The next day Susan joined him at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall for breakfast. Whilst Harry happily munched through his toast, she unrolled a scroll and began to read him a list of things that needed to be done before Friday. As she did so, Hermione updated her on what the other houses had managed to do since they’d last talked, all of which Susan happily crossed out.
“Doesn’t anyone have any thing better to do in this place?” Harry asked as he stuffed another slice into his mouth.
“Come on, Harry,” said Ron in mock cheerfulness, “what else would anyone want to do during their last week here? Lounge around by the lake? Go into Hogsmeade? All that fighting Voldemort must have dulled that brain of yours.”
“Sod off, Ron.”
Susan and Hermione looked disapprovingly at both of them.
“Oh come on, Harry,” said Hermione, “it’s an important event for everyone, you must see that.”
Harry shrugged his shoulders. It wasn’t that he was averse to commemorating the event, he just wanted people to be real about it. A ball didn’t seem the most appropriate way to remember the people who had died before Voldemort could be stopped and the families that would never be the same because of him. The Ministry was building a memorial to the fallen, but the Wizengamot was still discussing where it should be built and what shape it would take.
“Now, Harry,” said Susan, placing her hand on his arm, “there’re just a couple of things I need you to do today….” As she looked down the list, Ron and Hermione stood up quickly and said a hurried goodbye.
“See you later, Harry,” they called as the headed towards the door.
“… one of which is telling Ginny that she is still included in the organising committee.”
Harry had been watching his friends disappear and so missed the first part of what Susan had said. He reached out for another piece of toast and laughed.
“I pity the poor sap that has to do that. Do they want flowers or donations to St Mungo’s?”
“You tell me, you’re the one who’s doing it.”
“Me? Pull the other one; it’s got bells on. I wouldn’t volunteer to do something like that.”
“You didn’t volunteer, Ron put you forward.”
“When? I don’t remember agreeing to that.”
“Ah, well, that’s because you didn’t, I agreed on your behalf.”
“What? Whatever made you think that I’d want to do such a stupid thing as talk the Bitch Queen of Slytherin into doing something she didn’t want to do in the first place?”
“Come on, Harry, it won’t be that hard. Please? For me?”
When he didn’t answer she played her trump card.
“If you don’t do it, then I’ll have to.”
He was so annoyed at being volunteered that he was tempted to let her get on with it. Her last run-in with Ginny had become the stuff of legends and it had taken her three weeks to recover from it.
“Why can’t someone else do it?”
“Because no one else is brave enough to do it.”
“You mean that no one else is stupid enough to do it.”
“Harry, please. For me?”
“Okay, but I’m beginning to think that this whole celebration thing should be postponed until next year.”
“Because then I wouldn’t have to attend!”
He put off looking for her until the middle of the afternoon and then spent a frustrating three hours searching the grounds and castle for the elusive Slytherin. He knew that she wasn’t in the Slytherin common room because Malfoy was looking for her as well. What he wouldn’t have given to still have the Marauders’ Map.
He was walking back from Hagrid’s hut, about to give up, when he caught sight of some movement and a flash of red hair on the top of the Astronomy tower. He had searched there earlier but found nothing. He stopped and squinted, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the westering sun.
There she is! When he’d begun searching he’d been dreading the reception he’d get, but as time had passed, he’d become more focussed on the chase itself so that he was now excited about finding his prey.
In case she was watching him, he didn’t run back to the castle but once inside, he shot up to his dormitory, taking the steps two at a time. Pulling his trunk out from under his bed, he grabbed his Invisibility Cloak from it and, mounting his broomstick, he flew out of the open window pulling the Cloak over both the broom and himself as he did so.
Upon clearing the window ledge, he shot upwards to gain enough height to get a good view of the tower. He then circled cautiously towards it, watching for movement as he did so. Although he was fairly confident that he wouldn’t be detected, experience had taught him not to take chances and the last thing he wanted was to startle her into attacking him. Of course, there was still the chance that she would hex him first and ask questions later, and, although he was confident of his ability to hold his own in a duel, being on a broomstick put him at a distinct disadvantage.
As he drew closer, he saw her sitting on the tiles, sighing and muttering to herself. He hovered down wind of her, contemplating his next move.
“Good, but not quite good enough,” said a hushed voice behind him.
He felt her wand in the middle of his back and froze. The girl in front of him shimmered and then disappeared. He’d flown into a trap.
“Don’t make a sound,” she continued, still keeping her voice low. “That idiot Malfoy is still searching the tower below and I do not want to have another run in with him.”
