Author's Notes: Here we go; last time! I appreciate your reading this. And for those who have reviewed, I am in your debt.
In this Chapter – Apology accepted; Boldly going where no man has gone before; This magic moment.
Epilogue – Interhouse Cooperation Week
"Hey, you," Ginny said, as she snuck up behind Draco in the library and placed her hands on his shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze. Feeling quite brave and not caring who saw her, she bent over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, Gin," he answered with a smile. He placed a well-worn bookmark to hold his spot inside the potions book he was perusing and laid it aside. Leaning back in his chair, he looked up at her and quizzed, "Well, what did your mum and dad say? Can you come and stay at the Manor for a few days over the Christmas hols?"
"No, I'm afraid not," she said with a frown.
He gasped then whinged, "I'd like to know why bloody not?"
"I'm sorry, but my parents barely know you. And all they ever heard about you was what Ron and Harry said, none of which has been very good."
He just sulked in reply. She went on, "Draco -- a hate that's centuries old can't be undone in a matter of weeks," she added sagely. "But you and your mum can come to the Burrow for dinner on Christmas or Boxing Day."
"That's all?" Rather annoyed, he leaned forward and set his chin in the heel of his hand like a petulant child. Ginny thought he might as well pout.
"Well, it's a start. And you are still alive and . . . intact," she murmured with a glance at his trousers.
Ignoring her flippant remark, he sighed then rubbed his chin as if deep in thought and considering her invitation. "Hmmm . . . 'The Burrow'. Sounds interesting. Replete with every Weasley known to man, I suppose?"
"And how many is that, roughly -- 47, 48?"
"Somewhere in there," she laughed softly. She crossed her arms then leaned her bum against the table so she could gaze into his piercing eyes.
He didn't notice that she was watching him so intently, as his own gaze was suddenly drawn to the rounded curve of her backside; this brought to mind how they'd barely any time for him to see her cute little bum the past few weeks. Each time the couple sought a little intimacy while they were in New Zealand, Lupin or one of the Grants somehow managed to show up at the worst possible moment. It was most frustrating and a great wrong that simply had to be rectified.
Slowly, he slid his hand over to her bottom and gave it a good squeeze. She jumped slightly and giggled.
He licked his lips then whispered huskily, "And a barn, quite far from the house, replete with a hayloft?"
"Maybe," she breathed, her face beginning to flush as she wiggled closer to him. "Or perhaps an abandoned tree house that can be charmed for warmth, comfort, and privacy." She brought her face much closer to his -- so close that he could feel her breath and tell that its pace had picked up.
Staring into her warm, cocoa eyes, he could see that her pupils nearly filled them. She wrapped her fingers around his hand that was still resting on her bum and clasped it firmly. His breath caught in his throat as a fire spread through his body mercilessly. Soon he was thinking thoughts one oughtn't to think in a library, and it was starting to show.
Suddenly, Madam Pince's head poked out from around the corner. Wishing to avoid a detention the last week of term, he swiftly removed his hand from Ginny's arse. He cleared his throat and casually reached for his book, putting his nose in it as if it were the most fascinating thing ever written.
"So? Will you come?" the redhead pressed, giving him an impish smile and nudging her hips even closer to him.
Draco glanced around her and over her shoulder; the librarian had moved along and continued reshelving materials, deftly using her wand to reach the highest levels. He took Ginny's hand and kissed it with purpose. "Definitely," he answered.
By early afternoon, all of Hogwarts was abuzz with excitement. Not only would the Christmas holidays commence at the end of the week, Professor Dumbledore had officially kicked off the First Annual Interhouse Cooperation Week at lunch. Their afternoon lessons were being replaced with something he called, "special learning activities" to be held in the Great Hall. Everyone's curiosity was at a fever pitch.
The massive room was transformed for the occasion. Several house tables were transfigured to exactly eight feet in length and were arranged into groups of four with their corners almost touching, forming a sort of open square. Twelve such squares, or stations, filled the large room, with as many as 16 students were seated at each. The bewitched ceiling above looked like a light winter snow was falling, with just a hint of sun peaking through the puffy clouds. The boldly-colored house banners were replaced with many long, slender multi-hued streamers, their shades blended iridescently and so indescribable that no one color was prominent in any of them.
