The Sugar Quill
Author: Ellyse (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Great Partner Swap  Chapter: Part II
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The Great Partner Swap

The Great Partner Swap

 

Part II

 

 

Dumbledore coughed slightly. There was utter silence in the hall. Harry was sure that it must have lasted at least five minutes before the twins stood up.

 

“No way!” they said together.

 

The spell broken, the hall burst into uproar. Everyone was straining to look at Ginny and Malfoy, some looking sad, some worried, some shocked and some just plain excited. Ron’s fists were clenched so tightly Harry thought they were about to bleed. Hermione was muttering “there’s some mistake, there’s got to be some sort of mistake” to herself. Fred and George were shouting at Dumbledore and the teachers. Harry had never seen them look so angry.

 

 “Now,” Dumbledore said, “can we please all calm down. I think we’ve all had a lot of excitement this evening. The partner sorting has finished. Can we all please…?”

 

“No it hasn’t!” said Fred Weasley.

 

“You’ve got to change it,” George exclaimed. “Our sister’s not going with him.”

 

With that several of the Slytherins stood up and began to shout. Quick to defend their honour the Gryffindors rose and retorted their insults. And not wanting to be left out the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws soon joined in, hissing amongst themselves or yelling at a nearby table. Dumbledore’s plan of integration between the houses was fizzling out of sight.

 

In fact the only two people who weren’t discussing or shouting were Ginny and Malfoy. Ginny just stared, wide-eyed ahead of her, while Malfoy hadn’t moved, and was playing with his goblet lazily.

 

“If I could have some hush!” Dumbledore called, blue sparks jetting out of his wand and exploding in the dull dark grey ceiling of the hall. The noise ebbed, but by no means ceased altogether. “I’m afraid that changing fate’s decision, while perhaps being the sensible decision…”

 

“So change it,” growled Ron under his breath.

 

“… Changing the pairing of Mr. Malfoy and Miss Weasley would mean changing every other pair and repeating the whole pairing process.”

 

“I’ll swap,” Pansy Parkinson said loudly.

 

“How very kind of you Miss Parkinson,” Dumbledore remarked, and Harry detected a slight impatience in his tone. “However the purpose of this Autumn Dance was to encourage you all to make new friends and mix with people from other Houses. With that in mind I propose you all hop off to bed and get a good night’s sleep. Over the next few weeks I suggest that you get to know your prospective partners and discuss important arrangements, such as what colours you will both be wearing. The ball will begin at seven o’ clock and I expect partners to arrive together. Goodnight.”

 

He smiled and sat down, looking weary. Slowly, the Hogwarts students began to get up and file out of the Great Hall. Harry looked over at Ginny. Everyone was openly gawping at her, muttering as they passed. She looked embarrassed, and slightly ill. Next to Harry, Ron looked like he was going to explode.

 

“Come on,” Hermione said, tugging Harry and Ron’s sleeves. “Let’s go.”

 

They followed her out of the Hall. Harry had a sudden urge to say something to Ginny she disappeared in a sea of faces, but Hermione steered him away. Plus Fred and George had seized hold of her and were guiding her out of the Hall like two bodyguards, shielding her from the attention of the press, or in this case, her fellow students.

 

“Is there really no way we can change it Albus?” Professor McGonagall whispered as the last few students departed from the hall.

 

“Of course,” Dumbledore said. “I expect there are a great many ways I could change it, but I am interested to know what will happen.”

 

Professor McGonagall looked taken aback.

 

“But what happens when their parents hear about this?” she hissed. “The Weasleys and the Malfoys are not the best of friends. What will they say when they discover their children are being forced to dance together? And Ginny Weasley can hardly be expected to stand up for herself against…”

 

“I strongly believe,” Dumbledore interrupted gently, “that Miss Weasley has all the passionate fire that her brothers possess, as well as the courage to face up to whatever situation presents itself to her.”

 

“Explain,” Professor McGonagall said impatiently.

 

Dumbledore smiled to himself. “She has been through worse and dealt admirably. I have complete faith in her.”

 

*      *      *

 

The next day dawned bright, clear and very cold. The fire had died in the Gryffindor common room and everyone stood around, waiting for each other, rubbing their hands together and complaining about the fact that they could see their breath rise above their heads. The large windows had steamed up so that a very blurred view of the lake and grounds could be seen from inside. A lot of writing had appeared on the cloudy window, and Harry noticed that most of it concerned the subject of the previous night’s sorting.

 

“Good morning,” Hermione said, as she emerged from the girls' staircase.

 

“Is it?” Ron said, darkly.

