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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 11: Of Parties and Confrontations
As Harry rushed back to the castle to make sure everything was ready for the party, his mind drifted back to what had happened at the end of the match. He had nearly lost Ginny and if he was honest with himself he couldn’t imagine his life without her in it anymore. Each time he thought of what could have happened his stomach bottomed out and he’d catch his hands starting to shake. The more he thought about it the more bothered he became and the faster he walked. He was brought to a sudden stop when it occurred to him that he wasn’t even sure who or what had knocked her off the broom. He had been so consumed with making sure she was safe and unhurt that until that moment he haven’t given any thought to what had caused her to fall.

Harry stopped abruptly and turned on his heel to stalk back out to the pitch, robes billowing behind him in a very Snape-like manner. As he walked he began listing the hexes and curses he could use on the Slytherin that had come so close to hurting Ginny. He stopped again when he remembered that Ginny wasn’t hurt, that she was fine and more importantly that she would want to be a part of making them pay for their transgressions. Besides, he knew that whatever she came up with would be ten times worse than whatever he would do. She really did have a bit of a wicked streak in her.

Eventually, Harry continued on to the kitchens, where Bobbin, the head house elf, assured him that everything was fine. Dobby would be bringing up the food in a few minutes. Bobbin asked for his forbearance since it would take Dobby several trips to bring up all the food. Before Harry could ask, Bobbin explained that because of the ‘clothes’ issue the other elves were still reluctant to help in the tower. Luckily Harry was able to quickly convince some of the other elves that there would be no clothes left around to put them in danger and some of them agreed to help Dobby.

When Harry finally returned to the tower it was virtually empty, as most Gryffindors were too busy celebrating on the pitch to hurry back inside. After the struggle he’d had in the last half hour or so, he was glad to have some time to get a hold of himself. After taking a few deep breaths, Harry was able to set things up without interruption. He only took out two of the kegs of butterbeer out of his trunk to start, figuring he’d pull the third one out only if it was needed. As soon as he got the two kegs in position, a loud crack announced the arrival of Dobby and the other house elves, who quickly threw together several tables full of food, ranging from sandwiches to crisps to various desserts. They had once again outdone themselves.

Hearing the sound of a crowd of students out in the hall approaching the portrait, Harry surveyed the tables set up in front of him. The house elves had done a good job and had included plates to eat the food on. As he glanced over at his kegs, he realized that he hadn’t given any thought to what everybody would drink out of. There wasn’t really any room to place a bunch of goblets anywhere, so Harry put his muggle upbringing to good use by conjuring a couple stacks of plastic cups. He was confident that the conjured items would last throughout the night, as he was now consistently conjuring items that would last for over a week when he wanted them to.

Harry had migrated over to a secluded corner of the room, as the portrait hole burst open, allowing the crowd of Gryffindors to pour into the Common Room. He wasn’t really in the mood for a celebration. He was content to just watch as the other students entered and headed straight for the food and drinks. Without Fred and George around this year, nobody had any reason to fear that it may have been tampered with.

The noise level continued to rise as more and more students piled in. Neville and Hermione eventually made their way through the crowd in the Common Room. When they spotted Harry, they headed over.

“Hey guys,” he greeted them.

“Where did all of that come from?” Hermione asked him, gesturing to the tables of food and drink.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Neville responded before Harry had a chance.

“Well I’m guessing the food came from the kitchens, but they don’t serve butterbeer,” Hermione reasoned out. “And there wasn’t time for anyone to sneak off into Hogsmeade to get it even with the aid of an invisibility cloak and map.”

“No, they don’t serve butterbeer in the castle, and you’re right there hasn’t been time since the match ended, but you might remember a few weeks back when a certain Gryffindor friend of yours was eager to get into Hogsmeade alone before anyone else in the school. I’m guessing that Harry was purchasing the butterbeer and trying to keep the whole thing a secret. Right, Harry?” Neville explained, finally turning towards Harry as he finished.

Harry cocked an eyebrow at Neville. “Dead on, mate. Good show.” He slapped Neville on the shoulder. “And I thought you were supposed to be the smart one,” he teased, turning his attention to Hermione. “Neville here is giving you a run for your money.”

“I don’t know about that,” Neville grinned. “She does have five years of experience in the position. It’ll be difficult to usurp her.”

“Oh, you two,” Hermione huffed. “You’d think that without Ron around, things might get a little more mature. I’m going to go get something to eat.”

Harry and Neville laughed as Hermione walked away. The portrait hole opened again, and the Quidditch team entered to tumultuous applause. Their faces turned various shades of red as all the attention was fixed on the seven players.

Harry and Neville hung back as the rest of the students converged on the team. “They look a little overwhelmed,” Neville commented idly after a moment.

Harry nodded, “Yeah, Katie’s the only one who’s really used to it. The rest haven’t played more than a couple games each, and Nate and Stephanie have never gone through this before. So it’s only natural they’d react that way. It takes some getting used to believe me. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten used to it.”

“You’re handling it alright this year,” Neville remarked. “I mean, I know you haven’t faced that this year,” he gestured out toward the still cheering students, “but you’ve still been in the spotlight quite a bit, what with teaching your classes and all.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. “That’s different, but at the same time similar. It’s easier in class because I have a lesson to teach. There’s a reason I’m in the center of attention. Times like this I never know what I’m supposed to do.”

The two watched the team’s progress. Harry watched as Ron attempted to make the rounds and play up their first win under his captaincy. Most of the students Ron approached appeared to find someone else they needed to talk to and no one approached him.

Noticing the direction of Harry’s gaze, Neville commented, “It doesn’t seem that the win earned him any forgiveness in the house.”

Harry didn’t acknowledge the statement for a moment, as they both watched Ron with Hermione at his side retreat to a corner of the room. “Have you noticed that they haven’t really argued since Ron kicked me off the team?”

“They’ve definitely been spending quite a bit of time together, in fact they seem to be growing closer,” commented Neville.

With a shrug Harry replied, “I’m not sure what to make of the whole situation at this point. My feelings about the two of them are so mixed up right now,”

“That’s understandable. Maybe Ron’s just been so busy being a complete prat to you that he hasn’t had time to direct his pratishness at anyone else,” Neville suggested.

“You know,” Harry commented with a smile, “you might just be right. I think the one good thing that could come of all this is if they finally just get together.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed, “but it just doesn’t seem right to me. I can see why Ron would flock to Hermione right now since most of the house is mad at him, but why is Hermione just pretending that Ron didn’t do anything wrong?”

“I’ve asked myself that same question,” Harry admitted. “I think it’s mainly because he’s finally treating her like a girl. She’s been waiting for this for years and doesn’t want to blow it. I overheard her turning down Justin Finch-Fletchley in the hall the other day. She’s hoping Ron will ask her to the ball, and she doesn’t want to risk that over our fight.”

“That’s not right,” Neville said with disgust. “Sometimes I just think that those two deserve each other, and not necessarily in a good way. On the other hand it should be worth a laugh or two for the rest of us as they attempt to settle into couple-hood,” continued Neville as he turned to Harry with a grin on his round face.

Harry laughed out loud. “So what about you, Neville? You have a date for the ball yet?”

A small blush crept up Neville’s face and neck, but it was a testament to his newly found self-confidence that he was able to respond without a single stutter. “Yes, I asked Hannah Abbot after Herbology on Thursday.”

“Good on you, mate,” Harry congratulated him cheerfully. “She’s a cute one, and she does pretty well in HA.”

“She’s really good in Herbology too,” Neville eagerly added.

“Even better,” Harry returned. “You looking forward to the ball then?”

“Well, the ball yes, but the dancing not so much,” Neville replied with a grimace.