Outside the squares, several people were milling about and observing the proceedings. Older students, a handful of Hogsmeade merchants and residents, and a few visiting dignitaries from the Ministry of Magic took it all in. Harry thought it was absolutely brilliant; the atmosphere Dumbledore had so simply yet ingeniously created made him think of a quaint county fair, only without the sellers barking at innocent passersby, "Have a go, win a prize for your sweetheart!" in an attempt to relieve them of a few of their pence or shillings.
The first and most obvious rule in each station was that housemates could not sit next to each other. At the center of each square stood a smaller table, and at that table stood two prefects from different houses. Each pair of prefects was tasked with instructing the younger people within their group a specific, slightly more complicated skill than was normally required of their year.
Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, as the only prefects in Professor Snape's Advanced Potions class, were tasked with coaching third-years in making a potion to sharpen one's mind when studying for exams. Sounding eerily like her Head of House, the Gryffindor cautioned them sternly, "This is to be taken only in very small doses -- no more than 5 drops per hour -- if not, serious damage may result."
"Excuse me," a haughty Ravenclaw sneered, raising her hand and nose high in the air, "but if it's so dangerous, then why are we learning it?"
Hermione smirked at the insufferable know-it-all. "Well, Miss—" She stopped as she struggled to recall the girl's name.
"Lourdes. Danika Lourdes."
"Miss Lourdes," she began again with a slight nod. "Most of these ingredients are controlled -- so not just anyone can make this in their 'spare time' or brew it in an empty bathroom. And I thought a smart girl like you would be mature enough to handle it." The Ravenclaw beamed. Draco rolled his eyes and feigned vomiting, much to the amusement of the younger Slytherins seated at their station, who stopped snickering the moment Hermione glared at them. He cleared his throat and suddenly became very interested in a spot on his shoe.
Across the way, Ron Weasley and Pansy Parkinson were working with first-year Herbology students. They had the unenviable task of teaching them to repot baby mandrakes. Neville Longbottom had brought small cartloads of the ugly plants up to the Great Hall with the help of his roommates Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas.
Soon, everyone in the Herbology group had donned their earmuffs as Pansy instructed. Once everything was in place, Professor Sprout spread a large, sound-proof bubble over their area to protect any nearby spectators. Then she cast an Imperturbable Charm on the bubble's transparent walls, just as an added precaution -- but mostly to prevent the hapless Longbottom from accidentally walking into it and releasing the plants' deafening screams.
Yes, the learning activities organized for the first day of Interhouse Cooperation Week were going along splendidly until . . .
"LEAVE ME ALONE, GOYLE!" a livid Susan Bones shouted as she stormed into the Hall. She had thrust the door open so hard that it nearly clanged into an approaching suit of armor that had been accidentally set tottering into motion by an overzealous second-year Charms student. Running along after the flailing armor and trying desperately to bring it under control was Ernie McMillan.
Susan stopped and turned around to face the hulking young man. He would not leave her alone, despite her pleas. She lashed out once more, "I am NOT interested, you great prat -- so get lost!" Professor Sprout, her Head of House, looked up and peered at the lunkhead who was following her young charge. She rose to her feet and watched, an angry wrinkle forming in her brow.
Dejected but not deterred, the Slytherin continued to chase after her. "But Susan . . I -- I love you, won't you go out with me again, please? Just give me another chance. I promise, I'll keep my hands to myself," Gregory pleaded, making it clear that he was not ready to give up his pursuit of the girl he had pined over for most of the past two years. "I won't touch you again unless you say so. Sorry, but I couldn't help myself . . you're just so beautiful, and you smell so nice and—"
Draco watched his roommate from across the Hall. He rolled his eyes and groaned to himself, "Smooth, Goyle; really smooth."
"NO!" the Hufflepuff said through gritted teeth, more firmly than before. "And if you don't go away now, you'll be very sorry!"
He said plaintively, "But I am sorry -- really, really sorry—"
A half-second later, Goyle was frozen to the spot, dripping in black, thick sludge that looked like well-used motor oil. An overturned bucket hung suspended in mid-air above his head, dripping its remaining contents onto his hair. He just stood there, too shocked to do anything. Susan magicked the bucket away, cleaned the floor where he stood, and charmed the oil to evaporate as soon as it hit the ground.
The onlookers were stunned into silence. Smiles formed slowly across their faces.
"Sorry, Professor Sprout," the Hufflepuff muttered, a pained expression on her face. She scurried toward the exit.