“I thought you could handle the toe rag,” he replied, making sure he only spoke as loudly as he needed to. He shared her desire not to be discovered by Malfoy and was happy to comply.
“Of course I can handle him,” she hissed, “but if I turn him into a ferret again, I’ll be expelled. Now shut up!”
“What’s the matter, got your heart set on making Head Girl next year?”
“Potter!” she shouted, her anger getting the better of her, “Will you shut the fuck up!”
He felt her wand jab sharply in his back and she swore again as an unwelcome voice began to ask questions.
“Ginny, is that you?” Malfoy’s normally sneering tone sounded almost desperate to Harry’s ears. The boy was obviously completely smitten with his housemate.
“Oh well done, Potter,” she snarled, “you and that big trap of yours. Now lover boy is going to join us. Quick, shove up.”
The wand in Harry’s back was replaced with a small delicate hand and the broom shifted slightly as she climbed on.
“Bugger! Now look what you’ve made me do. It took me ages to get hold of that Invisibility Cloak. You better hope that it’s still there when we get back or I’m having yours.”
“I wondered how you’d managed to make yourself invisible. A Disillusionment Charm too complex for you?”
She jabbed him between the shoulder blades. “Shut up and fly, you idiot!”
His Invisibility Cloak was barely big enough to cover the two of them and she was forced to sit right behind him and wrap her arms around his waist. They took off just as Malfoy’s head popped above the parapet, searching wildly for her.
Harry took them round the back of the tower as Malfoy's shouts filled the air. He then descended quickly so not to give Malfoy the opportunity to see under the Cloak. Unsure as to where to go, and wanting somewhere to hide, he began to head out towards the forest.
He had never taken anyone up on a broom before, let alone a reluctant passenger, and it took him a while to get used to carrying the extra weight. It didn’t help matters when the passenger in question started to shift her position, complaining about ‘crap cushioning charms’ and ‘poor flying’.
After one long diatribe, Harry had had enough. “Weasley, if you don’t shut up, I’ll drop you off and make you walk back.”
They had now cleared the forest and were flying over open country. Harry had no idea where they were going and began to look for somewhere to land where they could sort this out. His passenger had other ideas.
“It’s not my fault you can’t fly properly, Potter; here, let me have ago.”
He felt the broom shift again and he struggled to hold his course. Then the Invisibility Cloak was pulled off them and shoved into his hand.
“Here, hold this, Potter, and don’t forget: if mine goes missing, I’m having this, so drop it at your peril.”
He stuffed the Cloak underneath him the best he could, swearing as the broom shifted again. Confident that the Cloak was now secure, he looked over his shoulder to see what she was up to. To his alarm, she was standing up.
“Sit down, you idiot, you’ll get us both killed!”
But she merely smiled at him and, placing her hands on his shoulders, started to clamber round him.
“Stop whinging, Potter. Merlin, I thought Malfoy was bad enough. Keep this thing straight, can’t you?”
“I am not swapping positions with you, sit down.”
He would have stopped to admire her agility, but he needed all his concentration to keep the broom level. No matter how stupid he thought she was, he would try his best to stop her taking them both down.
She was now standing in front of him, her chest level with his face, ignoring his cries to move out of his way so he could see where they were going.
“Calm down, Potter, there’s no one else up here and if there is they’ll be able to see well enough to avoid us.”
That she was blocking his view wasn’t his concern, it was the fact that her chest was making regular contact with his face, causing him to think about other things rather than flying straight.
“Now, here’s the tricky bit, so no mistakes now.”
Keeping one hand on his shoulder, she turned slowly away from him. There was one brief moment when she was balancing unaided, with her arms out-stretched, before she crouched down and calmly took her seat in front of him.
For a moment, neither moved or said a word. He was aware that his hands were still gripping the broom handle in front of him and that was exactly where Ginny was now sitting. He shifted slightly, trying to ease his hands away from the embarrassing position they were in, but all he succeeded in doing was catching his thumb on the gusset of her knickers. A further attempt was even less successful than the first. As she was sitting right in front of him, his body’s response to his predicament was immediately obvious to her.
When her reaction came, it was not the one he was expecting. To his surprise, she didn’t say anything to him, she merely reached under her skirt to extract first one hand and then the other. She then took over flying the broom as if nothing had happened.
