we need to decide."
"Decide?" Harry asked blankly.
"Of course, silly! We need to order our robes so we'll match. We don't want to wear robes that will clash," she said happily. "Madam Malkin is coming tomorrow to measure everyone."
Harry hadn't even thought about what he was going to wear. He had supposed he would wear his dress robes from his fourth year, but he realized they probably didn't fit anymore. Parvati spread out a dozen or so pictures, showing couples turning around and modeling various robe styles.
"I like these..." she said, pointing to a rather elaborate set; too elaborate for Harry's taste. He groaned internally, robes being the furthest from what he cared about at that moment. His mind kept returning to his fight with Ginny in the hall. Why was she angry with him? He had no idea... he had hoped she would want to go with him... but apparently not? But why would she get angry with him for asking?
He noticed that Parvati was looking at him expectantly while his mind was wandering. He realized he needed to get the decision over with. He quickly scanned the pictures, looking for a relatively safe choice.
"How about those?" he said, pointing to a dark green, similar to what he wore in his fourth year.
"Those are my second choice!" Parvati said enthusiastically. "I really like the cut of the lady's robe, and the color will go well with your eyes..." she began, as she launched into a full analysis of the robes.
Harry sighed as she called Lavender over to discuss accessories.
* * *
A/N: Must give a plug to a favorite story that also played the orphan card, Miss Hogwarts by JennaMae: (http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=1106424).
I kind of feel like I didn't do the wizard carnival justice. There are so many things that could have been written. Have some Hogsmeade people bring bizarre crafty stuff, carnies selling wacky remedies, maybe historical duel reenactments, more rides (some weird wizard Tunnel of Love would have been funny), more freaks, more games... ah well. I didn't want to weigh down the story with a part that was technically more fun than plot driven. Maybe I'll write a parallel story one of these days.
Beta reading thanks to Allie Kiwi and DM. Did you know that you'll never die if you leave reviews? It's true! If it doesn't work, let me know and I will apologize wherever you are in person.