Harry couldn’t help but second the notion. In all his focus to make sure he had the right date to the ball, he hadn’t even thought of the dancing aspect of it. He didn’t want to end up stepping all over Ginny’s toes or just sitting around the entire night. He would have to think about that more later. “Good point,” Harry finally replied understandingly. “Do you want to sit with Ginny and I for dinner?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” Neville answered happily. “I’ll have to check with Hannah of course, but I don’t think she’ll mind at all.”

“Great,” Harry replied. “I suppose I should okay it with Ginny as well, but I can guarantee she won’t have a problem with it.”

“Speaking of dates for the ball…” Neville remarked gesturing back towards the corner occupied by Ron and Hermione. Sure enough, as Harry looked over he noticed the two of them in an embrace. He could see Ron’s face, and it was obvious what had just happened based on the stupid grin his friend was sporting.

“Well, it’s about time,” Harry said after a moment, turning away from the two. He wanted to let them have their moment of privacy, and at the same time he wasn’t particularly in the mood to share in their happiness.

Neville seemed to pick up on Harry’s mood and let the subject drop. After a moment Neville noticed a somewhat sizeable crowd of people and commented, “I wonder what that’s all about,” pointing it out to Harry.

Harry looked at the crowd for a long moment. “I don’t know….Wait,” he said, spotting a familiar shade of red hair towards the middle. “I think I see Ginny in the middle.” Seeing her brought forth a slew of emotions in Harry. The mere thought of what had nearly happened earlier in the day was enough to resurrect his anger at whoever had almost hurt her earlier. “So who was the git who knocked her off her broom?” Harry asked Neville as he continued to keep a tight reign on his emotions.

Neville looked back at him, completely shocked, “You mean you don’t know?”

“I was so focused on getting her to safety that I didn’t even notice who knocked her off her broom,” Harry explained.

Nodding his head to show he understood Neville answered, “It was Malfoy.” When Harry’s head whipped around to face him, he continued. “When we all left the pitch, Madam Hooch as well as Professors McGonagall, Snape and Dumbledore were still yelling at him. Actually Madam Hooch and Professor McGonagall were doing most of the yelling. Snape kept trying to say that Malfoy had just overshot his aim for the snitch.”

“Do we know what is going to happen to him?” asked Harry, his voice bristling with anger.

“Not at this point, though if McGonagall has her way he’ll never see another Quidditch pitch. That is one witch I never want to make that angry.” Neville replied. He paused then continued looking Harry in the eye. “To be perfectly honest I think I’d rather make McGonagall that angry than you. I have to tell you mate; the look in your eye is downright lethal. Maybe they should bring Malfoy to see you right now as part of his punishment. The look in your eyes would be enough to scare anyone back onto the straight and narrow.” Neville half joked.

Harry just shook his head and grinned ruefully in reply. “In all honesty I’m not the one he should be scared of.”

“Ron?” asked Neville.

“Nope,” answered Harry, he paused then continued, “Ginny. Can you imagine what she’s going to do to him? Remember Ron’s heart covered robes; believe me he got off light in the end. Some of the things she came up with would make the twins pranks seem tame.”

Harry continued to watch her to reassure himself that she was fine. He felt a surge of warmth flow through him as he watched her gesture animatedly while telling some story or another. He knew he cared for Ginny but his fear that he could have lost her had nearly overwhelmed him at several points this afternoon. Not since finding out about the planned attack on his friends in Diagon Alley over the summer had he been this scared, and even that hadn’t elicited the extremes in emotion that this afternoon had.

Neville let loose a low whistle. “She gathers quite the crowd,” he commented as he too continued to watch Ginny.

“You’re not kidding,” Harry returned after a moment. “You notice the male to female proportion of the crowd?” A sly smirk slid across his lips.

Neville scanned the group for a moment, “I can’t say I see any girls,” he responded.

“I see one, besides Ginny,” Harry added helpfully.

“There has to be at least a dozen guys, maybe closer to two,” Neville stated unbelievingly.

“Yeah. Can’t say I’m too surprised,” Harry responded thinking on it. “Ginny has a great personality. The fact that she’s gorgeous doesn’t hurt either.” Harry was a bit amazed at the fact that his best friend was so beautiful, as he tended to overlook what she looked like in favor of how she treated him. But now that he was noticing, well there was a lot to notice. She was on the short side, and she had a mostly slim, athletic build, but there were curves underneath that, really very nice curves. Some of her mother’s roundness seemed to have rubbed off on her, but at the same time she was in great shape. It made for quite a fetching combination.

Her red hair was definitely a striking feature. Harry had noticed recently that it was darker than her brothers’ hair. Their hair was more the color of a bright flame, but hers was a deeper, more vibrant red. He had to shake himself as he suddenly had a strong urge to find out just what it would feel like to run his fingers through it. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. It wasn’t excessive, but certainly noticeable.

But her attractiveness went far beyond her physical appearance. She was just fun to be around. Her personality drew people in. Harry knew that he certainly felt that pull. The more he got to know her, the more he liked her. This past couple weeks should have been absolutely terrible for him. Ron had barely spoken a word to him and was being an incredible prat. He and Hermione were on shaky ground as well. But despite that, he hadn’t been down. That day they had gone flying together the previous weekend had been one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life, in the midst of all his troubles. He couldn’t think of anybody else who could have done that for him.

“You don’t seem to be bothered by the attention she’s getting,” Neville observantly remarked.

Harry shrugged. Why should he be? “Can’t say that I am on the whole. Ginny can take care of herself,” he replied easily.

“On the whole? That suggests that there’s something or someone in particular bugging you,” Neville prodded casually.

Harry cocked an eyebrow as he gave his friend a sidelong glance. Neville just smirked. “Look at how Dean is looking at her; I guess that just reminds me of something he said awhile back…” Harry started.

“What’s that?” Neville asked with a mix of curiosity and concern.

Harry gave Neville an abridged version of the events that led to Harry’s discussion with Dean about why Ron was upset with him at the beginning of term and Dean’s subsequent comments. As he spun his tale, Harry couldn’t help wondering at his reaction. Why should he feel the need to protect her? She was certainly capable of looking after herself. He criticized Ron for doing things like that, so it was a bit unreasonable for him to turn around and do the same. But then, he didn’t really have a problem with the other guys hanging around Ginny, so he figured it was just because of the suggestive comment the boy had made. Ginny was his best friend, after all. So it was natural that he’d want to look after her.

After finishing the tale he amended, “I mean, I know she can take care of herself and all, I’m not worried about that. The way he said it just bugged me; in all honesty it makes me want to drag him away from her. I’m not turning into Ron or something, am I?”

“Nah, Ron would have punched Dean the second he said it,” Neville told him. “I don’t think it’s anything you really need to worry about. Dean seems like he’s mostly all talk. And as you said, Ginny is more than capable of taking care of herself.”

Harry nodded. “I know.”

The two chatted idly about the various goings on of the party around them for a few minutes when Neville brought up something that was obviously bugging him. “I still cannot believe Ron really didn’t let you play today. I mean, I know he kicked you off the team and all, but I expected him to realize his mistake and apologize to you before now.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Neville,” Harry said holding his arms out wide. “Things haven’t exactly been good between us all term. I’ve tried to keep the peace between us, but that obviously didn’t work.”

“You can’t blame yourself for that, Harry,” Neville told him honestly. “Ron was way out of line, and not just this time. He had no right to try to take advantage of your authority in your classes. He just assumed you’d give him free rein, like Snape does with Malfoy. With how Ron’s been acting, he might be able to pass for a Malfoy, but I certainly can’t see you as turning into Snape.”

“Thanks, I think,” Harry replied.

Neville laughed. “You know what I mean. My point is, there was nothing you could do to avoid this, short of letting Ron walk all over you. And frankly, I don’t think I could’ve continued to respect you if you did that, and I don’t think any of the other students would’ve either.”

“Thanks, Neville. That means a lot to me. You really are a great friend,” Harry told him earnestly.