Quite where they were he had no idea, but the area appeared to be unpopulated, so he made no move to drape the Cloak over them. He had shifted backwards to restore the balance to the broom and to provide him with the opportunity to recover from his embarrassment. As if oblivious to his predicament, she had moved back as far as he had, ensuring that they were as close to each other as they had been before.
They flew in silence for some time, Harry unsure as to how to respond to the incident. He was taken aback by Ginny’s ability to carry on as if nothing had happened, and worried by his own feelings.
Prior to Susan, his experience with girls was limited. He had kissed Hermione at the Yule Ball in his fourth year and gone on one disastrous date with Cho Chang in his fifth.
Since he had started going out with Susan a lot had changed. He could smile knowingly when the seventh-year boys started to brag about their conquests, certain that he was as experienced as anyone. But there was something mundane, even routine about it all. Sometimes he got the impression that Susan was just doing her duty, that it was the price she had to pay for being his girlfriend.
But the few seconds his hands had been under Ginny's skirt were totally different. For a start it was an illicit, forbidden thing. Gryffindors and Slytherins didn’t mix, let alone go out together. And then there was the fact that she wasn’t wearing ‘sensible’ knickers like Susan did. There barely seemed to be anything to Ginny’s underwear, and he couldn’t help but think that he had been lucky — or unlucky depending on your point of view — in catching her gusset and not some intimate part of her anatomy. Eventually he recovered his composure sufficiently to feel brave enough to venture a suggestion.
“Do you think it’s okay to go back to Hogwarts now?”
He didn’t know why he’d couched things in those terms. Although she was a prefect, she was younger than him and it was his broom they were riding on.
“Why?” she asked, turning around and giving him a mocking smile. “Do you think sweet little Susan may have gone off with that public school idiot she keeps eyeing up?”
Unnerved by his reaction to her earlier, he was perhaps more defensive than he would have been otherwise.
“Susan doesn’t fancy him,” he retorted, “and besides, she’s going out with me.”
“Oh, Potter, get your head out of your arse. She’s only going out with you because you’re the Boy-Who-Lived and you’re only going out with her because, unlike my idiot of a brother, you’re too bright to be manipulated by Granger. That, and the fact that the rest of the Gryffindor girls want to keep themselves relatively pure for their marriage beds.”
“Hermione does not manipulate Ron!” He had noticed that Ron was a lot more compliant than he had been, but he’d grown tired of her constant running down of his friend. She was unrepentant.
“Oh, wake up and smell the roses! How many times have you heard Hermione warn Ron about his behaviour? Lots, right? And why do you think Ron agrees so readily with her?”
“I dunno, perhaps they realised that they didn’t need to argue any more.” It was possible, but he had a sneaking suspicion that there might be some truth in what she was saying.
“Wrong, Scarhead! Merlin, it’s a wonder you managed to even find all the Horcruxes, never mind destroy them.”
“How do you know about the Horcruxes?” Only he, Dumbledore, Ron and Hermione were supposed to know how Voldemort had split his soul.
“It doesn’t matter how I know, stop changing the subject and answer the question.”
“I don’t know, Slytherbitch, you obviously do, so why don’t you tell me?”
“Bravo, Mr Potter, making up insults all by yourself; I am impressed. Granger keeps my brother on a leash by rationing the time he gets to fondle her tits. I don’t know why he bothers, from what I’ve seen, they’re big enough, but take them out of a bra and they’ll shine your shoes for you.”
Enough was enough; it was time for this to stop.
“Shut up!” he shouted. “Don’t talk about her like that!”
“Oh, touched a nerve, have I? Still got some feelings for her, have you?”
He didn’t know why he was letting himself be drawn into an argument with her. He was beginning to think that she had engineered the whole escapade as a means of paying him back for his actions the previous evening. He took a deep breath to calm himself before replying.
“Hermione and I decided a long time ago that we weren’t right for each other and that it was easier to stay friends. Now, I’m taking us back to the castle; I have had enough of your foul mouth. It may excite Malfoy to hear you talk like a fish wife, but I prefer someone a little more couth.”
“Well, put the broom down first, if you’re going to fly. I’d rather not trust your skills again whilst we change positions.”
The flight back to the castle was done in silence, for which he was very grateful. Despite their argument, she sat as close to him on the way back as she had done on the way there, with her arms tightly wrapped around his middle. As they flew, he tried to come to terms with the conflicting emotions he was feeling. He was angry with her; angry for what he thought was a set-up designed to get even with him and angry for the stream of abuse which accompanied any mention of Hermione. But beneath the anger there was another, less comfortable feeling for him to deal with: he was attracted to her.