 

Ron had been up half the night in a furious rant about the Malfoy and Ginny pairing. He had only allowed Harry, Seamus, Dean and Neville to get some sleep when he had pounded his fist angrily against the bedstand causing it to throb painfully. After that he had meekly decided to get some sleep although now he looked hollow-eyed and ragged.

 

“Come on Ron,” Hermione said briskly. “You heard what Dumbledore said. He won’t change it. We just have to look out for Ginny until…”

 

Hermione trailed off with a stifled gasp. Ginny had appeared in the common room. She was met with a silence that made Harry’s ears ring. He couldn’t help noticing how small she looked, her vivid hair a little tousled, her eyes, like her brother’s, giving away signs of sleeplessness. Everyone turned to each other, desperately trying to remember what they were saying before she came in. But the damage was done. Ginny bowed her head, her large brown eyes surveying the common room from under her fringe.

 

Ron and Hermione continued their conversation in whispers and Harry slipped away from them. He walked over to Ginny who looked up, startled.

 

“Er hi,” he said, feeling foolish. “Are you okay?”

 

Ginny went furiously red and her body seemed to tense. She nodded forcibly, obviously not trusting her voice.

 

Harry scratched his head, wondering what he could say to take the tragic expression off her face. He remembered when Ron hadn’t been talking to him the previous year, or when everyone had thought he was the heir of Slytherin in his second year. All he had wanted was for someone to talk to, someone to laugh with, someone to…

 

“Hey,” Harry said. “Do you want to have breakfast with me… us, I mean?” he finished awkwardly. 

 

Ginny broke into a sudden smile. It made a phenomenal difference to her face. Her eyes sparkled at him. She opened her mouth in acceptance, but was interrupted.

 

“Ginny!”

 

It was Colin, breathless as usual, clutching his camera and beaming at her.

 

“Shall we go to breakfast?” he said, very quickly. “I’ll show you the pictures I took last night. I sneaked up and took some of those two old hats, after everyone had gone away. Thought it would be good as a memory, you know, to look back on.” He spotted Harry and seemed to quiver with excitement. “Hi Harry!” he gasped. “Do you know Millicent Bulstrode? She looks pretty scary, but my dad always says you should never judge on appearances. He once got bitten by this tiny little dog on his rounds, he was so surprised because it looked so tame and then he was bleeding all over. It was so messy. And my mum always warns him about dogs, but he thought he’d be attacked by a great Rottweiler, never a little thing like that…”

 

Colin babbled on and on, hardly even stopping to draw breath. Harry smiled but his eyes lingered to Ginny, who seemed to have shrunk once more. Evidently Colin’s cheery outlook on last night’s events was not lifting her spirits. Following Colin, she began to walk towards the portrait hole. Harry crept back to Ron and Hermione, who seemed to have realised he had left them.

 

“Dunno what he’s looking so happy about,” Ron muttered, watching Colin clamber out of the common room. “I think I’d rather take up extra Potions lessons than go to the ball as Millicent Bulstrode’s partner.”

 

“What were you talking to Ginny about, Harry?” Hermione asked curiously.

 

“Oh,” Harry said absently. “Nothing important.”

 

 

*    *     *

Draco Malfoy slunk through the Slytherin common room followed by Crabbe, Goyle and a panting Pansy Parkinson. He was in a very bad mood. He eluded a cold malice – from his silver-blond hair to his grey eyes. His hands were thrust deep into his black robes and his Slytherin scarf had been thrown haphazardly around his neck.

 

He stopped at the dungeon door.

 

“Servant of Salazar,” he hissed, and it creaked open obediently.

 

Draco!” Pansy cried.

 

Malfoy ignored her and began to slide up the corridor, his stomach growling as it reminded him of his breakfast. He snarled and clutched a hand to it.

 

Draco!”

 

Crabbe and Goyle lumbered after him as well, grateful that it was time to eat. On the walls, portraits of famous Slytherins bowed to him politely as he passed, but he ignored them, his cold eyes fixed straight ahead.

 

Draco!”

 

Malfoy spun round causing Crabbe and Goyle to bump into each other.

 

“What?” he snapped.

 

Pansy, seemingly unperturbed by his shortness, squashed her pug-like face into a smile.

 

“What are you going to do?” she demanded.

 

Malfoy, knowing what she was talking about, but reluctant to aid her in any way, turned his pointed face towards hers and watched her steadily.

 

“About what?” he said slowly.

 

“About her,” Pansy said, stepping towards him.

 

“Weasley?”

 

“Of course I mean Weasley,” Pansy spat. “I think we should organize a boycott. I mean, I don’t want to go anyway, not with him.”

