The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Gift  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

This story follows the events of Sixth Year Showdowns, and is set a few months later.

Disclaimer: These characters belong to JK Rowling, except for a couple I've added.

* * * * *

"Date of the Second Great Wizards' Rebellion?"

"1342."

"Yes. Members of the Council of Sorcerors at the time of the establishment of the Ministry of Magic?"

"Um - Priskett, Stone, Hellebore, Fish and - um - Turvey?"

"Yes. Which major magical event happened in 1289?"

"Er - er - I know this one - it was -" Ron floundered. Hermione waited. "International Witches' Convention?" he offered finally, looking at Hermione hopefully.

"Close," said Hermione. "International Warlocks' Convention." She closed their History of Magic textbook. "That's enough of that one for now." She began to pack books into her bag while Ron and Harry stretched and yawned.

"Roll on the end of next week," said Harry. "My brain is so stuffed with facts for the exams I can't think straight about anything else." He looked around the Gryffindor common room, which was unusually quiet. With exam week almost upon them, it was not only the sixth years who were studying hard. Most of the students were buried in their books, either here or in the library.

"If you think it's bad this year, imagine what it'll be like next year, when we're doing N.E.W.T.s," said Ron. He looked across at Hermione, who still had her head bent over her bag, a small worried crease across her forehead.

"Perhaps I'll just read through my Arithmancy notes again," she was murmuring.

"No, you won't," said Ron decisively, reaching out a long arm and plucking the bag from Hermione's hands. "You're going to give it a rest for tonight and relax."

"But, Ron -" Hermione began reluctantly.

"Uh - uh." Ron got up, put the bag down and pulled Hermione out of her chair. "It's a lovely sunny evening. You're going to come for a walk by the lake."

He towed Hermione across the common room. She made another faint protest and then gave in. "All right. But I'm going to get up early tomorrow and read my notes -"

"Yes, you do that," said Ron soothingly, patting her shoulder. He looked over the top of Hermione's head - not difficult, since he was a good eight inches taller - at Harry. "Coming?"

Harry shook his head, grinning. "No, you go on. I'm just going to write a note to Sirius."

"OK." Ron and Hermione climbed through the portrait hole and disappeared. Harry got out a quill and some parchment. As he unscrewed his ink bottle, he shook his head, smiling, thinking about Ron and Hermione. A few months earlier, after years of bickering, his two best friends had finally admitted that they were attracted to each other, and they had been an item ever since, much to the amusement of everyone who had followed the course of their friendship. At first Harry had feared that he would feel like a spare part, so used was he to the three of them being inseparable. But that hadn't happened. He was still included in the friendship, and when his two friends did want time alone Harry had plenty to occupy himself with - not least his duties as Captain of the Gryffindor House Quidditch team. By June, exam time, the Quidditch season was usually over, but in January and February outbreaks of 'flu had ravaged Hogwarts - overworking Madam Pomfrey, the matron - and forced the postponement of several matches, so the season was running late. There was still one match left to play - the most important - the Final, which this year was between the arch-rivals, Gryffindor and Slytherin. Gryffindor had held the Quidditch Cup for three years now, and Harry was anxious to prove himself as team captain by helping them to retain it. With this goal in mind, he had been urging the team to practice for longer and longer hours until Ginny Weasley - Ron's younger sister, and one of the Chasers on the Gryffindor team - good-humouredly told Harry he was a tyrant.

Harry quickly scribbled his note to Sirius Black, his godfather and guardian. A year ago, after various events in Harry's fifth year, the Ministry of Magic had finally accepted that Sirius was innocent of the crimes for which he had been imprisoned in Azkaban - betraying Harry's parents and murdering a street full of Muggles. But even though Sirius was now free to live where he chose, his years of imprisonment and exile had left their mark on him. He felt that many wizards still shunned him, and he couldn't bear to stay shut up in any building for very long; claustrophobic after years in his Azkaban cell. He had bought a house in Devon - found for him by the Weasleys, who lived not far away - and used it as a base for himself and Harry during the summer vacations. But when Harry was at school Sirius was restless, and didn't want to stay in one place. During the last year he had travelled the world, visiting many places he had fantasized about while in his cell, and trying to get rid of the nightmares he still suffered. Harry often received postcards, letters and packets from various exotic locations, or strange and magical presents.