“It’s strange, I never thought I’d see the day where you were getting along better with me than with Ron or Hermione. I thought you guys were inseparable. I’ve always envied you three a bit. You did everything together and were always there for each other. Plus you were always at the center of all the action, saving the day,” Neville mused aloud.

“Neville, you know we never meant to exclude you or anything. I’ve always liked you, there was just always so much going on that….”

“Don’t worry about it, Harry,” Neville interrupted. “I don’t blame you for that. I was too shy and quiet. You guys did try to include me on occasion, and I appreciated that, but I just wasn’t ready at the time.”

“You really have matured a lot in the last year, you know that?” Harry asked.

“I think that’s the pot calling the cauldron black,” Neville returned with a smile.

“Why would a pot go and do something as silly as that?” asked a female voice.

“Well you know how pots can be,” Neville quipped. “Always prejudiced against cauldrons, talking down to them.”

“I didn’t know Percy was a pot,” Ginny remarked casually. “That explains so much.”

Harry snorted. Neville looked back and forth between the two of them. “Am I missing something here?”

Harry just shrugged at him. Ginny replied with, “Oh nothing much. Just my stupid brother’s obsession with cauldron bottoms, which led to his voluntary exile from the family?”

“How did an obsession with cauldron bottoms lead to that?” Neville asked incredulously.

Before Ginny could reply, Harry hastily inserted, “She means his job. When Percy first got a job in the ministry he was doing some report on cauldron bottoms. And it was his job at the ministry that led to him leaving his family.”

“Oh,” Neville replied thoughtfully. “Well, sorry?” he said to Ginny.

“Nothing to apologize for. He’s the prat, not you,” Ginny returned.

Neville nodded absently. “Well, I think I’ll leave the two of you to catch up and grab some food. Thanks for setting all this up, Harry. It was really good of you, particularly after everything that happened.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow as Harry blushed lightly. “It was nothing. The house elves did most of the work with the food. I just brought some butterbeer.”

“Which is a lot more than anyone else did. Besides, who arranged for the house elves to make food for us?” Neville fired back, chuckling lightly as he began to head over to the aforementioned food and drink.

Harry stopped him. “Before you wonder off Neville, let me ask Ginny about the seating arrangements at the ball.” He turned back to Ginny when Neville nodded his head. “Ginny, Neville and I were talking about the ball earlier and we were thinking that you and I could sit with him and Hannah during the dinner, if that is ok with both of you?”

Ginny rolled her eyes at him. “That sounds like a great idea. Actually I was going to see if Luna and her date could sit with us as well, if that’s all right?”

Harry glanced back at Neville. “Do you think that Hannah would mind sitting with Luna, her mystery date, Ginny and I?”

“I don’t think so; she gets along really well with Luna during HA, but I’ll check with her first thing in the morning and let you know.” With that Neville once again started to head towards the food. He looked back over his shoulder, “Thanks again Harry.”

Ginny watched Neville walk away before turning back to Harry. “So you’re the one who set this all up?”

Harry groaned. “I brought the butterbeer. The house elves provided the food.”

“Well thank you for that,” Ginny said simply.

“You had quite the fan club over there,” Harry said, effectively changing the conversation.

She blushed prettily at the unexpected comment. “Oh, well, I don’t know that I’d call them a fan club or anything. I mean, really they just wanted to talk about the match. You know how that goes.”

“Uh huh. And it just happened to be a coincidence that you were surrounded by a large group of guys. Plenty of girls are interested in Quidditch too, you know,” Harry teased mercilessly.

“They weren’t all guys,” she retorted defensively.

“You’re right. I counted two girls, and you were one of them,” Harry countered.

“And why are you paying so much attention? Jealous?” she said in an attempt to turn the tables.

“Only curious,” he responded dryly. “Just wondering if you were enjoying the attention. You had every one of those guys eating out of the palm of your hand.” Harry found that he really was curious, despite the fact that he was only teasing her. She could probably have her pick of that group of guys, and for the first time Harry wondered if maybe she would rather be going to the ball with one of them instead of him. He wondered if she was interested in anybody.

“Well considering I broke away from them to come talk to you, I would think that would be enough to answer your question.”

“Fair enough,” Harry replied, deciding to drop the subject before he made her angry. “And I’m glad you did.”

“Good.”

“So what did you come to talk to me about?” he asked her curiously as he leaned against the back of a chair.

“I wanted to say thank you. I don’t remember doing so back on the pitch,” she told him, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently. “You’re really starting to rack up life debts that I owe you. At this rate I’ll be repaying them for the rest of my life.” As she said it, Harry noticed she started to blush

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Harry told her seriously, though he couldn’t figure out what had embarrassed her. “You gave me quite a fright out there. I don’t think I could handle losing you right now.”

She slipped her arm around his waist and gave him a one armed hug. “Well as long as I have you looking out for me, I’m sure I won’t be going anywhere any time soon. You do have a knack for saving my life.”

Harry snuck an arm around her side and gave her a slight squeeze in return. “All in a day’s work,” he joked. “After all, I am the savior of the Wizarding World, right?”

“I don’t know about the rest of the Wizarding World, but you have certainly made a habit of being my personal savior. And I can’t ever thank you enough,” she responded only half jokingly.

“You do more for me than you think, Gin. I don’t know how I would’ve survived these past two weeks if not for you,” he told her seriously, looking down into her eyes. Their arms were still loosely wrapped around each other, though neither seemed to be entirely aware of this. Or if they were, they weren’t in any hurry to change the situation.

“What are friends for, Harry?” she said with a small smile. They remained silent for a moment before she spoke again in a much more serious tone. “I have something I need to tell you, Harry.” Her voice sounded small and timid, completely unlike how she normally sounded to him.

“You can tell me anything,” Harry encouraged her with a slight squeeze.

“Well it’s about your Firebolt…” she started hesitantly.

Harry waved away her concern. “I told you before, I don’t care about the Firebolt. The important thing is that you’re okay.”

She couldn’t help but smile at him, though it was done a little sadly. “Well I just figured you might want to know what happened to it. Nate grabbed it from off the ground where it fell. It’s not shattered or anything, but it does have a pretty big crack running down the shaft.” Her voice became softer and more tentative as she explained the fate of his beloved broom.

“Don’t worry about it, Ginny. It wasn’t your fault that it cracked,” he said as he rubbed a small circle on her lower back. “To be honest, I was thinking about buying a new broom anyway and just hanging the Firebolt up on the wall or something. For now I think I’ll hang it in my office, or maybe in one of my trunk’s rooms. Like you said, it’s just got a crack in it, so it’ll still be able to serve that purpose.”

It was entirely misleading but not untruthful. He had in fact thought about replacing his Firebolt, but he had decided against it, at least for now. It didn’t make much sense to do it now when the Firebolt was still the best broom on the market. But he had resolved to do so just that as soon as the next model came out.

But Harry wasn’t about to tell Ginny that. The point was that if he had to choose between her and his broom he would pick her every day of the week and twice on Sunday, so he wasn’t all that bothered by the fate of his broom. He was sure that once he got over his relief that Ginny was unhurt and okay that it would bug him a bit. But he would never blame her for what happened. And he really didn’t want her worrying about it.

“Well I am sorry, and if you ever want to use my broom, it’s yours. I know it’s nowhere near as good as a Firebolt, but it’s all I have,” Ginny told him sincerely.

“Thank you, but really, don’t worry about it…”

“Hey Ginny,” a male voice interrupted. “Come on, we need to help you settle a bet. Oh, hey Harry.” Harry only nodded in reply. “I hope you don’t mind if we steal Ginny away for a few minutes.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. “I believe we should let Ginny decide what she’d like to do,” he said diplomatically.