 

She indicated Goyle with a nod of her head. He looked rather affronted.

 

“I’m sure we could probably get at least half of the Slytherins to support my boycott,” Pansy continued, “half of them have ended up with people from other Houses as well,” she shuddered, “and then we can organise something more… Where are you going?”

 

Malfoy started to walk away from her. She hurried after him.

 

“I’m going to breakfast,” he muttered, wondering why he had to be saddled with someone as irritating as Pansy. “And no one is boycotting this dance,” he added. “Ginny Weasley may be interesting company on Halloween.”

 

Pansy’s eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms as she walked.

 

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

 

“How better to get information about Potter and his friends, than from the snivelling little fanclub herself?” Malfoy said, starting to climb the stairs that led them to the Great Hall. “I’m only upset you haven’t been paired with the Camera Boy Creevey.”

 

He turned and got a start as he nearly bumped into two people.

 

“Hello Malfoy,” said Fred.

 

“We’ve been looking for you,” said George.

 

“Move, Weasleys,” Malfoy said, pushing past them, but George caught him by the collar.

 

He wondered how much they had heard of what he had just said. He doubted they had heard a lot or he was pretty sure he would be face down on the stone floor by now.

 

“We want to talk to you,” said George, fingering Malfoy’s collar. He made the word “talk” sound like its definition meant along the lines of taking a stroll in the Forbidden Forest.

 

Crabbe and Goyle flexed their muscles threateningly. Malfoy gulped. His personal bodyguards certainly had bull-like strength and while Pansy was no use whatsoever, dancing on the tips of her toes in worry, he could probably put up quite a good fight. But the twins were both tall and he knew that they always had more than one trick up their sleeves. They worked as a perfect team and if it came to dueling were bound to be more advanced than him and certainly Crabbe and Goyle.

 

George let go of his collar. Fred took out his wand, fingering it lovingly.

 

“What do you think of dances, Pansy?” Fred asked, innocently.

 

Pansy hesitated, then assumed her most spiteful face and voice to answer.

 

“They’re okay,” she said.

 

“They’re okay,” George repeated thoughtfully. “You see Malfoy?” he continued, “girls like dances. I don’t know why, it might be something that sets both genders apart, perhaps that’s just the way nature intended it. They get excited about them, they can dress up, they can dance, they can show off. They look forward to them.”

 

“What’s your point?” Malfoy sneered.

 

“Our point,” Fred said, jabbing a wand into Malfoy’s chest and forcing him stumbling backwards into a wall, “is that our sister is one of those girls. So if, on October thirty-first, you are not feeling like being a gentleman, we should warn you…”

 

“… For your own sake really…” George put in.

 

“… That upsetting her would be a very bad idea.”

 

“You might wake up to find something nasty happens to your tongue,” George said, his eyes twinkling wickedly. “Best ask Harry’s cousin about that one.”

 

“Or worse, you could find yourself victim of one of the Weasley Wizards Wheezes.”

 

“And the support from your little entourage here will be nothing compared to the support we can conjure up for Ginny if you do anything to distress her.”

 

“Understand?”

 

Malfoy stood up as straight as he could, readjusting his collar.

 

“I hope you’re not threatening me,” he said quietly. “Because McGonagall wouldn’t be too happy about that, would she? Especially with my witnesses here.”

 

Fred and George exchanged an identical, conspiratorial grin.

 

“Oh we’re not threatening you Malfoy,” George said.

 

It’s merely… advice,” Fred added.

 

Then the twins walked away cackling to themselves. Malfoy scowled after them.

 

“Come on,” he said, to his motionless followers, “let’s go and eat.”

 

 

*      *      *

 

It was on a sunny Friday afternoon that the Gryffindors next had Herbology with the Hufflepuffs. Despite the weather still being frosty, the light bounced off the greenhouse roofs making them glare fiercely at the castle. The Gryffindors always arrived late, their weekly row from Snape having just preceded the lesson. As he spotted Hannah Abbot talking excitedly to Ernie McMillan in Greenhouse Three, Harry couldn’t help feeling rather embarrassed. Ron and Hermione were bickering about Potions homework and seemed not to notice Harry watching her.

 

“Late again!” Professor Sprout chided them, as they filed in sheepishly. “I shall have to have a sharp word with Professor Snape.”

 

“Rather you than me,” Ron muttered.

 

Professor Sprout seemed not to hear him, and steered them into groups of four over flowerbeds from which several tall plants were sprouting. Each sported a bright flower that drooped downwards, facing the earth.

