The Sugar Quill
Author: Grace has Victory (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: All Night Long  Chapter: 3 Unlocking the Heart
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All Night Long

CHAPTER THREE

Unlocking the Heart

Hermione, still cradling Crookshanks, moved back over to my bed, and sat down in front of me. We stroked the cat together while she looked me in the eye.

"Ginny, Harry and Ron told me that Gilderoy Lockhart did everything he could not to rescue you. First he tried to leave Hogwarts by the back door. When Ron challenged him, he said he didnít know where the Chamber of Secrets was. He tried to wipe the boysí memories Ė but Harry was too quick for him. Harry had to Disarm Lockhart and force him down to the entrance."

Yes, Harry is her hero too, I thought. But this time I did not resent it quite so much. She was only telling me what had happened.

"Even when the Chamber door opened, Lockhart tried to get out of entering," Hermione continued, eyes wide with disgust. "They had to push him in. He was despicable. He just didnít care about rescuing you at all. And then he tried to obliviate their memories again." I could feel the anger coursing through her veins as she remembered.

I was leaning towards her, tensing with the same anger. I hadnít known that Lockhart had tried to destroy Harry. "How did they escape?"

"It was because of Ronís broken wand, which Lockhart had stolen. The spell backfired and hit Lockhart, and it memory-charmed him instead of them. I wonder why they call them memory Ďcharmsí? More like curses. Anyway, thatís the sort of man our fine Professor Lockhart was. I donít understand how I never realised it!"

"Well, you couldnít have known he was bad, before he acted badly."

"But, Ginny, he wanted to abandon you to a Basilisk, and to destroy Ron and Harryís minds! Surely there should have been a clue about what kind of criminal he was? But I never noticed Ė not the least little bit."

"I suppose you wanted to believe the best of him. Shouldnít we always believe Ė " But my words died in my throat, when I remembered how willingly I had believed the best of Tom Riddle.

Crookshanks stretched plaintively, as if we had neglected him, and we both began mechanically stroking him again.

"So Ron didnít tell you my guilty secret." Hermioneís voice was suddenly small.

"Ron never tells me anything. He just teases me and sends me away."

"So you didnít know that I used to fancy Professor Lockhart?"

"No!" How extraordinary! The girl who spent her whole day with Harry Potter could waste her energies on a mere teacher! "I suppose Lockhart was very handsome." I knew this wasnít much comfort, but I really didnít remember much about the man.

"He was," Hermione concurred. "But that was the only thing you could say for him. He was vain, and stupid, and dishonest, and cowardly, and self-centred, and Ö need I go on? He hadnít even done the brave deeds he described in his books; it was all lies. Ron was sceptical from the beginning. He tried all year to warn me that Lockhart was a fraud. I donít understand how I could have wasted my time on him."

"But why would anyone suspect such enormous lies without a reason?" I asked. "Most people believed Lockhart. Why shouldnít you believe him too? Perhaps you fancied him because he was brave?"

"Brave, and adventurous, and exciting, and a defender of the weak Ö oh, itís easy to find excuses. But usually Iím right about people. Iíve always known that Hagrid couldnít be a criminal, and that Snape isnít all bad, and that your friend Colin is trustworthy despite his faults Ö really, I think I would have known all along that Lockhart was a fake if I hadnít been befuzzled by his handsomeness. Thatís a very embarrassing thought."

"Hermione, it was very brave of you tell me when you didnít have to. After all, I was befuzzled by Tom Riddle, because of his friendliness. Itís the same thing. Or worse. Because Lockhart was only a fool, but Riddle was evil."

"Lockhart was an evil fool, then," said Hermione, although she sounded somehow happier. "The kind of fool who was happy to finish off all my friends. Iíll never be able to forget how stupid I was about him. In fact, I shall never, never fancy a fair-haired man again."

Of course not. Not when there are black-haired men around! But my dislike for Hermione was rapidly losing all its passion. Instead, I felt sad and unlucky that we were rivals, when clearly we were so much better suited to being friends. And I did promise myself I would make friends this year. I must start with Hermione. Whatever it cost, whatever the effort, I must try.

"What made you recognise you were over Lockhart?" I asked.

"Realising that Iíd just spent fifteen minutes being outraged and disgusted at him! The boys had spent hours telling me about the Chamber, and I was so busy being angry with Lockhart that Iíd completely forgotten that he was supposed to be my hero. So when I did remember that Iíd forgotten, I knew at once that he wasnít my hero any more. I wasnít sorry to be over him. Who wants to have a crush on a teacher anyway?"

"Lots of girls have crushes on famous people Ė Quidditch players or singers or Aurors," I pointed out. I could feel the flush spreading under my freckles, as I remembered that the boy I loved was also famous. I hoped Hermione couldnít see it in the dim candlelight. "Men whom they donít even know." I looked up, a little defiantly, because I did know Harry.

"But, really, it makes more sense to love someone you know," said Hermione. "Someone whom you know isnít going to change into a coward as soon as you come close to him. Someone whom you know isnít stupid. Someone with whom you can have fun every day because heís always around. Someone with whom you donít have to pretend because you feel comfortable telling him anything."

I closed my eyes and dropped my head to my knees. For a while, I had almost been liking Hermione Granger. But there was no escape. There was no mistaking the light in her eyes or the tone of her voice. She was going to go on Ö and on Ö and on Ö about how she and Harry were always together. Without even noticing that that meant: How Ginny Weasley was always being left out.