Ginny sent him a grateful smile as the boy, Brian he thought his name was, began backpedaling. “O-Of course. I didn’t mean it like that. Of course Ginny will decide for herself, I just…”

“Oh, shut it Brian before your foot gets stuffed too far down your throat,” Ginny forcefully suggested. “I better go see what these guys want,” she said to Harry. “I’ll see you in a bit?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied. “I think I’ll make the rounds and congratulate the team.”

“Right, see ya Harry,” Ginny called out, dragging Brian by the arm to several other fifth and fourth year boys.

Harry watched her progress for a moment, eyes traveling from her hair, down her back, and to her…. Harry tore his eyes away, not wanting to stare. He scanned the crowd for his former teammates. He spotted Katie first and made his way over to the seventh year girl. As he drew near, he noticed Stephanie passing nearby. “Katie, Stephanie,” he called.

Both girls looked his way. “Hey Harry.” “Hi Harry.” They chorused.

“I just wanted to congratulate you two; you played well out there today,” Harry told them sincerely.

Both girls shook their heads. Katie spoke up first. “Nah, we couldn’t keep up with them at all.”

“Yeah,” Stephanie agreed. “We’re just lucky Ginny caught the snitch when she did; otherwise, Slytherin would have pulled too far ahead, and we’d have had no hope of catching up.”

“Don’t sell yourselves short,” Harry told them. “Slytherin is always hard to play against. They wear you down quickly with their dirty tactics and cheap shots. You both did great to keep the score as close as it was. And at the start you were brilliant. Had Ginny been with you two, I don’t think you would’ve had any problems keeping up with them. Nate’s not bad, but he didn’t get nearly enough practice time with you, and if your timing’s even a little off, it ruins the entire play.”

Harry continued, “He was unprepared to play. His nervousness and the Slytherins’ taunting and cheap shots got into his head and affected his game. Ron should have called a time out to talk to him and calm him down. Nate effectively took himself out of the game, and you can’t expect to keep up with them with only two chasers. You should be proud of yourselves for all that you managed to do. And that second goal was brilliant. You had me faked out. I had no idea where the quaffle was until it was already through the hoop.”

“Thanks Harry,” Katie told him sincerely.

“Yeah, thanks,” Stephanie added with a wide smile.

Harry held his hands out. “No need to thank me. I’m just telling you the truth. I’m going to try to find the guys. I think Nate is going to need some reassurance. I saw him earlier, and he didn’t look so good. Keep an eye out for him, will you?” The girls nodded, and Harry bid his goodbyes.

After a couple of minutes, he found Kirke and Sloper and talked to the boys briefly about the match. He stressed that they had done well, but that the Slytherins’ dirty tactics and cheap shots were unavoidable and bound to wear everyone down. The fact that they prevented any injuries was testament to the job they’d done. The two boys smiled and thanked Harry, who left on his way to search out Nate.

It took him several minutes, but he finally found the boy sitting in a secluded corner with one of his friends. “Mind if I sit?” Harry asked.

Nate glanced up and noticed who it was. If it was possible, his face just fell even more. He directed his gaze back to the ground and nodded morosely. His friend, whose name escaped Harry, said, “I think I’m going to go grab some food,” leaving Harry and Nate alone.

After a long moment of silence, Harry decided not to beat around the bush. “What’s the matter? Why aren’t you celebrating with the rest of the house?”

Nate raised his head and stared incredulously at Harry. “Are you kidding? What have I got to celebrate? I’m the reason we almost lost the game,” he lamented.

“Really?” Harry asked. The boy nodded. “So you’re the one who let in 18 goals, and you were the one dishing out cheap shots to our whole team left and right, and you are the one who blocked several of our shots? That’s quite impressive. I didn’t know one person could do so much.”

“Of course I didn’t do all that,” he retorted defensively.

“Then how are you the one who almost lost us the match?” Harry calmly returned.

“I played terribly. I dropped the quaffle a couple times, and I didn’t score a single goal,” he stated dejectedly.

“Well I can’t exactly dispute you on the last point,” Harry started. “But you did set Stephanie up on her second goal. That was a very nice move, by the way. You didn’t start off bad at all, but your timing was a bit off at times, which is no fault of your own. You just haven’t practiced enough with Katie and Stephanie. After a couple mistakes, you just let everything get to your head.” Harry looked at the boy and could tell he was listening, but it didn’t look like he was any closer to forgiving himself.

“Do you remember last year, how horribly Ron played in the first two games?” Harry asked him suddenly.

“Yeah,” he said with a nod.

“Do you know why he played so bad those games, while he played so well in the last game of the season?”

Nate shook his head.

“It was his attitude. Ron got too nervous, and he let the Slytherins’ comments get into his head. He went into the game thinking he would do poorly, and after every mistake he made, he berated himself and let it get him down. He played like crap because he convinced himself that he was just that bad,” Harry explained.

“But he turned that around in the last game because he just stopped thinking about it. He decided that he had nothing left to lose and stopped focusing on what everyone was saying and just played the game. You’re a good Quidditch player, that’s why we picked you. We all saw that you had talent at tryouts, and we expect you to be a starter after Katie leaves. We think you’re that good. You just have to learn to drown out the crowd and everything else and just play the game.”

Harry paused here and watched the boy in front of him. He looked thoughtful and nodded to himself a couple times as he thought over everything Harry had just told him. Finally he looked Harry in the eye and said, “Thanks, Harry.”

“Don’t mention it,” Harry replied easily. “Now get on out there and celebrate with your friends.”

The tentative smile that Nate had formed faded. “But what if the rest of the students blame me?”

Harry waved away his concern. “They won’t. Trust me. Everyone knows that you didn’t have much practice time. Nobody blames you one bit for what happened. Now get on out there before I have to drag you myself.”

Nate shot him a grateful smile as he stood and walked out into the hustle and bustle of the Common Room. Harry sat in the big armchair Nate had just vacated and watched as the boy was greeted by his friends who all smiled, some of them patted him on the back. After another minute, they were all laughing at something or another. Harry couldn’t help the smile that overcame him. He would be all right now.

“That was a nice thing you did,” a voice interrupted his thoughts from beside him. He didn’t have to look to know who it was.

“I just told him the truth,” Harry replied, still looking out into the Common Room.

“Yeah, and encouraged him and cheered him up. Five minutes ago he was miserable, and now he’s laughing and having fun with his friends,” the voice pointed out.

“He deserves to celebrate as much as anyone else here,” Harry returned. “He had no reason to feel bad about the game. He shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.”

“No, he shouldn’t have,” the voice agreed, laying a comforting hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Nor should I have been put in as Seeker. You should have been out there.”

Harry nodded absently. “Too late to change that now. All we can do now is make the best of what happened.”

“You’re right.” There was a short pause. “I was thinking that your Firebolt would look really nice on the wall opposite the door in your office. You’d be able to see it from your desk, and people would see it as they walk in. And that wall is big enough that it wouldn’t feel cramped at all. You could even still hang something else up there if you were so inclined.”

“I might just do that,” Harry said, turning towards her. “I think I trust your eye for style more than my own.”

“And with good reason,” Ginny teasingly replied.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Harry cried out in mock indignation.

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” she returned with a smirk as she took the fabric on the shoulder of his t-shirt in her fingers and examined it distastefully.

“I’ll have you know that I had a lot of help picking out my clothes. The help of two attractive girls, mind you,” Harry defended himself.

“Oh really?” she asked, her tone belying her interest in the subject. “Two attractive girls, you say?”

“That’s right,” Harry continued. “One attractive salesgirl at Madam Malkins helped me pick out all my robes. I also spent nearly an entire day shopping for a muggle wardrobe that actually fit, and an attractive sales girl helped me in that store as well.”

“The smile on your face tells me you had a good time, so was it the shopping or the company that you enjoyed?” Ginny leered, teasing him mercilessly. The gleam in her eye was almost enough to give Harry pause.