 

“Deadly Lampshades!” Professor Sprout announced with cheer. “Very poisonous, so make sure you wear gloves and don’t scratch your eyes. Also very unique. Hagrid wants to line some of the paths in the Forbidden Forest with them, making it a more pleasant place to walk in at night, so I want you to dig them up carefully.”

 

Harry doubted whether the Forbidden Forest could ever be more pleasant, let alone at night, but said nothing. Meanwhile he, Ron, Parvati and Lavender scrutinized their plants.

 

“Why’s it unique?” Parvati asked, looking unimpressed.

 

“Cup your hands around it Miss Patil,” Professor Sprout said. “With gloves!”

 

Pavarti, looking dubious, bent forward awkwardly, and shaded the sagging flower in her hands. She pressed an eye to a gap in her fingers and gave a small squeal. Everyone clamoured around to look.

 

“It glows!” she exclaimed.

 

“Indeed it does,” Professor Sprout said raising her voice against the noise, for everyone had begun to push forwards and cup their gloved hands around the plants. “Once you have gotten over the excitement I want you to dig them up, and put them in a pile over by the door. Neatly please.”

 

They started work. The plants soon lost their appeal, and after about an hour Harry was beginning to grow bored. The thick, leather gloves made his hands sweat, and he longed to push his hair out of his eyes. He was just about to ask Ron what the time was, when Lavender asked a question first.

 

“Ron, what colour robes are you wearing for the dance?”

 

Ron looked rather shocked at the question and dropped his trowel. Pavarti began to giggle and was nudged hard in the ribs by Lavender.

 

“Er,” Ron began. “Blue. Navy blue.”

 

“What happened to your,” Lavender swallowed, “your… old ones.

 

“Oh I chucked them out,” Ron said loftily. “Fred and George bought me new ones.”

 

Lavender couldn’t quite hide the relief on her face.

 

“That’s good,” she said, “my robes are a really pale blue. They’ll go well.”

 

Ron grinned, embarrassed. Lavender was making it easy for him.

 

“I hope you’re going to dance with your partner this year,” Pavarti said, a little severely.

 

Harry felt a gnawing of guilt in his stomach.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry about that.”

 

Parvati narrowed her eyes, but seemed to cool slightly. Harry noticed that she kept flicking her long black braid in the direction of Justin Finch-Fletchley.

 

He wondered what colour robes Hannah was wearing. He supposed he should talk to her about the dance. He was normally on good terms with all of the Hufflepuffs. It was stupid to ignore her because of a dance. Under the pretence of getting another trowel, he left the flowerbed. Ron was talking to Parvati and Lavender about Fred and George, a subject they seemed to find very interesting.

 

Harry spotted Hannah’s blonde pigtails bent over a patch she was sharing with Hermione, Ernie McMillan and Dean Thomas.

 

“Hello Harry!” Hermione said. “We’ve done about twenty, what about you?”

 

Twenty-three,” Harry said grinning as Hermione looked crestfallen. “Can I borrow a trowel?”

 

Ernie handed one to him. As Harry crouched down on the pretence of looking at their remaining Deadly Lampshades, he caught Hannah’s eye.

 

“Hannah,” he said, willing himself not to turn red. “What colour are your robes? The ones you’re wearing to the dance I mean,” he said quickly.

 

Dean coughed loudly into his Nightshade and Hermione openly gaped at him.

 

“Oh,” Hannah gave a nervous giggle. “Um, they’re sort of light pink. A bit frilly really. You?”

 

Harry hadn’t really thought about it. He supposed he’d wear the same ones that he wore last year, to the Yule Ball.

 

“Green,” he said firmly.

 

“Oh dear,” Hannah said.

 

Harry’s heart skipped a beat. What did she mean oh dear? Could she not go? Was she needed somewhere else? Would he be the only one who didn’t have a partner? Even Crabbe and Goyle had partners…

 

“Green and pale pink. I’m afraid we might clash a little bit,” Hannah said, her pink face shining through a smile. “Never mind.” She giggled.

 

Harry stood up again, feeling desperately relieved.

 

“I reckon we’ll manage.”

 

There was a slightly awkward pause. Dean was still coughing rather unsubtly. Harry opened his mouth to make an excuse to leave, but Ron interrupted loudly from the other end of the greenhouse.

 

“Harry!” he shouted. “Stop helping Hermione’s group! I want to get more than her.”

 

*      *      *

 

Ginny drifted through the Hogwarts corridors alone. The day was darkening and suggestions of red, gold and purple dappled the stone floor from the tall windows. Shadows were lengthening and an enormous distorted spectre of herself preceded her as she walked. She padded lightly, her shoes making no sound so that she glided, like a ghost, unnoticed. 