Why that was so, he didn’t know. Yes, she was pretty, but then so was Susan, in a homely sort of way. Perhaps that was the problem. After all these years of seeking the safety and security of a family and a normal girl like Susan, what he craved was more excitement.
As they drew closer to the castle, he saw a group of professors and pupils assembled in front of the main entrance. From the way they were gesticulating in their direction they were obviously waiting for them.
“And where do you think you’ve been, Mr Potter, Miss Weasley?” asked Headmistress McGonagall after they’d landed.
Harry wanted to tell the truth, which was to say that he didn’t know. But much as he thought that it was none of their business, he didn’t feel that it was politic to tell them so. He turned to his partner in this adventure, but for once she seemed reticent to offer an opinion.
“Looks to me like Potter fancied a walk on the wild side,” observed Professor Black, a wide grin on his face.
The Headmistress gave the Head of Slytherin a withering look which Harry thought was well deserved. Susan took advantage of the pause to rush over to him and hug him tightly. After rescuing her boyfriend from the clutches of the Slytherin girl, Susan turned and glared at her. In response, Ginny shrugged her shoulders and then gave her a knowing grin. Susan ignored the obvious provocation and concentrated instead on her boyfriend.
“Harry, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. If it hadn’t have been for Justin here, I would have been quite beside myself.”
Harry looked over her shoulder to the back of the assembled group to where the Hufflepuff boy shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Harry gave him a cheery wave and mouthed a thank you at him.
Harry’s Head of House, Nymphadora Tonks, conferred briefly with the Headmistress and Professor Black and then spoke.
“Harry, I know the war’s over but there’s no excuse to go gadding around the countryside, especially with one of his snakes.” She nodded in the direction of her cousin, the family rivalry obvious.
“Now, now, coz,” said Black, “Harry’s a Parseltongue, remember?”
“Yes, but the Hat sorted him into—”
“Please!” interjected McGonagall, “Stop this bickering at once. Now, I want Mr Potter and Miss Weasley to come with me. Miss Bones, Mr Finch-Fletchley, please return to your common room. Tonks, Sirius, I will be in touch shortly regarding their punishments.”
She set off at a brisk pace, not checking to see if anyone was following her.
The group departed reluctantly, leaving Harry and Ginny traipsing after the Head through the main entrance of the school. As they passed Justin, who was now talking to Susan, Ginny smiled gleefully at Harry.
“See, Potter?” she said smugly as she nodded at the Hufflepuff, “I bet you before the week is out Finchley Fred over there is enjoying her favours, and not you.”
He should have been bothered by her taunting, but wasn’t. Seeing Susan with Justin began to represent a solution to a problem rather than a problem in itself. He had been looking forward to the end of term and being able to put some distance between himself and his girlfriend, but had been dreading the actual break up. But if Ginny were to be believed, Susan was as keen to move on as he was.
The two of them sat in the Headmistress’s office listening to her as she lectured them as to the dangers of flying where Muggles could see them.
“It won’t do, Harry,” she said, addressing him as if he were the responsible one, “relations between the Ministry and the Muggle Prime Minister are very strained right now. We don’t want to have to explain anymore weird sightings.”
Harry nodded noncommittally. People had been very happy for him to be charging around the country doing come-what-may a few weeks ago. It seemed to be a bit rich to start complaining about a jaunt on a broomstick now. Taking it as read that Harry agreed with her, McGonagall turned her attention to Ginny.
“And, Miss Weasley; I know you are a more than frequent visitor to this office, but I did expect better from you than taking Harry off on a stupid trip like that. You are fortunate that the end of year celebrations are yet to come, otherwise you would both be serving detention for the rest of the week with Mr Pettigrew. As it is, it wouldn’t do to have the guest of honour engaged elsewhere, so I’m going to let you both off with a warning. Miss Weasley, do I have your word that you will not pull a stunt like that again?”
Harry watched the Headmistress in surprise. He knew that McGonagall had been under a lot of strain during the final weeks of the war; the loss of Dumbledore had been a huge blow and Death Eaters within the Ministry were unceasing in their efforts to get the school closed. Even so, he was surprised that the normally even-handed professor was favouring him so much. He couldn’t see her being allowed to get away with such bias and he was right.
“You mean, if it wasn’t for you wanting Potter at the bloody victory celebrations, I’d be in detention? No prizes for guessing which house you were in, eh?”