"YOU GO, SUSAN!" an anonymous, high-pitched shout came from across the room. Similar cheers and smatterings of applause soon followed. Goyle just stood there, blinking, his mouth agog, as the oil dribbled past his eyes and down both his chins. Crabbe eventually took pity on him and rescued his doltish friend, cleaning him up with a simple Scourgify. Then he lead him out of the crowded Hall and down to their sanctuary in the dungeons.
Ginny, Luna, and Colin had stood next to each other the whole time and watched the spectacle unfold. Their mouths and eyes drawn wide, the redhead remarked, "I never knew she had it in her." Someone nudged her in the side.
"Well, I'm quite proud of her. Only wish I'd thought of it last year."
"Katie?" Ginny laughed disbelievingly.
"And don't forget your good friend, Angelina," the other girl said as she gave her boyfriend's sister a sly wink.
As Ginny stopped to talk to the girls, Colin took Luna's hand and led her aside to watch Anthony Goldstein and Hannah Abbott, who were teaching students how to transfigure old brollies into tea cups.
The youngest Weasley wasn't fooled for a minute. She whispered, "Fred, George -- what are you two doing here? If Filch finds out, he'll murder you."
"Which is why we came disguised -- duh."
"Now, Katie; do be polite to your boyfriend's only sister." Turning to Ginny, she said, "As entrepreneurs, we are always on the lookout for new product testers, dear heart."
"Yes, and new clientele. Sorry, love, but we really must hurry -- we've only got less than 15 minutes till the potion wears off."
Ginny smirked at them. At least they had better sense in fashion today. "And tell me; did you find any truly 'desperate youth' at Hogwarts today?" she asked sardonically.
"Well, yes, we did manage to snag up two third-year Hufflepuffs and one fourth-year Gryffindor."
"They were most anxious to earn some extra pocket money for Hogsmeade before Christmas," Angelina added with a confident nod.
Suddenly, Katie Bell's face went absolutely white.
"Oh, hell!" she cursed as her hand flew over her mouth.
Genuinely concerned, Ginny asked her, "What is it?"
"I -- I just got me period! Oooh, Gin -- what do I do, what do I do? Can you help me?" The girl was nearly having a panic attack.
As the only real girl among them, she nearly doubled over in laughter. How she wished it was George's face she could see at that exact moment! Taking her hand, she sighed, "Come on, you." She knew of a girls' bathroom that one could get to without actually leaving the Great Hall. She had discovered it while she was at the Yule Ball with Neville in her third year. The path to it was just to the left of the teachers' table.
"At the front of the Hall? Are you barmy?" Katie argued.
But Ginny was insistent. She said in a low tone, "This is much closer. And they have all the 'supplies' you will need. Don't want to go using the, er, 'wrong sort of equipment'," she added, carefully enunciating the last four words, "or when you change back -- you might be even more uncomfortable than you are now . . . if you get my meaning."
"Oooh, this is absolutely horrible," Katie whimpered. "How do you girls do it?" Turning to her partner in crime, she hissed, "Angelina! This is all your fault -- now get your boney arse over here!"
She moaned to herself, "Urgh, why did this have to happen today? Oh, Ginny, my stomach hurts -- is that normal?"
"I'm afraid so, dear heart," she mocked. Taking the feminine, petite hand in hers, she encouraged, "Come on, let's go. It'll be fine, I promise."
A few minutes later, however, both twins had changed back to their regular forms, apparently no worse for the wear. George was extremely relieved, and Fred didn't dare laugh at him. The only thing that remained, aside from getting out of the building and off campus with their skins, was being spotted leaving a girls' loo with their sister, in front of the entire Great Hall.
"Yes, that might look -- suspicious to some people," George commented. Fred nodded quickly, the fear apparent in his eyes.
Ginny pointed out the obvious, "Not to mention the fact that you're both in dresses. True, they are fashionable this time -- a bit short and way too tight, perhaps -- but stylish nonetheless."
Fred looked at himself in the full-length mirror then groaned, "Can't we at least transfigure these dresses into robes? You know, so we don't look so much like drag queens?"
"Not to worry. No one would ever accuse you two of being drag queens."
George puffed up his chest, admired his reflection, and said, "Yeah, we're rather masculine."
"No. You're too ugly."
He scowled at her. "You are just loving this, aren't you?"
She didn't bother to hide her smirk. "Where's your sense of humor now, funny boy?"
Fred, on the other hand, stayed out of their little spat and focused on the more immediate problem: getting out of the castle alive. He did a quick mental review of the tunnels and passages out of Hogwarts. After sharing his thoughts with George, it turned out that neither of them could think of any that were within their grasp.
