A/N: This chapter contains a line from P.G. Wodehouse. I’m not sure which book it’s from but it stuck with me and so here it is.
By the time Harry had made it down to breakfast, the whole school was abuzz with rumours of what had transpired, along with details of their punishment. Needless to say, no one was happy with what he’d done. As he took his seat next to Ron and Hermione, he received nasty glares from Dean and Seamus, who pointedly rose and sat at the other end of the table. He wasn’t sure which was his greatest crime, missing the celebration or consorting with a Slytherin.
Susan remained in her seat at the Hufflepuff table being comforted by her friends who tried to out do Gryffindor in the nasty stare competition. The Ravenclaws indulged in a lot of head shaking, but seemed content to leave it at that. The Slytherin table seemed to think that one of their number getting detention was a price worth paying if it meant that Potter was getting punished, too. He wondered if his girlfriend – if that’s what she still was – was going to talk to him. But she sat at the Hufflepuff table, surrounded by a gaggle of friends all eager to commiserate with her. It was left to Justin to express her displeasure at his actions.
“Susan feels most let down by your cavalier approach to things,” he explained in the plum-in-the mouth accent that spoke of Muggle money. “She has put her heart and soul into these preparations and she is devastated that, because of your rash actions, you won’t be able to attend.”
He leaned forward as if he was going to share something important.
“Between you and me, Potter, I think she was hoping that you would pop the question, although I’m not sure quite what she sees in you. Always were one for rushing in where angels fear to tread, weren’t you?”
He stood up straight again with his hands behind his back as he delivered the coup de grâce.
“I think you’d best stay clear of her for a while, old man, until this has blown over.” Justin had managed to be as pompous as if he’d just stepped out of the pages of a Regency novel but Harry wasn’t really bothered by what he had to say.
He had been staring across the hall during Justin’s performance, more interested in when Ginny was going to arrive at the Slytherin table. He nodded sagely as the Hufflepuff had droned on, without really paying attention to what was being said, which meant that Justin’s question passed unnoticed when it was asked.
“So you don’t mind then?” asked Justin, his eyes glowing with excitement.
“I don’t mind what, Justin?” asked Harry, mystified.
“That I escort Susan, as you are otherwise occupied?”
“What? No, of course not. That’s – er – very generous of you to offer.”
“I say, old man, frightfully decent of you, don’t you know.”
Justin was so thrilled that he happily ignored the fact that Harry was not the least bit interested in what he had to say. Harry spared him a half a glance as he hurried over to tell Susan the good news. Harry missed Susan’s reaction because Ginny chose that moment to enter the Great Hall. She ignored the whispers that greeted her as well as Draco Malfoy, who stood to harangue her.
“… with Potter of all people.”
“Shut up and sit down, Draco, you’re making yourself look a fool. I am not and nor have I ever been ‘yours’. I prefer a wizard with a bit of backbone, never mind good looks, and you have neither of those. It would also be an advantage if you could perform in the bedroom, and from what Pansy has told me, you’re lacking there too, Mr Floppy.”
The hall erupted in gales of laughter, forcing an embarrassed Malfoy to beat a hasty retreat. Ginny, for her part, sat down at the table as if nothing had happened. The only indication that anything was going on was a knowing look cast in Harry’s direction before she settled down to eat her breakfast.
“I would have thought, Harry, that you’d have learned your lesson about playing with fire after taking on that dragon in the Triwizard Tournament,” said a voice next to him.
He looked around and saw that Ron was looking at him intently.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” he said defensively, not wanting to discuss anything concerning him and Ginny at this point in time.
“I think you do, Harry,” his friend replied, nodding his head to reinforce the point he was making.
“Are you telling me to stay away from your sister?”
“No, Harry. She can go out with whomever she wants to. It’s none of my business. But be careful. None of us have been able to work Ginny out since she came here. It was a bit of a surprise when she got Sorted in with the snakes, but not a complete one. She always did lean a bit towards Darker things. And we’d had Percy sorted into Ravenclaw, too, by then. No, I overheard a conversation between Mum and Dad about Ginny’s role in the war. She was suspected of shopping a few members of the Order to Riddle’s mob. Nothing was proved, of course, and Dumbledore made her a prefect and all, but watch yourself, Harry.”
He had never seen his friend this serious before. Even when they were Horcrux hunting, Ron had always found time to laugh and joke. If he was being this serious, then something really was up.
“I will, Ron, thanks for the warning.”
As it was their final week, all the professors let the seventh-years out to enjoy their remaining time at Hogwarts in the grounds. It was a pleasant summer’s day and under a cornflower blue sky, it was easy to forget the controversy that had dominated breakfast. Harry and Ron found themselves by the lake, skimming stones for the Giant Squid to bat away.