“Oh it was definitely the company. Not only was she very cute, she was very nice as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better saleswoman,” Harry tried to reply in an offhanded manner.

“Sounds like she meant more to you than just some saleswoman,” Ginny countered.

“Never said she didn’t,” Harry returned, thoroughly enjoying the exchange. He could tell that Ginny was trying to tease him or embarrass him, but he wasn’t going to let her get to him. It’s not like he just had some crush on Jessica that went unfulfilled. Little did Ginny know that Harry actually took her on a date.

“So what was her name?” she asked casually.

“Jessica.”

“And you remember her name after all this time? Is Harry Potter pining after this girl?”

“I wouldn’t call it pining. But I would imagine any bloke would remember the name of a girl he took out on a date.” Harry looked up to catch her reaction to that statement. He wasn’t disappointed.

Ginny’s mouth dropped open as she looked at him with wide eyes. “A date?”

“Yup. She couldn’t resist my charm and gave me her number after she rang me up when we finally finished shopping. She told me to give her a call if I ever needed help shopping again, or even if I didn’t,” Harry told her. “Now I know I’m as thick as the next guy, but I’m not thick enough to entirely miss that statement. So I called her up, and we got dinner one night.”

“Wow,” she said softly. “That was unexpected.”

“What? You didn’t expect a girl to show interest in me?” Harry pouted.

“Of course I expect girls to be interested in you,” she fired back. She said this so matter-of-factly that Harry couldn’t help but feel his confidence swell. “It just caught me off guard to hear that you went on a date this summer is all. It’s not like you ever hinted at the fact.”

“Well I couldn’t say anything at the time because I was supposed to be stuck at the Dursleys. Nobody was supposed to figure out my little secret,” he said putting a little emphasis on the last part to let her know that he was talking specifically about her for figuring him out. But he also said it with a smile, so she would know that he didn’t regret the fact that she knew.

“Yes, well you should have known that I’d be entirely too clever for you,” she stated, as she breathed on her fingernails and polished them on her robes.

“How silly of me to ever doubt you,” Harry agreed.

“So tell me more about this Jessica gal. How did your date go?” Ginny prodded as she sat up and began to roll her shoulders.

“Your shoulder all right?” he asked her with some concern in his voice, when he noticed her rolling her shoulders.

“Just a little tight is all. They’ll be fine,” she replied as she continued to roll them. He watched as she arched her right arm up behind her head and attempted to rub her neck and shoulders as best she could.

Harry assumed that she was trying to loosen up her muscles; he continued to watch her for a long moment before speaking up. “I – um – I could, you know, rub them for you, if you’d like,” he offered tentatively.

She twisted her head toward him so fast that he was sure she’d have a crick in her neck later. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Oh,” Harry replied automatically. He was silent for another short moment before continuing. “I really don’t mind, but if you’d rather not, that’s fine. I just figured I’d offer since your shoulders seem to be bothering you.”

“That’s very nice of you,” she replied carefully, suddenly feeling as if the room was entirely too warm. “I don’t want to put you out though.”

“I’d hardly call that putting me out,” Harry said waving away the comment. “I mean, I wouldn’t even have to get up. And it’s not like I’m doing anything anyway. We can continue our conversation. I’ll even tell you all about my date, though there isn’t that much to tell.”

“Well how can I refuse an offer like that,” she replied somewhat uneasily.

She stretched for a moment and rolled her shoulders again, grimacing a little as she did so, before moving in front of the chair and lowering herself to the ground. “What are you doing all the way down there?” Harry asked her teasingly. “I promise I won’t bite,” he continued as he scooted back as far into the seat as he could and patted the cushion in front of him, his legs spread wide to offer her as much room as possible.

Ginny blushed at first but forced her embarrassment down and regained her composure as she said, “Not even if I ask nicely?”

Harry chuckled. “We’ll see. Now get up here.” Ginny complied and sat down right in front of Harry. She wasn’t pressed back all the way against him, but very close.

“Right,” Harry said absently as he studied her upper back. “Erm.” He put his hands tentatively on her shoulders and quickly realized that her hair was going to get in the way. He hesitated for a moment and then gently gathered her hair and moved it over her shoulder. He tried not to notice how silky it was. She glanced over her shoulder at him with a questioning look on her face.

“Your hair was in the way. Is that ok?” he asked indicating her hair.

Ginny just nodded. Their eyes met and held briefly before she turned back around. Harry concentrated his gaze on her shoulders. He had never given anybody a massage or back rub of any kind, and he was suddenly questioning the intelligence of his offer. “Erm, just let me know if I hurt you or what feels good and what doesn’t. I’ve never really done this before.”

Ginny turned her head back over her shoulder. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t feel comfortable.”

“No, I want to help, I’m just worried that I might hurt you,” he told her honestly.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be fine, and I’ll let you know how you’re doing as you go.”

He replaced his hands on her shoulders, one on either side of her head and began to gently rub. He was very tentative in his movements, and he was listening carefully for any indication that he was hurting her. Instead he got a command. “Harder, Harry. I can barely feel you.”

“Oh, erm, sorry,” Harry replied, putting a bit more force in his ministrations.

“It’s alright, that’s much better.” Harry nodded, though she couldn’t see it as she was facing away from him. After a long moment she spoke up again. “Weren’t you going to tell me about your date?”

“Right, right,” Harry replied nervously. “There’s really not much to tell. We met at the store she works at and got dinner at an Italian restaurant. We talked a little. I obviously couldn’t go into much detail about my life since she’s a muggle. After dinner I walked her home.”

“There has to be more to it than that,” Ginny replied. “What did you talk about? Did you kiss her? Come on, details Harry.”

“I told her as much as I could about my summer, how I was running and working out and also doing some studying. And I talked in generalities about how Snape hated me and Malfoy was a git. She gave me a short kiss after I walked her home. It wasn’t a big deal. She’s a nice girl, but nothing will come of it. But at least I can say I’ve been on at least one successful date”

“Mmm,” Ginny moaned. “What do you mean?”

“I’m sure you know about me and Cho last year,” Harry said.

“I know that you went out for a bit and things didn’t turn out very well,” Ginny responded. “I don’t know much beyond that.”

“Well then, have I got a story for you,” Harry grumbled good-naturedly. “Where do I begin? I’m sure you know that I asked her to the ball in 4th year. She seemed like she would have liked to have gone with me, but she was already going with Cedric. I never got over her. Last year, she was still distraught over Cedric’s death. All she ever wanted to do was talk about him.”

“The whole thing was just a mistake waiting to happen,” Harry told her as he continued to rub her shoulders. “She was hung up on Cedric, and I’m sure you remember how I was last year. The first time she kissed me, shortly before Christmas, she burst out in tears. And there I was paralyzed at the fact that I had just kissed Cho Chang that I couldn’t even begin to try to comfort her, let alone figure out why she was crying.”

His story was interrupted as Ginny let out a guttural moan. “Oh, that feels good. Go on.”

Harry had almost forgotten what he was doing. He was so busy focusing on his story that he wasn’t paying any attention to what his hands were doing. But if that moan was anything to go by, his hands were doing quite fine on their own, so he left them to it. But he did try to pay a little more attention to what he was doing, focusing on trying to ease the tension out of her shoulders.

He continued after a moment. “Our one date was an absolute disaster. We went to Hogsmeade for Valentine’s Day. We had absolutely nothing in common to talk about besides Quidditch, which we exhausted on the walk into town. She dragged me to Madam Puddifoot’s, which is just about the most uncomfortable place I’ve ever been to. I was rather revolted. Just picture it: frill and lace to rival Umbridge’s office and a horde of stupid cupids flying around sprinkling confetti on everything in sight, which were a forcible reminder of Lockhart. That’s not even taking into account all the couples that were either holding hands or snogging.”