Seeing no other way out but to just go for it and hope that no one noticed them, their sister urged, "Just sneak out now. And I won't come out until you've been gone for about five minutes."
"But we need robes—"
"All right. But they'll be quite short," she reminded her brother. "And tight. I can't make fabric out of thin air, you know."
"Ginny, please . . "
She flicked her wand and said the incantation their mother had taught her to adjust clothing into different styles and colors: "Alterus Fabrica."
When it was done, both twins heaved audible sighs. "Thanks, Gin. This is much better," Fred said as he nervously adjusted the hemline of his robes, which showed about four inches too much leg.
"Yeah, well -- at least they're not pink. And thanks for helping with the, uh -- you know," George added with a weak smile. "I have a whole new respect for girls."
She grinned. "Don't mention it; just go." At the last minute, she transfigured their shoes as well.
The pranksters slipped cautiously out the door and were soon in the Great Hall. Leaving the door open a fraction of an inch, Ginny peeked outside the crack, watched, and waited.
It didn't take long for the dung to hit the fan . . and when it did, Ginny's heart sunk.
"Oy, Weasley! Nice legs!" The pronouncement was followed by a bizarre, cackling laugh.
Who was that? she wondered, frantically searching the Hall from the confines of her hiding place.
Oh, no -- Peeves!
She stepped into the Hall and hissed loudly, "Peeves, no!"
But it was too late; a few of the older students had already recognized the boys as the ones who had helped bring Umbridge's reign of terror last year to an end. They began clapping, whistling, and cheering loudly. The twins reveled in the crowd's admiration.
Ginny looked across the room and gasped as Hogwarts' most famous feline resident made her way toward where the twins were standing. "Mrs. Norris!" she whispered to no one in particular, as her brothers were still several feet away. If the cat's master was right behind her, as he always seemed to be . . . they were done for! How could she warn them in time? What would she do?
Feeling as though she were wading through a giant bowl of half-set gelatin, she gave a strangled cry when her worst fears were realized. She thought of creating a diversion -- she was good at that sort of thing. But Filch soon peered out from behind one of the larger seventh-year students. He was looking their way. Thinking he had heard voices he knew quite well, the old man itched to find out who they belonged to.
He was right! It was the two shifty, little imps who had made the past seven years a living hell for him; his face contorted in rage. He carefully stalked his prey. Grinding his teeth, he greedily snatched a wand from a small, frightened first-year boy, who protested, "Hey!" But the look on the old caretaker's face said he was not to be trifled with. The little boy mumbled, "That's okay, sir -- just bring it back when you're done. It belonged to my cousin, Cedric."
Filch brandished the borrowed wand and aimed it straight at those two Weasley punks. His fury, his blinding rage, was burning in his beady eyes. His pulse quickened; soon he could feel the blood racing for the calloused tips of his crooked fingers. He almost didn't recognize it, it was so faint. But there it was. The long-forgotten tingle his mind dared not remember: the unmistakable energy of magic.
"Impedimenta!" he cried, his voice quaking, the wand outstretched with determination as if he intended to actually touch his victim with it. Tiny sparks fizzled then flew from the end of the wand. Before the other one had time to react, Argus repeated the incantation. He blinked -- it worked! Both of them were actually moving in slow motion.
Stunned, Filch stared at his handiwork. He laughed out loud, slowly, a feeling of satisfaction spreading through him, followed by excitement at the prospect of . . doing magic once more . . . of being a wizard. The crowd froze in shock, while some of the more detention-prone students shifted nervously.
Mrs. Norris, watching from her place on the floor, gave a very contented, very proud purr.
Post-Fic Notes: This marks the end of a long journey for me -- my first completed novel-length fic! Thanks for your immense patience (some of you may have been following this since December 2003), and I am grateful for your support, feedback, and encouragement.
And a humongous "THANK YOU" to my beta reader, Illana (aka fyrechild). Her hard work, endless support, and cheerleading helped me so much. Once I brought her onboard, I know I tried harder, plotted more carefully, and wrote what I felt were better chapters. Couldn't have done it without you, Lala:)
One Final Note: I am thinking of writing a sequel to this. I've had a few ideas running through my warped little brain. As I've said, reviews are inspiring and can sometimes plant the seeds of new fanfic . . . So please give me your input, either by e-mail or review!
Thanks a million for reading!