“Ron, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Harry. What about – Ginny?”
“No, you and Hermione.”
Ron stopped what he was doing and gave Harry his full attention.
“Ginny’s been talking about us, hasn’t she? I thought she would. Not that fond of Hermione, is she?”
“No, she’s not.”
He and Ron sat down and the squid swam languidly across the lake to find more students to entertain it.
“What did she tell you? That Hermione manipulates me by using sexual favours?”
“Well, yeah. She did say something like that.”
Ron let out a short laugh.
“Knowing my little sister, I suspect that she didn’t put it quite a delicately as that. It’s okay, Harry, you don’t have to answer. Apart from it being nobody else’s business, except for mine and Hermione’s, what we get up to, my snake of a sister is wrong.”
“I’m sorry, Ron, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, it’s okay, Harry, it’s important you know what she’s like.”
Ignoring his friend’s discomfort, he pressed on.
“You and Susan are not the only seventh-year couple who have an active sex life , Harry. In fact, most of the other couples do too, me and Hermione included.”
The more Ron spoke, the more embarrassed Harry became.
“As for Hermione controlling me with sex, that’s the biggest load of tosh I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s okay, Ron, I get the picture.”
Harry held up his hands to get him to stop, but Ron was determined to explain everything.
“The reason it looks like she’s controlling me is I asked her to help me be more focussed on what I’m doing. You know, stop my thoughts wandering all over the shop. Before I started going out with her, I barely scrapped through my OWLs. But since we’ve been together, she’s helped me concentrate more and I’m now actually looking forward to my NEWT results.”
By now, Harry was feeling totally embarrassed, but Ron wasn’t finished.
“And as for the sex side of things, it’s Hermione who needs controlling. The reason I’m in the shower after we’ve been out together is not because I’ve been bashing the bishop but because she’s got carried away and I’m either trying to heal myself or hide the evidence.”
“That’s – that’s too much information, Ron.”
“Well, you did ask,” he replied with a grin.
“And I did ask you to stop half way through.”
“Sorry, Harry, got carried away.”
“Wanted to boast, more like.”
The two friends laughed and began skimming stones again, the complexities of girls forgotten.
Harry left the Gryffindor common room just before seven to begin his detention. He was still receiving looks of contempt from all his housemates except Ron and Hermione, but he was quite used to that. It was certainly no worse than the year of the Triwizard Tournament, although he wondered if there were any parallels between having Barty Crouch, Junior and Ginny Weasley by his side.
He waited in the entrance hall for Ginny to make her way up from the Slytherin common room. As he did so, he was passed by Susan and Justin on their way to the next planning meeting. Susan pointedly ignored him whilst Justin gave him an apologetic smile. As soon as they thought that they were out of sight, he saw them hold each other’s hand.
So Ginny was right about them after all.
He thought he should be upset or angry, but he wasn’t. Not long after the Hufflepuffs had departed, Ginny breezed up the stairs from the Slytherin common room.
“So, Potter,” she said with a wink and a smile, “been working on your technique? Or are our fumblings around in the dark going to be as dull as my brother and his dominatrix?” Although there was the obligatory dig at Hermione, there was none of the bitterness that had characterised their earlier exchanges. Even so, he refused to put up with her continuing to abuse Hermione like that.
“I don’t know what it is you’ve got against Hermione, Ginny, but this has got to stop.”
Before she could reply, Peter Pettigrew arrived, looking more rat-like than ever.
“Ah, Mr Potter, Harry,” he said with an obsequious bow, “a pleasure to meet you again.” He stretched out a grubby hand for Harry to shake.
Harry took one look at the dirty hand and its long yellow finger nails and decided otherwise.
“It’s a shame I couldn’t say the same, Pettigrew.”
Peter Pettigrew had almost caused his father’s death when he’d lured an over-inquisitive James Potter down the tunnel leading to Remus Lupin under the influence of the full moon.
“Come now, Harry,” he replied with the air of a used-broomstick salesman explaining away the failure of a braking charm, “don’t be bitter, don’t dwell in the past.”
“You nearly got my father killed, you bastard. They should have done more than just expel you.”
“A mere misunderstanding, Harry. Still, no harm done, eh?”
“That is a matter of opinion.”
Ignoring the reception he’d received, a muttering Pettigrew ushered them down a seldom-used set of steps into a small cellar, the floor of which was swarming with rats. Upon his entry, they were thrown into a frenzy and began rushing around the cramped room.
“Yes, my friends,” he declared, stooping down to let the rats run over his outstretched arm. “We have company tonight. The famous Harry Potter and the beautiful Ginevra have come to see our kingdom.”
Harry winced as the rats rushed about, their squeaks and shrieks filling his ears. He saw that Ginny was just as uncomfortable and edged towards her.