Harry chuckled a bit at the memory, and then continued. “She got jealous when I said I had to meet Hermione later on and decided to tell me that Roger Davies had asked her out a couple weeks ago. Now mind you, he was at the table next to ours snogging the girl he was with. Then she brings up Cedric, which led to more tears. Before she finally blew up at me and told me to just go be with Hermione since that was what I really wanted anyway. She stormed out of there in tears, leaving me behind, sitting there completely stunned and thoroughly embarrassed.”

“As smart as she is I can’t believe she tried to ‘test’ you that early on,” Ginny replied and then started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Harry asked a bit cautiously as he paused his hands.

“Oh, I’m just picturing the expression on your face,” Ginny answered.

Harry laughed again as he started massaging her shoulders again. “It was definitely a unique experience, one I’m sure not to forget anytime soon.”

“So you had a good time then?” Ginny asked him with a bit of humor in her voice.

Harry snorted. “No. I can’t say that I did. Can you believe she actually wanted to start that up again?”

“Mmmm,” Ginny moaned noncommittally, apparently lost in the massage.

“She asked me to go to the ball with her, but luckily I had already asked you; otherwise, that would have been really awkward,” Harry told her.

“How’s that?” Ginny asked.

“It was easier to turn her down saying I already had another date. Turning her down saying I just don’t want to go with her would have been much more difficult, I really didn’t want to hurt her. I probably would have just said yes to spare her feelings,” Harry told her.

“Mmm, yeah, I can see you doing that,” Ginny commented before letting out another long groan as Harry’s fingers encountered a knot.

Harry couldn’t help but notice all the moans that Ginny was making; nor could he help the effect they had on his body. He imagined that he was probably enjoying the backrub as much as she. It wasn’t every day he got to run his hands around the body of a gorgeous woman, and Harry couldn’t deny that he certainly enjoyed doing it, though he’d never admit as much out loud. Couple that with the moans she was letting out, and Harry was a very happy boy at the moment. He was just glad that there was still a small margin of space between the two of them; otherwise she’d probably know just how happy he was as well.

He concentrated on his hands for a long moment as he continued to rub along her shoulders and upper back and neck. He concentrated on making her feel relaxed and loose as his fingers continued to work their magic. If he was paying more attention to his actual hands, he might have noticed the soft blue glow at the tips of his fingers. After a minute he asked her, “So how did you and Michael Corner hook up last year anyway?”

Silence met his query. He kept on rubbing her shoulders for a long moment, and then asked, “Ginny?” Still nothing. After another moment he stopped rubbing her shoulders and leaned forward around her shoulder. “You alright, Gin?”

“Don’ stop,” she murmured drowsily.

“Yes ma’am,” Harry chuckled lightly. He didn’t really want to stop anyway. “So, are you going to tell me how you and Corner started going out or not?”

“Later,” was her muffled reply.

“You’re quite the talkative one tonight, Gin,” he teased her playfully.

“Can’t concentrate,” she said after a moment.

“Why’s that?” he asked her curiously.

“Feels too good,” she said simply with another soft moan.

“Oh,” Harry said with surprise. “Guess that means I’m doing alright then, huh?”

“Mmm.”

“I’ll take that as a yes then,” Harry laughed. He focused on his hands again as he rubbed along the top of her shoulders. His fingertips dug into the top of her shoulders as his thumbs pressed into her upper back. He kneaded her muscles with his fingers with some force willing the tenseness away. After another few minutes, she slumped back against his chest, and his hands left her.

She stayed that way for a long moment and almost of their own volition his arms wrapped themselves around her. She wrapped her arms around his and tilted her head back to look him in the eye and asked him, “I ever tell you how much I love you?” As if that was the most common question in the world.

Harry, on the other hand, was completely taken aback. Love? Why would she say something like that? He was sure she was just playing around, but it still struck him hard. He had never had anyone tell him that they loved him before. She may not have been entirely serious in what she was saying, but Harry couldn’t help the feeling of warmth that invaded him. “Err, no?”

“You keep rubbing my back like that, and I’ll be sure to make a habit of it,” she replied dreamily.

Harry couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped him. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“You do that. Do I need to ask where you learned to do that?” She teased.

“No need to; I didn’t learn anywhere. That was the first time I’ve tried that. I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing that for just anyone.”

“But you’re comfortable with me?” she asked him, brown eyes searching his face.

“Of course,” he replied easily. “You’re my best friend. How could I not be?” Apparently that had been the right thing to say, for she squeezed his arms in a roundabout hug.

“You really are one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met, did you know that?”

Harry blushed at her praise, and her comment struck a memory. “That’s what Jessica told me, more or less anyway. She told me that I was very sweet. Apparently that’s a good quality in a guy since she seemed to like me,” he reflected aloud.

“Of course it is,” Ginny agreed. Harry’s stomach growled suddenly. “I’m getting hungry, and apparently you are too. Why don’t we go grab something to eat before all the food disappears?”

Harry readily agreed as they both got up. The two of them set off to retrieve some refreshments. The party went on for hours. No one seemed to mind the chance to take a break from studying to just sit around and laugh and talk for hours on end.

Harry and Ginny stayed together for the rest of the party. Harry could only laugh when she said that it helped to keep the crowd of boys away. He knew all too well what it was like to be thrust into the spotlight when you really want nothing more than to blend in. They talked with a variety of people throughout the afternoon and into the evening, just mingling through the crowds. They each retold the story of their catch on several different occasions. Harry’s version of his own catch was downplayed.

At one point Ginny went to talk to several of her girl friends, and Harry got dragged along with her. Harry was shocked to see a side of Ginny he had never seen before. He had always lumped her into a category of girls along with Hermione who never seemed to get well, girly. That’s not to say he didn’t know she was a girl, but he hadn’t noticed her getting all giggly, or obsessive over makeup, the latest fashions and hair charms, or the best gossip.

The girls talked about a variety of things as Harry just listened in awe from the sidelines. They talked about the latest trends in dress and formal robes, apparently Madame Malkins had just gotten some in before the beginning of term and they were a bit controversial in design.

Melissa Thorner, one of Ginny’s roommates, got really excited about them. “I had to beg and plead with my mum to let me choose one of those designs for my dress robes. She is so old fashioned; she is just bound and determined that no one will ever see my cleavage. It took awhile to convince her, but I finally pulled it off. I mean that style is just so perfect for my figure. The shape of the neckline totally shows off my…” she trailed off with a glance in Harry’s direction.

Claire Hansen, another of Ginny’s roommates, jumped right in, she didn’t seem to notice Harry’s presence at all, “I can’t stand that new design, it looks absolutely horrid on me, with my lack of anything up top, well, lets just say it looks like I’m playing dress up in my mum’s robes, cause there is no way in heaven or hell that I have any chance of filling them out. I was so embarrassed at Gladrags a few weeks ago when the attendant tried to help me stuff...”

At that point Harry tried to stop paying much attention to what the girls where saying, because they were sharing way too much information. He was pretty sure that his face had to look like it was on fire he was so embarrassed. He was amazed at some of what they were saying. He had a hard time believing that these girls were willing to talk about such personal information, especially so openly. One of the most shocking things, to him at least, was some of the things that Ginny said about herself. It was all he could do not to interrupt her and set her straight. He probably would have if he didn’t want to remind them that he was there, as that would have significantly added to his embarrassment.

Eventually the talk turned to the hair and makeup styles that they each hoped to use for the upcoming ball. That turned the topic into a free for all. On what, Harry wasn’t exactly sure. He knew it had something to do with makeup color charms, but they at times seemed to be talking about hair color charms, so he wasn’t sure. He pretty much totally tuned it out at that point. He had no earthly idea how to follow let alone participate in any conversation that was at least a third giggles. Translating giggles was well beyond his capabilities.

