"Wow," Amanda breathed as they stepped through the great oak doors.
Indeed, Harry thought, 'wow' was the only word to describe their surroundings. A large wooden dance floor had been set up where the Quidditch field normally stood, and at the moment, it was covered with happy couples, dancing to what sounded like the Weird Sisters. Apparently, Dumbledore had been able to book them again. Several fairies zoomed above their heads, chattering in high-pitched voices and giving off occasional bursts of colored sparks. The Great Lake's surface was glittering in the starlight; Rose bushes and other flowers had been planted along its shore. Ginny stared around at the decorations and the hundreds of guests.
"This is a thousand times better than the Yule Ball!" she exclaimed after some time.
Harry nodded. However, he was unable to stop his eyes from wandering over to the Forbidden Forest. As he watched the tall, dark trees sway ominously, a knot of dread grew in the pit of his stomach. Somewhere in that forest were the six Aurors. What were they doing? He wondered if perhaps Dumbledore hadn't moved them because of the impending danger.
"What is she doing?" Amanda said suddenly, pointing across the grounds.
Harry turned to look, and felt his heart jump into his throat.
Jessica was edging her way slowly across the grounds, moving almost mechanically. Amanda gasped.
"What is it?" Ron asked.
"Look!" she said, nodding in the direction that Jessica was headed.
Harry and Ron recognized the girl at once. Faith. She and Malfoy were approaching the dance floor. Crabbe and Goyle sat alone at the table behind them, looking surly.
"What is she doing back here?" Ron hissed frantically.
"I thought she was gone!" Amanda said, bringing her hands to her face.
Ginny looked around at the three of them.
"Who is she?"
Ron waved his hand. "Nevermind. She's just a girl we know."
"Wish we didn't..." Harry muttered.
"Shut up," Amanda hissed, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Harry," Ginny said softly, putting her hand on his arm, "who is that girl?"
"She's bad news, Ginny," Harry said, shaking his head. "Come on, we've got to get Jess," he said, turning to Amanda and Ron.
Ginny looked at Ron.
"You're loud," she said. Ron went pink. "See if you can get her to hear you."
Ron, looking somewhat reluctant, cupped his hands to his mouth.
"Jess!" he bellowed, causing several fairies above them to shriek in unison and scatter in all different directions.
Jessica stumbled to a halt and froze. She didn't turn toward them. She stood like a statue, facing straight ahead. Then, as though an invisible hand had pushed her, she flung forward, most unnaturally, and continued toward Faith at an even faster pace.
"Did you see that?" Amanda cried. "Did you see? Oh, we've got to help her!"
Her and Ginny set off quickly, not stopping to apologize as they plowed into people.
As Harry started after them, Ron seized his elbow.
"Where's Seamus?" he whispered.
Harry shook his head. "No time to find out. Let's go."
They took off, trying to catch up to the girls, which proved exceedingly difficult, despite the fact that Amanda and Ginny kept stumbling as their heels sunk into indents in the grass.
The sight of Faith had evoked a kind of desperate fear inside Harry that he couldn't quite explain. It was almost as if all of the fears and horrors that had taken place so far that year were concentrated into that one girl.
"Oh, these things are useless!" Amanda cried, ripping off her high heels.
Ginny looked down at her own shoes. "You know," she said vehemently, "you have a point, Amanda." She unbuckled her own, and picked up the hem of her dress so it wouldn't drag.
Harry gaped at her. This certainly was not the Ginny he remembered.
Amanda turned on them, glaring.
"If you stand there like idiots all day, we're never going to reach her," she snapped. "Honestly!"
She turned and bustled off, Ginny in close pursuit.
Harry and Ron hung back, bent almost double with their hands on their knees. Harry was clutching a stitch in his side, and Ron was gasping for air.
"Damn," Ron said, wiping his sweaty brow. "Those heels were the only thing slowing them down."
"They can have a bit of an attitude, can't they?" Harry said, straightening up painfully
Ron nodded, looking over at Harry. Harry suddenly saw his eyes widen to twice their normal size.
"What is it Ron?" he asked, turning to look behind himself.
Seamus was glaring down at him.
Harry caught his surprised gasp in his throat.
"Hi Seamus," he said in a would-be-calm voice.
"Where did she go?" he demanded.
Harry glanced at Ron.
"Where did who go?" Ron asked.
"Jessica," Seamus spat. "I asked her to wait for me."
Harry suddenly noticed a small black something clutched in Seamus' fist.
Pretending to be tying his shoe, he bent over. Sure enough, it was the same box that he and Ron had found in the dormitory. Seamus looked down and saw what he was doing. He took an immediate step back, shoving the small package into his pocket.
"Potter!" he said, staring at him with wild eyes. "What are you doing?"
Harry straightened up, his expression icy.
"You just called me 'Potter'," he said slowly.
"I did not," he spat, "I called you Harry. You must not have heard me correctly."
"Give it up, Seamus," Ron said, glaring at him. "We know what you have in your pocket and we know what you plan on doing with it. If you think you're going to get away with it..."
Seamus suddenly shoved his hand into his other pocket and came out with his wand. Harry and Ron jumped back.
"Alright," he said quietly, "So you know. What do you plan on doing about it?"
"We plan on stopping you," Harry said angrily.
Seamus let out a high cold laugh that didn't suit him at all.
"Fools," he whispered. "You can't stop me. Don't you realize that yet?"
Ron leapt forward, knocking the wand out of Seamus' hand. It rolled a few feet away across the grass. Seamus jumped to pick it up, but Ron seized him around the middle and knocked him over.
"Get it, Harry!" Ron yelled, struggling to hold him down.
Harry dived on the wand and pocketed it.
"What is all this!?"
Professor McGonagall was hurrying over, wearing a dark purple dress decorated with an extraordinary amount of glitter and a matching hat.
Ron quickly rolled off of Seamus.
"Nothing," Harry said quickly, stepping in front of the wreckage.
"Stand aside," she commanded. Her eyes flashed over Ron who was sporting a bloody nose, Seamus who was straightening up behind him with a black eye, and Harry with two wands sticking out of his pocket.
"Both of you," she said, her nostrils flaring, "come with me."
It took him a moment for Harry to realize that she was speaking to him and Ron.
"Professor, I..."
"You don't understand! We..."
"I don't want to hear it," she snapped. "Of all things, I never thought a Gryffindor would embarrass the school in this manner! Now come with me or the punishment will become much more severe."
She strode off toward the castle.
"See you later," Seamus said softly. "I'll tell Jessica that you said hi."
"Potter! Weasley! Come along, NOW!"
Ron called Seamus something that Harry was sure he wouldn't want McGonagall to hear.
"We've got to stop him," Harry said quietly as he and Ron hurried to catch up with her.
"What can we do?" Ron asked desperately.
Harry swallowed a large lump that was forming in his throat.
"Tell McGonagall."