“Being noble, Potter? Is this your saving people thing? I’m no damsel in distress, so stop playing the True Gryffindor.”
He thought the bravado was a bit forced and he noticed that she closed the gap so that they were standing side by side.
“The lovely Ginevra is an old friend,” continued Pettigrew. “Isn’t she, my beauties? Yes, she is. We’ve had many a game down here with her, haven’t we?”
Harry noticed Ginny shudder as Pettigrew spoke. Apparently, she didn’t have any fond memories of her time in detention. All of a sudden, the rats rushed off into a dark corner and disappeared, presumably though a door. Pettigrew beckoned them to follow.
“Quick, quick, the chase is on,” he yelled and set off after the rats, leaving Harry staring at Ginny in confusion.
“What is he on about?” Harry asked. “What chase?” He’d never served detention with Pettigrew before, only with the professors.
“He’s told everyone that there is some kind of thing down here and he needs help in catching it. Not too dangerous he says. All right for children to help, he explains.” She was standing with her arms folded and her face pensive.
If I didn’t know better, he thought, she’s scared.
“And is there something down here?” He watched her closely, hoping to catch any change in her expression. He was too late; her mask was back in place and the bravado returned.
“No,” she replied, dismissive of his apparent concern. “There are just him and his rats. The chase is a bluff to get you down into the dungeon so that he can hunt you.” From her tone, she could have been describing a trip to Hogsmeade, but Harry wasn’t convinced.
“And what happens when he catches you?”
She shrugged her shoulders with the air of a student unable to answer a question in class.
“Don’t know, never been caught.”
As if he’d been listening, Pettigrew reappeared, his face manic in the light of the torch he carried.
“Come on, come on! The game’s afoot!”
Harry looked over at Ginny and, with a nod of agreement, they joined the caretaker in his mysterious hunt.
After two hours of mazy corridors, Harry had become separated from Ginny. He had tried to advise her on how to deal with the maze, but she had ignored him and pressed on regardless. The final Horcrux had been hidden in the centre of a maze such as this and Harry had used the same tracking charm to guide him tonight as he’d used then. The charm would also record his every movement, thus making it easy to find his way out.
Away from Pettigrew and his rats, the dungeon seemed strangely quiet. The noise of them, together with Ginny’s almost constant chatter, had been his companion for most of the first hour. But first Pettigrew had wandered off, and when they came to a fork in the passage way, Ginny had chosen one way and Harry the other.
“It’s this way, Potter. I don’t care what Granger’s charm says, I’ve been here before and it’s this way.”
Quite what it was the way to, Ginny wouldn’t say, and he sensed that it was more about not trusting in Hermione than anything else. When he’d said he’d come with her anyway, she’d thrown a strop and refused to allow him to accompany her. She’s a competentwitch, he thought, she’ll be able to take care of herself.
And now he found himself increasingly concerned for her safety. Three days ago, he couldn’t have cared less what the Slytherin was doing, but now he found himself anxious about her being safe.
A muffled shout caused him to stop suddenly. It sounded far away, but with the thickness of the walls, it could have been no more than a few feet. He stopped breathing, willing his heart to stop beating too as it pounded loudly in his ears, and listened intently. When the scream came, Harry could hear it more clearly and was certain that it was Ginny screaming for all she was worth.
Harry checked the tracking charm he’d set on his wand and set it to look for her. He watched as it swept back and forth seeking her magical signature. It glowed briefly, pointing to his left, and then faded.
Bugger! He thought, Someone or something is interfering with the charm. Either that or else she’s dead.
Setting off in the direction that the wand had pointed, he worked his way through the corridors as fast as he could, trying to stay on track. He tried the charm again, but there was no sign of Ginny. Rounding a corner, he shrieked with alarm as Pettigrew's pack of rats streamed over and past him. Close behind followed their master who slammed into Harry and tried to struggle past him, but Harry didn’t budge.
“Run, Harry! Run! It’s got her! It’s got her!”
“What’s got who?”
Pettigrew seemed to be more concerned about his own safety and tried again to get away.
Harry grabbed him by the lapels and shook him.
“Who do you mean? Ginny?”
“Yes, Ginevra. So sad, such a beautiful girl and it got her.”
The look of hysteria in the man’s eyes worried Harry, but he refused to panic.
“Where is she? Did you leave her, you bastard?”
“No time, Harry, it’s too strong. Run, boy! Run!” Pettigrew howled, as he tried to twist out of Harry’s grasp.
In the darkness, Harry heard a loud wail and let go of the caretaker long enough for the rat-faced man to escape. As Pettigrew ran, Harry braced himself for an attack. If he got out of this alive, he was going to make sure that Pettigrew paid for what he’d done in abandoning Ginny. And if he found Ginny alive he was going to kill her, too, for getting them both into trouble.