 

It had been a tiring week. She was severely lacking sleep and was finding Colin’s confusing chatter through breakfast, Charms and Transfiguration a bit too much. He had only ceased to talk during Potions, but then Snape had been so horrible to her, she would have rather heard about Colin’s photographs of the common room fireplace. Perhaps it was her imagination, but Snape had been particularly vindictive to her today. She supposed he was fuming over the pairing of his most prized Slytherin student with a Gryffindor, no worse, a Weasley like herself.

 

Her feet began to drag slightly. She had no real wish to go back to the common room. Everyone stared at her there. Or Fred and George sat so close to her that she was painfully wedged in between them. It was as if Malfoy was going to burst into the common room and hex her right there on the spot.

 

Ginny thought of Harry asking her to breakfast the other morning. Her spirits rose somewhat. If only Colin had some sense of timing. If only she could have brought herself to speak a bit quicker, rather that going Gryffindor red. If only the hats could have put she and Harry together. If only…

 

The stairs moved underneath her. She grasped onto the nearest banister feeling years of dust under her fingers. It really wasn’t that bad, she thought as the staircase slid into place with a crunch. All she had to do was go in with him. Everyone would be staring, it was true, but they’d all have their own partners to be preoccupied with. And then she would have to dance with him. Twice. Well, there were worse things she had done. Not many, but some. It wouldn’t be too bad, not really…

 

“Well fancy seeing Weasley here.”

 

Ginny looked up. She looked up into cold, grey eyes, a pointed pale face, silvery blond hair. And a sneer.

 

It was bad.

 

Deciding to ignore Malfoy, she climbed up the stairs and tried to push past him. Surprisingly, he stepped away. She turned and hurried briskly down the corridor.

 

“So what colour are you wearing?”

 

Ginny stopped and turned. Malfoy was leaning against a pillar, his hands in his robe pockets.

 

“White,” she said, as firmly as she could. She hated how high-pitched her voice sounded.

 

“White,” Malfoy repeated quietly, his voice like glass; smooth, sharp and transparent. “I’ll be in black.”

 

Ginny turned to leave. To run away from him as fast as she could. But his voice stopped her once more.

 

“We should discuss arrangements you know,” Malfoy said idly.

 

“For what?”

 

Malfoy moved away from the pillar, walking slowly towards her. “For the dance Weasley,” he spat slowly, as if she was stupid.

 

“It starts at seven.”

 

“And we have to enter it together.” He adopted a commanding voice Ginny suspected he was used to using with Crabbe and Goyle. “Come to the Slytherin common room at ten to.”

 

He began down the staircase. Something inside Ginny suddenly snapped. It had been a miserable week. She had been pointed at, whispered about, guarded, chatted at, laughed at and called names. She was not going to be ordered about by Malfoy.

 

“No,” she said.

 

Malfoy looked amused.

 

“No?” 

 

“It is customary for a man to pick a lady up,” she said, hating that she sounded exactly like her mother. She also knew she was blushing, but stared defiantly into the stone cold eyes. “You can come to Gryffindor”

 

Malfoy smiled nastily. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously low.

 

“If you think I’m coming anywhere near that place…” He stopped, taking a deep breath. “We can meet in the entrance hall.”

 

“Fine. At ten to.”

 

“Fine.”

 

Ginny walked away. She was careful not to hurry, but her heart was pounding and she bit her lip hard.

 

“Shame you don’t get to go with Potter,” Malfoy called after her.

 

Ignore him, ignore him.

 

“But then he wouldn’t want to go with you.”

 

Don’t listen, just don’t listen.

 

“It’s lucky they did this sorting into partners really. Otherwise you’d be all by yourself. No one wants to go with you.”

 

Ginny rounded the corner pulling a great wooden door shut behind her. It closed with a slam, the steel latch clunking as it close. Then she ran, all the way to the Gryffindor common room, her feet sliding on the floor.

 

“Phoenix Feather,” she said shakily.

 

“It certainly is,” the Fat Lady said, shifting her voluminous body in her portrait. “But are you all right my dear, you look a little…”

 

Ginny threw open the portrait and clambered inside, tripping into the common room. It was almost deserted now, and those still up didn’t notice her fly up the stairs. As she reached her dormitory she crept inside, anxious not to disturb her fellow students.

 

She looked at herself dimly in the mirror. The blue glow of the night sky made her look pale and sickly. Her vivid hair was sticking out at strange angles. She tried to flatten it. Her brown eyes were wet and leaky. She brushed a grubby sleeve over her face.

 

No one wants to go with you.

 

//
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