Chapter Ten: Curiouser and Curiouser...

Girls were strange things...

Despite the fact that most boys lived by this statement as a rule concerning the female species since they were of the age of four, Harry actually had a reasonable excuse for this thought: Veronica and Ginny were acting like bosom buddies after Ginny had been treating Veronica like she cared the Bubonic Plague ever since she first met the ebony haired Slytherin.

Harry was not the only one confused at this; both Ron and Hermione, one of them definitely not a boy and had understanding of the female mind, had expressed concern regarding the abrupt change in their relationship. Ron was worried that Ginny spending time with Veronica and other Slytherins would somehow corrupt her and Hermione was worried that one of them was blackmailing the other into something that required them spending time together.

This seemed to be the popular consensus with the rest of the Hogwarts population as well; for whenever one of the girls tried to speak about something other than what the original conversation had been about, the other would pull them away for a few minutes 'discussion' and when they came back it would be as if the girls had been reprogrammed or something...

Veronica seemed to be the one that mostly tried to tell everyone something, particularly when Harry was around or she saw him coming toward them, but Ginny was always dragging her off for a sudden study session, or a new bit of gossip, or taking a trip to the Hospital Wing for a new cream or charm for the multitude of bruises and cuts Veronica got from the Whomping Willow. It was starting to bother Harry more and more as time went on...

Another thing that confused Harry was that they seemed to be sharing a black, leather-bound diary when Harry had yet to see Hermione let anyone even borrow her notes without her breathing down their necks. Veronica had been an oddity from the start, being a Slytherin that actually had a soul(Ron's words), but having Ginny being best friends with Veronica after spending the better half of the first semester describing her as worse than Professor Snape's lovechild(again, Ron's words) was really throwing them all for a loop.

As a matter of fact, the only time Harry had ever seen Veronica and Ginny acting like their normal selves in a long while was at the Quidditch practice that happened that Sunday...

Harry had been woken up at the crack of dawn by Oliver Wood, his fanatic Quidditch Captain and had been informed of a thousand new Quidditch plays as he dozed in his seat. Then they went out onto the pitch, Harry surprised by th fact that when his friends came out to watch, Veronica had brought him some marmalade on toast to munch on before he started playing.

Flying around the pitch had woken Harry up far more than Oliver's lectures had, but he was slightly distracted by the clicking noises coming from the stands as Colin Creevey, a first year who had developed an obsession with Harry, was taking picture after picture of the practicing team.

Oliver had been suspicious that Colin had been some kind of Slytherin spy, but that was quickly pushed to the side as George informed Oliver that the Slytherins didn't need a spy, they were there in person.

Oliver landed on the pitch, fuming at Flint that he had booked the pitch for Gryffindor and that Marcus Flint, the Slytherin Captain who was at least three times as big as Oliver, and his team could clear off. Flint's only response was to smirk and say that they had a note, from a teacher. Three guesses who...

Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Veronica were drawn to the commotion by now and arrived just in time for Oliver to finish reading the note from Professor Snape stating that the Slytherin team needed to train their new Seeker. A Seeker who turned out to be Draco Malfoy, walking past the parted Slytherins and grinning like he just won a thousand Galleons.

Harry wasn't really worried about Malfoy being the new Slytherin Seeker, until they pulled out the new Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones that Malfoy's father had 'gifted' to the team when Malfoy was accepted.

It was then that Malfoy decided to insult the Gryffindor team's brooms and, by extension, their families. It wasn't until he started on the Weasley twins brooms that Hermione had angrily interjected that at least the Gryffindor team had talent and didn't need to buy their way onto the team.

It was then that Harry learned a Wizard curse word and the violent reaction to it...

As soon as the word 'Mudblood' left Malfoy's lips, it was as if the entire Gryffindor team had surged forward to kill the boy, his own teammates just barely keeping them back, but what really caught Harry's attention was the two females currently driving him up the wall:

Veronica surprised Harry with the strength in her petite frame as managed to tackle Goyle, who was standing in a guarding position in front of Malfoy, locking him in a wrestling hold and leaving a space open for someone to jump through.

Which Ginny did, and being a year younger and a few inches smaller, she used her lithe frame to duck under the arm thrown out to stop her and got right up in Malfoy's face, slapping him as hard as she could.

Staggering from the unexpected-not to mention, surprisingly strong-blow, Malfoy stumbled right into Ron's line of fire as he pulled out his wand and yelled, "You'll pay for that insult, Malfoy! Eat slugs!!"

Flint, obviously worried that the brooms Malfoy's father gave them would be revoked if his son was harmed, threw himself at Ron, knocking them both into the tangled mass of Quidditch players... which only stopped fighting when a loud curse was uttered, followed by a very audible crunch.