As he stood there he kept couldn’t help but compare this discussion to any of the conversation that he and his four roommates got into. That was when Harry decided that he would never really understand girls, especially Ginny. In all the time they’d spent together Ginny had never even hinted that she was like this, not that there was anything wrong with it, it was just a bit disconcerting. He could talk to her about anything he talked to his other friends about, and in all actuality he could talk to her about more than he could talk to his other friends about. All in all, Harry found this new side of Ginny to be quite intriguing to say the least.

A near shout from behind him nearly caused him to hex Romilda Vane, a forth year, as she approached their little group. “You guys are so not going to believe what I just heard.”

Ginny, Claire, and Melissa all stopped and turned to face her, their eyes lit up with a sort of unholy glee. “What did you hear? Come on girl, spill,” Melissa nearly commanded.

Romilda paused with a ‘I know something you don’t know’ look on her face, her hands were clasped in front of her like she was trying to physically hold onto her news, and she was rocking back and forth on her heels. She looked at each of the other girls, apparently savoring their looks of anticipation.

Finally she said in a loud stage whisper, “Well, I just heard Parvarti and Lavender having a bit of a tiff. Apparently Parvarti heard from Padma who heard from her roommate, whose name I couldn’t understand, that Seamus and Lavender were caught in an empty classroom and rumor has it,” here she obviously paused for effect, “that clothing was optional!”

All of the girls gasped, looking scandalized to varying degrees. “So, why were Parvarti and Lavender arguing then?” Claire asked.

As one the girls leaned in to hear Romilda’s answer. “From what I could tell Parvarti was upset because Lavender hadn’t told her. I heard her say that the last that she knew Lavender had a thing for Ron because...”

Ginny broke in at that point, “Please don’t say anything else about Ron. I don’t want to know what is being said about my brother. There are just some things a sister should never know.”

“Well,” Romilda continued, “it seems as though Padma’s roommate had it all wrong because Lavender hasn’t done anything with Seamus. He had pulled her into the classroom to ask her to the ball. But I did hear her mention that she wouldn’t mind checking out a few things about that boy.” She finished with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrows, “You know what I mean…”

Claire and Melissa both looked as confused as Harry was feeling.

Ginny came to their rescue with a very mischievous expression on her face, “Come on you two, you know all the girls are absolutely barmy over his accent and then when you throw in the size of his feet…” She trailed off shooting Harry a sly smirk. “You all know what that means.”

All the girls burst out into a renewed fit of giggles. Harry hadn’t thought he could be more embarrassed than he’d been at the beginning of this whole experience, but he’d been wrong, dead wrong. He felt his face heat up to nearly unprecedented levels as the full meaning of her statement registered. He turned startled eyes to Ginny to find her watching him, amusement clearly shining in her eyes. She had done that on purpose. Well two could play that game. “And it’s true, too” he said finally joining the banter.

The giggles came to a complete and utter stop, the silence was nearly deafening, and all their eyes flew to his face. “What?” several voices shrieked.

“About feet,” Harry returned simply, trying his level best to keep a straight face. He looked at Ginny; whose mouth was agape, then gave her a wink and returned her mischievous smile. The other girls had started giggling again. He couldn’t help but notice that several of them glanced down at his feet. He did his best to fight off the blush that wanted to creep back up his face.

“You did that on purpose,” a voice whispered in his ear.

“And you’re one to talk?” Harry retorted.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve just started? That’s all they’re going to be talking about now,” Ginny told him.

Harry shrugged. “So? I imagine it will make for interesting conversation.” He was grinning widely.

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. So what size shoe do you wear?” she asked him just loud enough that the rest of the girls heard her. They all stopped what they were doing and focused their attention solely on him, waiting anxiously for his answer.

“That’s none of your business, pervert,” Harry teased.

“Oh come on, Harry. Tell us,” one of the girls pleaded. Harry didn’t see who it was; he was too busy watching Ginny’s reactions. They kept pestering him, and he eventually expanded his focus to include all of the girls.

“Oh no,” Harry stated, waving his arms in front of himself. “I’m not telling anything. By breakfast tomorrow morning the entire school would know.”

“What’s the big deal, Harry? Are you afraid? Do you have small feet or something?” Ginny asked him. There was no mistaking how much she was enjoying this.

“I’m not falling for it,” Harry calmly retorted. “Anything I say will be twisted around horribly anyway.”

“You’re no fun,” Romilda pouted. The rest of the girls echoed the sentiment.

“I just have too much experience to fall for your tricks. After you’ve dealt with Rita Skeeter, everyone else is an amateur,” Harry informed the group. “Besides, I was just teasing you all with the feet thing. I have no idea whether or not it’s true. I’ve never exactly tried to verify it.”

“So you’re saying you’ve never taken a peek?” Ginny asked him.

“You have to have seen something in the dorm, or in the bathroom,” Melissa questioned a bit desperately.

“Sorry,” Harry told them, not totally believing he was having this conversation. “I do my best to avoid noticing these things.”

The girls went back to their gossiping after that, and Harry returned to his observer status. A few minutes later, the conversation had tapered off, and Ginny was ready to move on. Harry was only too happy to oblige. On the way to check on the butterbeer supply, Hermione, who was dragging Ron by the arm, intercepted them.

Hermione glared pointedly at Ron as she turned to Harry. ”Ron has something he wants to tell you,” she informed him.

Ron nodded his head but was silent for a long moment. Eventually he sucked in a big breath and turned toward Harry. “I just wanted to say thanks for saving Ginny,” he said somewhat uneasily, unable to meet Harry’s eye.

“You have nothing to thank me for. I didn’t save her for you,” Harry replied his voice as cold as ice.

“Erm, right, well I’m just glad you were there,” Ron continued apprehensively.

“Right. Is that all you had to say then?” Harry asked him impatiently. He could have helped his friend, but he really didn’t want to. It was obvious Ron was uncomfortable talking to Harry, and it was probably because he was starting to feel bad about booting him off the team. But Harry wasn’t going to just let it go without an apology, not this time. He let Ron off the hook rather easily in his fourth year, and Ron didn’t appear to learn his lesson very well. Maybe if he was forced to actually fess up to his stupidity, he would work to rein it in, in the future.

“Er…” he started uneasily. “Yes –What the bloody he...” Ron looked down at Hermione while he hopped on one foot and clutched his toes in his hand. Seeing the look on her face he continued, “I mean, no, that’s not all.” Apparently she wasn’t going to let Ron chicken out.

“Well?” Harry prodded impatiently.

“Well you see… erm, well I just wanted to say that I’m – erm – I’msorryforkickingyouofftheteam,” Ron finally blurted out in an incoherent stream of noise, thoroughly examining his trainers.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t catch that last part. You were mumbling,” Harry told him. Sure he knew what his friend had said, but that’s only because he knew what Ron was going to say before he said it. If he hadn’t known beforehand, there was no way he’d be able to decipher his garbled speech.

“I said that I’m sorry for kicking you off the team,” Ron stated much more slowly and clearly, tilting his head up and focusing past Harry’s shoulder.

The fact that Ron had to be forcibly dragged and coerced into his apology combined with the fact that he couldn’t even look Harry in the eye did nothing to dampen Harry’s anger one bit. “Right. Come on, we need to talk, and I’d rather not do this in public,” Harry said, leading Ron and the girls to the same secluded corner of the Common Room where he had cheered Nate up and given Ginny her back rub. He drew his wand with a flick of his wrist and made sure to perform the proper wand movements as he set up a simple privacy ward.

OoOoO

Ron watched silently as Harry paced back and forth in front of him. Suddenly, his friend stopped and turned towards him. The intense look on Harry’s face caused Ron to gulp. Audibly.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done to me?” Harry asked him icily.

“I kicked you off the team,” Ron responded as if Harry were a small child. Apparently that hadn’t been the smartest thing to say if the look on Harry’s face was anything to go by.