Harry froze as a grey figure floated out of the darkness, screaming and wailing so loudly that his ears began to ring. He drew his wand, trying to remember what charms worked against spectres and then looked again at the apparition that faced him.
The ghost, or whatever it was, was a young girl of about fourteen or fifteen. She had large horn-rimmed glasses and a face so full of spots that there was hardly room for the sullen look she gave him.
“Are you with the rat?” she asked, playing with one of her pigtails. Even allowing for the fact that she was dead, Harry thought her hair looked dreadful. She floated closer to him and inspected herself in his glasses.
“You know, the worst thing about being killed when you are my age is that your spots never go away. You don’t even have the pleasure of squeezing them. Do you have spots?”
“Er – no,” Harry replied, very confused by what was going on. “Are you the thing that Pettigrew was running away from?”
“You mean this?” She smiled wickedly and turned into the most hideous creation that Harry had ever seen and Voldemort had protected his soul with some real monstrosities. He nodded vigorously, hoping that it would mean that she’d change back quickly which, to his relief, she did.
“You’re Harry Potter, aren’t you?” It was a statement rather than a question.
“Er – yes, I am. And you are?”
“Pleased to meet you, Myrtle.” He extended a hand towards her, shivering as he passed his hand through hers.
“I expect you want to know where the girl is.” Although she was younger than him, there was an air of maturity about her that unnerved him more than the fact that she was a ghost.
“That would be nice, Myrtle.”
“I’m not sure if I want to tell you.” She pouted at him and, if a ghost could flounce, she did. “If I tell you, then you’ll take her away and not come back and I would like you to stay.” She ran her ghostly hand down the side of his face, turning his blood cold.
“So what brings you down here, Myrtle?” he said brightly, trying to shake off the lingering chill. “It seems a strange place for a nice girl like you to stay.”
“They demolished my toilet years ago, so I had no where to go. There was an old ghoul that lived down here but nothing too frightening. He decided to move on when Dumbledore became Headmaster, so I came down here.”
“Your toilet? You lived in a toilet?” He struggled to stop himself laughing, but failed. Annoyed at his having fun at her expense, Myrtle walked through him, bringing him quickly to his senses.
“I’m glad you find it funny. That’s it; laugh at Myrtle, spotty old Myrtle. You’re just like Olive Hornby.” Despite her anger, it had obviously been some time since she’d had someone to talk to, and she was eager to let him in on all that had been happened. She told Harry about the opening of the Chamber of Secrets some fifty years ago and how the staff had battled and killed the giant Basilisk that had been found in there.
“So you came down here to get some peace and quiet?”
“Yes, and but that horrible man and his disgusting rats won’t leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Myrtle.” Ghost or not, no one, in Harry’s book, deserved to have Pettigrew inflicted on them. “Is that why you invented the monster – to keep him out?”
“Yes, but it hasn’t stopped him and he brings others with him too, and all they do is scream and shout and make even more noise that he does.”
She zoomed around for a few minutes, her anger at Pettigrew obvious. As she did so, Harry’s thoughts returned to Ginny.
She stopped flying around and hovered near the ceiling.
“I think I can stop him coming down here with others. Do you think you can take me to where Ginny is?”
She drifted down slowly, eyeing him with suspicion.
“I suppose so.”
Harry followed Myrtle as she floated to where she’d left Ginny. Lying on the floor, looking a bit worse for wear, was the red-haired Slytherin.
“Fainted as soon as I came around the corner. Typical of a Slytherin.”
“Thank you, Myrtle.”
“Very good at sneaking around and doing it all behind everyone’s backs, but useless face to face.”
“Thank you, Myrtle! That’s enough!” He was a little more forceful than he’d intended, but now that he’d found her, he was anxious to get Ginny out of the dungeon. The ghost looked like she was beginning to regret helping him, so he moved quickly to placate her.
“I promise I’ll do what I can to stop you being bothered any more.”
Myrtle didn’t seem that impressed and, after watching Harry for a few moments, floated off in a huff, leaving him to Enervate Ginny.
“Come on, Weasley,” he said softly as she began to stir, “time to go home. You’ve had a bit too much excitement for one evening.”
A very groggy Ginny struggled to her feet and swayed uncertainly. Thinking she was about to fall, Harry sprang forward and grabbed hold of her. She sank into his arms and hugged him tightly. After all that they had gone through that evening, it was good to feel her body close to his.
“Thank you, Harry,” she muttered into his chest. “However did you defeat it?”
“It wasn’t too hard,” he said with a smile, “I’ll tell you later.”
“All in a day’s work for the Boy-Who-Lived, eh?”
“Something like that.”
He let go of her and, after checking that she could stand properly, began a slow walk out of the dungeon.