But I had faced Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets. I must face Hermione Granger in the confidences of love. I lifted my face, and made myself say:

"So you do like someone else, then?"

She smiled ecstatically. "Of course."

"When did you realise he was the one?"

"About five minutes after I realised I was over Lockhart. There he was, telling me all about the Chamber Ö and heíd been so brave, so enterprising, so very right in the way heíd behaved Ö yet he was so modest about it, unlike some people. And heís so intelligent too. And he really is very good-looking, even if he does forget to comb his hair Ö there just wasnít any doubt in my mind that I belong to him, and always will."

I swallowed hard and forced my voice to sound normal. How would I sound if I were happy for her? As if she fancied a boy whom Iíd never met? "Do you think heís noticed that you like him?"

She laughed. "No-o. Heís a boy. He hasnít noticed girls yet. He wouldnít realise I fancied him if I tattooed his name in a heart all over my face."

I was brave enough to ask, "Doesnít that worry you?" But it wasnít an enthusiastic question. Since Harry didnít know that Hermione fancied him, I had a chance, a very slim chance. I didnít want her to dash my chance away. I wanted her to tell me that she hadnít meant it, that this was only a mild crush, and it would fade away by next week.

"I read somewhere that girls start noticing boys younger than boys start noticing girls. Since weíre the same age, itís natural that I would notice him before he notices me. But Iím sure heíll work it out in the end."

"When do you think that will happen?" Please say next year, in ten years, never Ö please say that youíll have found someone else by the time heís old enough to care Ö

"I think itíll take another ten months."

I gawped. "How can you be so precise?"

"Because of his height," she said calmly.

I stared at her again.

"You should read more, Ginny. Last Christmas Iíd nearly caught him up in height. But by the time the school year ended, he was towering over me. He was growing really fast in the first half of this year. Well, I read that boys start Ė er Ė noticing girls about six months after their growth spurt begins. But it usually takes them another year after that to admit that theyíre noticing. So he wonít be telling me that he knows Iím a girl until the end of this academic year. Ö Ginny, is something wrong?"

Itís taken you a long time to notice that, I thought, as I shook my head, fighting desperately against an overwhelming sadness. This was supposed to be a good year. But Hermione had planned, down to the minute, exactly when Harry would become her boyfriend, exactly when I would be cut off from all hope forever. "What if Ė " I hesitated. We were skating on very thin ice here. But Hermione had started it, so I would continue. "What if he does start noticing girls, but the girl he notices isnít you?"

Hermione frowned and stopped petting Crookshanks. "I suppose that might happen, but it doesnít seem very likely. After all, I am his best friend. Weíre together every day. When he does wake up to girls, Iíll be the first girl he sees. So Iím not really worried that he wonít be interested."

Nice, I thought, to be so confident.

"No, Iím more worried that heíll lose interest after heís started. Iím sure Iíll be the first. Sooner or later thereíll be a school dance or Ė or some kind of pairing-off activity, and heíll realise itís easier to go with me than to make the effort to approach a stranger. But once heís comfortable with me, heíll become more confident about other girls too. What worries me is whether or not Iíll be able to keep him interested in me then."

I pushed back the glorious vision of Harry becoming so interested in other girls that he abandoned Hermione and transferred all his interest to me. No. It wasnít fair to think that way. Take a deep breath. Say what a friend would say. "If he does like you already as a friend, you have gallons of advantage over anyone whoís still a stranger," I said, unable to keep the sad tone out of my voice. Intimate lighting or not, she would soon see that I was on the verge of tears.

She frowned. "Well, it may not be as easy as Iím hoping. Heís not exactly the most in-touch-with-reality person. Today he was talking as if heíd catch Sirius Black single-handed. And heís refusing to face up to the painful truth about Scabbersí old age. Harry was saying today that the rat isnít going to live much longer."

I was confused. First she said that he wasnít facing the truth about Scabbers, then that he knew Scabbers was dying. I knew that I too had to face up to a painful truth soon. But my world was about to rock, and I wanted to keep it out of my consciousness for just a few minutes longer. It would be easier to talk about Scabbers Ė of whom I had somehow never been very fond. What on earth did she mean about Harry saying it without facing up to it?

"Talking of whom," Hermione continued, "Harryís been getting himself into trouble this summer. Did you hear how he blew up his aunt? He wants to be more careful."

"It wasnít his fault!" I protested automatically. I didnít understand Hermioneís sudden cool tone. "People canít help it, you know, when they do wandless magic."

"No, but everyone can develop self-control." There it was again, a definite coldness towards Harry when he was in trouble. "If Harry would deal with his resentful attitude Ė "

"Hermione," I insisted, "Donít you love Harry?"

"Of course I love Harry," she replied, still coolly. "Harryís my second-best friend ever Ė "

The world did rock then. The bedroom walls shrank away, and the bedcovers billowed up enormously, and the candles Ė and shadows Ė flared up to the ceiling. I had lost all sense of balance, and didnít know whether I was swaying backwards onto my pillows or forwards into Crookshanks. I was suspended in an eternal moment, barely hearing what Hermione was saying about acknowledging her friendsí faults because they were her friends, because nothing else that Hermione said was really happening. A year could have passed around me, and I wouldnít have known.

Hermione had said something desperately important, but I couldnít hold on to it; it would fly away for ever unless I managed to grasp the important point before Hermione started talking about something completely different. I tried to dredge out the significant idea, but when I found any voice at all, I could only whisper an echoed:

"Second?"

//
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