“If you think that’s all you’ve done to jeopardize our friendship, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Ron gaped at him, he couldn’t think of anything else that he had done that could’ve hurt their friendship. “Wha -- what do you mean?”

“Where do I start?” Harry retorted. “Let’s see, I guess it began back in the summer with you trying to stop Ginny from writing to me. I don’t remember ever giving you the right to decide who could and could not write to me. And if that wasn’t enough, you snuck into Ginny’s room to read the letter I had written to her. If I had wanted you to read it, I would have put your name at the top. That’s an invasion of both her privacy and mine.” Harry paused. Ron made a move to defend himself, but Harry held up a hand to stop him. “This will be a whole lot easier if you just let me get through this.”

Ron’s mouth clamped shut as he stared at his best friend wondering where all this was coming from. Was he really still on about that? Couldn’t Harry understand that he was just worried about him at the time?

After a moment, Harry continued. “Ever since the HA started, you’ve done nothing but challenge my authority. If there’s one person you reminded me of, it was Draco Malfoy. He expects to be given special treatment because he’s a Malfoy. You walked into my class expecting that same special treatment. After all the times we’ve complained about him and the rest of the Slytherins getting special treatment in Snape’s classes, you expected me to do the same for you. Personally, I don’t like being cast in the same lot with Snape.”

Harry began pacing again as he continued. “But that’s not the only thing you did. Oh no, like a true Malfoy, you decided to attack another student who had done absolutely nothing to deserve it because he was different than you. And you didn’t even have the decency do it to his face. You tried to get in a cheap shot like a true Malfoy. And to top it all off, you got mad at me for stopping you. You got mad and stopped talking to me for not acting like Snape or any of the other Slytherins that we can’t stand.”

Ron felt that one like a slap in the face. When Harry first compared him to Malfoy, he wanted to rage out at him. How could his “best friend” compare him to the likes of Draco Malfoy? It was just about the worst insult that could have been thrown at him. But then Harry went on to explain how he had acted just like Malfoy, and try as he might, Ron couldn’t think of a good way to defend himself. He couldn’t believe it. Had he really acted like that? The thought that he could even be lightly compared to Malfoy was enough to make him want to retch.

“And did you ever even stop to think how I felt?” Ron chewed the inside of his cheek to stop himself from answering. He had never stopped to think about how Harry was feeling in regards to his actions, but he had thought a lot about what Harry was thinking siding with the Slytherins. At the time he couldn’t believe that Harry would choose those snakes over his best friend, but now that he heard things from Harry’s perspective, he had a much harder time justifying his own actions.

“No,” Harry continued. “Do you think I enjoyed yelling at you? Docking points from my own house? Do you even realize the incredibly difficult spot you put me in? The success of those classes depends on how willing everyone is to listen and follow my directions. They won’t do that if they don’t respect me. From day one you’ve done nothing but make my job a hundred times harder. After all, if I can’t even get one of my best friends to cooperate and follow my instructions, why should anybody else listen? I’m just lucky so many of them were in the DA last year and already trusted me. Had you pulled stunts like that in a class full of new students, I don’t know if I would have been able to recover or get anything accomplished.”

Ron watched as Harry stopped pacing and took several deep breaths. His voice had been starting to rise in his last rant, and Ron was worried about what was coming next. He had never meant to cause trouble in Harry’s classes. He just couldn’t understand why Harry trusted the Slytherins. But now that he thought about it, he knew it didn’t excuse his actions. He had originally apologized for kicking Harry off the Quidditch team hoping Harry would forgive him and things would be normal by the end of the night. The more Harry talked, the more worried Ron grew and the more he realized just how badly he had screwed things up.

“Your lack of respect for your sister reached an all time high when you decided to raid my trunk, disregarding my privacy, looking to borrow one of the few things I have of my father without my permission. Which is also called stealing. Had there been an emergency, I probably would have been able to let it slide. Trying to catch your sister snogging does not qualify. Then, when confronted about it, you didn’t even have the decency to apologize.”

When Harry stopped and looked him directly in the eyes, Ron immediately looked away. “But that’s not the worst thing you did that night in my opinion.”

Ron chanced a glance back up at his friend. Harry was standing rigidly with a fire in his eyes that Ron would not soon forget. He noticed Ginny walk about behind Harry and squeeze his shoulder. He couldn’t help the pang of regret that the sight invoked. That used to be his position. After only a moment Ron returned his gaze to the ground. He couldn’t bear to look at Harry.

“Instead of apologizing for invading my privacy with the intent to steal from me, if only temporarily, you get mad at me and tell me I couldn’t possibly understand since I don’t have a family. Now you’ll have to excuse me, but I used to think that I had a brother and a sister. I guess I was wrong on at least one of those counts.”

“Only one,” Hermione put in warmly, knowing exactly who Harry was talking about.

Ron felt like a lead weight had just been dropped into his stomach. He had always considered Harry as good as a brother, more than a brother, in fact. But he had real brothers of his own, a real family of his own, and he had never made the connection that Harry really saw him as a brother, literally. That he was Harry’s family. And from the sound of it, he had ruined that.

He didn’t have time to think any further on that, for Harry started up again. “And now that brings us back to the reason we’re having this conversation. You kicked me off the team knowing full well how much Quidditch means to me. You know how much it hurt last year to have to sit on the sidelines while you and the rest of the team were out there on the pitch. I hated Umbridge for taking Quidditch away from me. But at least I knew where I stood with her. We were enemies. She hated me and I her. What’s your excuse?” Ron flinched when he heard that, each accusation of Harry’s stinging much worse than the hexes used in HA.

“You are supposed to be my friend. How could you just take away something I love like that? But this goes beyond just that. I don’t think it’s any shock to you that we’ve been drifting apart recently. Quidditch was one of the few things that we still shared where things between us seemed normal, like they used to be. I felt like I had my best friend back during those times. And don’t even try to tell me you didn’t feel the same way. How do you think it felt for you to just throw that away? To throw me away?” Harry stopped talking and held both hands up to his face, pressing his fingers against both of his temples. The pain in Harry’s expression nearly drove Ron to his knees. He couldn’t believe that his plan to spend more time with Harry had gone this wrong.

For the first time in his life, Ron truly began to think about the consequences of his actions. He had never before really considered how his actions affected others. In all his fighting with Harry, he had never once considered how Harry might be feeling. He never considered that he could actually hurt Harry.

“Answer me this,” after a moment Harry lifted his head and looked him right in the eye. “Why apologize now? Did you just now realize that you made a mistake?”

Ron shook his head sadly. Maintaining eye contact with Harry was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. He didn’t want to continue this conversation because he knew that he was about to hurt his best friend even more.

“Alright, then when did you figure it out?” Harry asked.

Ron did not want to answer that question, but he knew that he had to. He was seriously tempted to lie but knew he had already done enough damage. “About a week or so ago.”

“Then I ask again: why now?”

“I don’t know,” Ron cried in frustration; he didn’t know how to do this. “I just thought if we could win without you, everyone would be happy, and I could just apologize then, and we could just forget it ever happened and celebrate.”

Harry laughed, but Ron could tell it held no humor. “Did you ever think that I might have appreciated you apologizing earlier and giving me the chance to actually play in the game?”

Ron couldn’t answer that question; though he knew the answer, he just couldn’t bring himself to say it. “Or is there more to it than that?” Harry mused aloud. “Why didn’t you apologize to me before the game?” Harry asked him again.

Ron stared at his shoes and remained silent. “You wanted to prove you could do it without me, didn’t you?” Ron’s head snapped up painfully, the look of betrayal on Harry’s face was one he was sure he would never forget. Then Harry continued, “You wanted to prove that you didn’t need the great Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived to win, didn’t you? You wanted to show everyone that you could lead the team to victory without me.”

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