But McGonagall’s patience was not to be tried.
“Hold your tongue, you impudent girl! Your mother was devastated the day that the Sorting Hat placed you in Slytherin. We were all hoping that it had been a mistake, unlikely, but we hoped that just this once it might be wrong. But nothing in your behaviour since has provided one shred of evidence to the contrary. You are a contumelious trouble maker, no more, no less. I don’t know what possessed Albus to make you a prefect; it was the biggest mistake he ever made.”
Yes, thought Harry, what was it that made Dumbledore make such a troublemaker a prefect? The former Headmaster was no fool, but in making Weasley a prefect he’d missed more obvious candidates who were better placed to serve the Order. Unless of course…
“Perhaps it wasn’t such a big a mistake, Professor,” he ventured. “Dumbledore normally had good reasons for everything he did.”
“He always had good reasons, but sometimes, Harry, they were the wrong reasons. As far as I’m aware, all this little madam contributed to the war effort was driving her poor mother round the bend with her selfish antics.”
Harry was astounded. He expected the professors to have some bias towards their own house but McGonagall had always been scrupulous in her even-handedness, even sometimes to Gryffindor’s detriment. And yet here she was, lambasting a student with all the subtlety of a Daily Prophet editorial. It seemed that the end of term couldn’t come quickly enough for her.
The target of her anger had had enough and she gave as good as she’d got.
“You shrivelled old bag, you know nothing about what I did and did not do. I’ll have you know that—”
But before she could continue, Minerva McGonagall’s patience snapped.
“Silence!” she shouted. “I will hear no more from you. You will serve detention every night that is left and you will not be allowed anywhere near the celebrations.”
Harry decided that enough was enough. However objectionable Weasley was, she didn’t deserve to be singled out like this. She was no more to blame than he was and he wasn’t going to stand by and let her take the punishment that should be his as well.
“She has a point, Professor. We only went for a quick trip to get away from Malfoy and you’re making it seem like we’d performed magic in front of the House at PM’s Questions.”
He looked over at Ginny, who was only slightly less shocked than the older witch. He winked at her before continuing.
“And far be it for me to question your methods, but isn’t it unfair to punish one where two were involved?”
McGonagall was less than pleased by his intervention, but it appeared that it had the effect of making her reassess her previous judgement.
“All right, Mr Potter, have it your way. You will serve detention with Miss Weasley and you won’t be allowed anywhere near the Great Hall on Friday. Your Heads of House will let you know where and when. Now be gone, the both of you.”
They walked along the corridor away from McGonagall’s office with her dismissal ringing in their ears. As they came to the point where they needed to go their separate ways, Ginny stopped him.
“Nice move, Potter, it seems that your ‘saving people thing’ even extends to the likes of me. Perhaps you and the Hufflepuff are suited after all. It would be good to have some company though, The Ratman likes to try and take a few liberties with girls serving detention so a second wand will come in handy.”
“Ginny,” he said softly, using her name for the first time. “I wanted to ask you about …”
“About the Horcruxes?” She seemed unsurprised about the question.
She smiled at him. Not one of the myriad of smiles that she used to poke fun at her enemies, but one of genuine warmth.
“Another time, Harry.”
It was the reply he’d expected. They had, after all, gone from enemies to friends in adversity in a very short space of time.
“Soon?” he asked hopefully.
He hovered a few feet away from her, unsure as to what to do next. When she wasn’t living up to her reputation and her face wasn’t screwed up with a snarl or a sneer, she was as pretty as any girl he’d seen.
She seemed to be as confused in the change in their relationship as he’d been. The brash confidence that had characterised every conversation since his first visit to The Burrow was gone. What had replaced it, he wasn’t quite sure, but it made him wonder what would have happened if he’d managed not to join in with her brother’s laughter when she’d put her elbow in the butter dish all those years ago.
He wanted to kiss her, but decided that the price for being too hasty and assuming that there was more to this than there was, was too high and so he held back. Whilst he was trying to work out what to do, she acted and kissed him briefly before setting off towards her common room. As he started up the steps of the marble staircase towards the seventh floor, she called to him.
“Oh and, Potter?”
The barrier was back up and they were back to surnames.
“The next time you want to feel me up, ask?”
He laughed nervously.
“Er – yeah, sure…”
“And work on your technique. A thumb up the gusset may be fine for a badger but we snakes prefer a bit more finesse.”
And with that, she marched down the steps to the Slytherin common room, leaving Harry not quite sure where to put himself.