Thankfully, no one was hurt beside a few cuts and bruises; unthankfully, the crunching sound was Ron's wand snapping in half under someone's foot, making him curse the fact that he hadn't got a better shot at Malfoy and immediately praising his sister when he found out she had.

Aside from turning fuchsia from the rare praise, Ginny didn't say anything to anyone after everything had settled down and the Gryffindor players had stormed angrily off the pitch amid Oliver's furious rants and vows of crushing their Slytherin opponents at the next match. A few days later, she was back to avoiding all of them in favor of spending all of her time with Veronica.

"For Merlin's sake, just go talk to her, Ron!" Hermione exploded after another muttered remark came from the taller redhead as he watched his sister converse in low tones with Veronica... at the Slytherin table. "Tell her you have a problem with her sitting there, instead of making annoying comments about it that she can't even hear!"

Blinking at Hermione for a few seconds, the normally clueless Weasley made his way over to his sister's side to discuss things with her. Harry waited until he was out of earshot before turning to Hermione with a knowing smile that had her breaking out into a lovely shade of garnet.

"Wow, Herms, I've seen you yelling at each other over stuff before, but nothing like that," Harry's smile spread wider as Hermione's blush grew darker, "He hasn't really been as bad as the other girls in our year, what made you snap?"

"I'm just tired that he keeps saying that Ginny is going to get 'corrupted' hanging around all those 'ruddy Slytherins', completely forgetting the fact that Veronica-our friend!-is one of those 'ruddy Slytherins'!" Hermione suddenly swelled with righteous anger, so much that Harry was worried that she might explode, "I seem to be the only one that sees the way she flinches when someone mentions how all Slytherins are 'evil berks' or something horrible like that..."

Harry, remembering the way Veronica looked when Ron had pointed that out at the beginning of the year, was about to respond that he never thought of her that way when a sudden commotion behind them interrupted him.

Hermione swiveled around when the sound of shouting was carried across the hall, showing that the Weasley temper was in full swing in the form of Ron and Ginny inches away from each other and yelling right in the others face. Their volume growing louder with each word, uncaring of the fact that most of the Great Hall listening in with varying forms of amusement on their faces.

Hermione let out an exaggerated huff of breath and went to try to stop the redheads from fighting, but Harry's attention was drawn toward the disappearing figure of Veronica as she made her way out of the Great Hall under the cover of three people now yelling at each other.

Muttering a quick good-bye to Neville and the Weasley twins-who were betting on who would win the argument, which then turned into whether or not that would happen with or without Cursing, making Harry wonder if they even heard him-Harry made his way out of the Great Hall after Veronica's retreating back, calling out her name as he went.

"Hey, Veronica! Wait up!!"

She didn't seem to hear him, or if she did, it didn't matter as she sped up and darted around the corner ahead without even sparing a glance behind her. Harry sped up as well, hoping to catch her so he could finally find out what was going on between her and Ginny, and why it seemed like they were pulling away from everyone.

Unfortunately, he instead ran through Nearly Headless Nick, who was floating in the opposite direction as he muttered moodily under his breath. Harry always hated walking through ghosts; he personally saw them as a kind of wispy human and he always got angry whenever someone tried to walk through him, not to mention the fact that going through them always made him feel like a bucket of freezing cold water was dumped over him.

Shivering at the feeling he got from the contact, Harry looked down the corridor he just entered and swallowed down a groan of frustration: Veronica was nowhere to be seen and Harry knew there was no way to find her now.

"You seem to be having the same kind of day as I am, my dear boy," Nearly Headless Nick sighed, looking to all the world as if he life ended... again. "I take it the young female that ran through me not a minute ago was your intended prey? If so, why did you stop?"

"I-I wanted to apologize for running through you, Nick," Harry replied honestly, still rubbing his arms as he tried to warm them up, "The feeling also... shocked me still for too long..."

"Ah, I see," Sighing morosely again, Nearly Headless Nick tucked a transparent letter into his doublet as he floated to a nearby window to gaze out at the scenery, which seemed to pick up on his mood as the skies opened up to a downpour of rain.

Forgetting about the elusive Slytherin girl that had just outran him for the moment, Harry was struck by the fact that this was the first time he had seen the Gryffindor ghost in a foul mood; while occasionally annoyed by the nicknames the students gave him, Nearly Headless Nick was generally an easy going ghost-unlike his counterpart, the Bloody Baron.

"Um, Sir Nicholas?" Harry decided to call the ghost by his first name due to the oddity of his mood as Harry moved to stand beside the gloomy spirit, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No, Harry, it wouldn't do to trouble you with my problems..." Nick stared out the window for a few minutes before spinning around so quick Harry was stumbling back so that he didn't accidentally run through the ghost again.

"Isn't getting hit with a blunt ax forty-five times in the neck enough to let me join the Headless Hunt?" Nearly Headless Nick demanded, pulling out the letter he stuffed into his doublet earlier, waving it under Harry's nose until he went crossed eyed trying to see what was written on it. "Don't you think that going through all of that prolonged pain would be enough?!?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer, but Nearly Headless Nick wasn't finished with his rant just yet. "Apparently it wasn't; no, it was not good enough for those arrogant, pompous, properly decapitated berks! These heartless honchos who think they are so much better than I am because their head actually come off their bodies!"

Nick unfolded his letter, stopping its haphazard wave under Harry's nose and began to read:

"'We can only accept huntsmen whose heads have parted company with their bodies. You will appreciate that it would be impossible otherwise for members to participate in hunt activities such as Horseback Head-Juggling and Head Polo. It is with the greatest regret, therefore, that I must inform you that you do not fulfill our requirements. With very best wishes, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore.'"

Nick snapped his letter shut and stuffed it back into it's hiding place, muttering, "Only half an inch holding my head to my shoulders, Harry Potter, half an inch!!"

"W-well," Harry stammered, unsure if he should speak or not, "Your head is still attached though... It is a Headless Hunt, after all..."

Nick deflated at once, making Harry wish he hadn't said anything at all and just let the ghost rant. "Yes, of course, you are right..."

Feeling bad for bringing down Nearly headless Nick's mood, Harry wished he knew how to help the ghost, "Is there anything I could do to help...?"

Once again, Nick's mood did a one eighty so fast that Harry was starting to suffer from emotional whiplash. "Yes! There is something... No, you wouldn't to... It wouldn't be something you wanted to do..."

Harry decided to find out what the favor was before he agreed to anything, he wasn't really sure what a ghost would want as a favor or if it was physically possible for him to even do it. "What is it?"

"Well, this up coming Halloween happens to be my five hundredth deathday," Nearly Headless Nick announced proudly, drawing himself up so that he now floated near the ceiling.

"Oh," What exactly are you suppose to say to that? Was Harry suppose to be upset that Nerly Headless Nick died, or happy that his deathday was close, like he would for someone's birthday?

"I'm having a party in one of the roomier dungeons, with a few friends," Nick continued, unaware that of Harry's discomfort, "It would be an honor if you would come... You can bring the two Weasley children, Miss Granger and Miss Dathey as well, if you wish..."

The look on Harry's face must have shown his reluctance to go to a party in the dungeons, for Nearly Headless Nick almost immediately retracted his offer. "I daresay you would rather go to the feast with your friends instead. Forget I asked, Harry, it was just an idea-"

"No, no," interjected Harry, trying to preempt any more mood swings by waving his arms widely and grinning up at the Gryffindor ghost. "I'll go, I'm just not sure if any of my friends will want to."

"But you will come?" At Harry's nod, Nearly Headless Nick beamed widely as he started to gush, "Wow, Harry Potter, at my party... The-Boy-Who-Lived at my deathday party!! Oh, Harry?"

Harry, who had been on the verge of sneaking away while Nearly Headless Nick was in his gleeful cloud, paused when his name was called. Damn, almost made it 'round the corner... "Yeah, Nick?"

"Could you... could you possibly..." Nick was starting to look nervous, which made Harry pay closer attention to what was being said to him, "Do you think you and your friends could mention to Sir Podmore how impressive you find me? Maybe how frightening as well?"

"I'm not sure that will help, Nick.." The downward slope of Nearly Headless Nick's face had Harry quickly adding, "but it couldn't hurt to try, right? I'll make sure to make it sound real convincing!!"

Nearly Headless Nick starting to gush about having The-Boy-Who-Lived at his party again, which Harry took as his permission to leave. Smiling as he backed away, Harry turned and quickly made his way back into the Great Hall and his friends before Nick could finagle him into anything else.

Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were all back at the Gryffindor table; all of them were still a little red-faced, with Ron and Ginny sitting at opposite sides of the table. Neville was, surprisingly, collecting winnings from the Weasley twins... who looked utterly flabbergasted that they had lost a bet.

Harry sat between Ron and Hermione, both of them avoiding looking at the other, and waited for one of them to ask where he went. When no one said anything, Harry preceded to tell them about his encounter with Nearly Headless Nick and the fact that they all had been invited to his deathday party, Veronia re-entering the Great Hall as his tale started winding down.

"A deathday party?" Hermione was immediately excited by the prospect of learning something new, "How exciting! I bet there aren't many living people who say they've been to a deathday party!!"

Harry and Ron shared a look of utter confusion at the comment before Ron turned to Hermione and asked incredulously, "Why would anyone want to celebrate the day they died??"

Across the hall, Veronica suddenly started to giggle, causing everyone around her to ask what was so funny. The only coherent response that came from the girl was a shake of her head and a shrug of her shoulders.

Yep, it was official. Girls were strange...