The letter to Sirius finished, Harry set off towards the owlery. No matter where in the world Sirius happened to be at the moment, Harry knew that Hedwig, his owl, would be able to deliver the letter.

Harry was just crossing the Entrance Hall, which was bathed in an orange glow of late sunshine, when he bumped into Professor Trelawny, the Divination teacher. He literally bumped into her, because she was hurrying across the hall with a distracted air, completely oblivious to her surroundings. Harry apologised, extriacated himself from the gauzy folds of her voluminous robes, and was just about to go on his way when Professor Trelawny uttered an exclamation and clutched at his arm with her long fingers.

"Potter! The very person I wanted to see!"

"Yes?" Harry said politely, his heart sinking. Professor Trelawny had made a habit of prophecying doom and disaster for him ever since his third year. If she wanted to see him, it was usually not good news.

"Yes." Professor Trelawny gazed at him with her large, gloomy eyes, blinking uncertainly. Then she seemed to make up her mind. "Come in here, dear boy." She led Harry into an empty office nearby. "I do not wish anyone to overhear us."

Apprehensively, Harry followed her. Inside the small room, Professor Trelawny peered around as if to check they were alone, and lowered her voice to a dramatic whisper. She was still gripping Harry's arm tightly. "The Fates have warned me, dear, that there is terrible danger in store for you."

Harry resisted the urge to say "What, again?" and instead said politely, "Oh, yes?"

"Yes!" Professor Trelawny said, quite sharply for her. She clearly thought Harry wasn't taking her warning seriously enough. "TERRIBLE danger! I could See the signs quite clearly in my crystal ball. You will receive a gift which will both save your life and threaten it."

"Eh? It will save my life...but it will threaten it?" Harry said, confused.

"Yes...but there is more. The crystal showed me quite clearly that you are threatened by something else. A friend will betray you - or appear to do so -" she added more doubtfully. "The mists were a little heavy towards the end of my Seeing."

Footsteps outside in the hall made Professor Trelawny start nervously. She relaxed her grip on Harry's arm. "I must go, dear boy. But do not forget my warning!" And she glided out into the hall and was gone.

Harry rubbed his arm, then shook his head wonderingly. "Mad. Quite mad," he murmured to himself, as he continued slowly on his way to the owlery.

And yet...as he sent his letter to Sirius and returned to Gryffindor Tower, Harry remembered one occasion on which Professor Trelawny had been right. She had predicted - without knowing it - the escape of Peter Pettigrew, the man who really had betrayed Harry's parents. No one knew where Pettigrew was now, but if Professor Trelawny's prediction was right, he had gone to rejoin Lord Voldemort.

Harry reported the strange conversation he had had with Professor Trelawny to Ron and Hermione. They were both inclined to scoff. Hermione had always considered Divination to be a waste of time, and Professor Trelawny to be a total charlatan. Ron's response was very much what Harry's had been.

"She's nuts. Off her rocker. How could a gift save your life *and* threaten it?"

"And what else did she say? One of your friends will betray you?" said Hermione. "That's not very likely."

"Yeah, the people who'd betray you without blinking around here are Malfoy and Snape," said Ron. "And you can't exactly call either of them your friends!"

Harry was inclined to agree with Hermione and Ron. He thrust Professor Trelawny's words to the back of his mind. He had more important worries - the exams next week, and the Quidditch final which would follow them. Harry went to bed, and dreamed about a strange Quidditch match, in which he was chased on his broomstick by Professor McGonagall, who was shouting exam questions at him.

But Professor Trelawny's prophecies came back to him forcefully at breakfast time the next day. For it was then that Harry received an unexpected gift.

* * * * *

It was breakfast time, and a hubbub of chatter filled the Great Hall. At the Gryffindor table, Harry was discussing Quidditch tactics with Tony Forest, one of his Chasers, and Dean Thomas, a sixth-year Beater. As Harry reached for a piece of toast, Ron came in, yawning sleepily. He was not a morning person.

"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked. It was unusual for her not to be down for breakfast before he and Ron were. In fact, Hermione was always telling them that as prefects it was their duty to be on time to meals and set a good example to the younger ones.

Ron looked surprised. "Isn't she here?" He took a seat next to Harry. "Maybe she's absorbed in her Arithmancy notes."

Hermione did not appear for another five minutes, and when she did, she was accompanied by Ron's sister, Ginny. Hermione looked worried, and Ginny looked very subdued. Hermione came to sit with Harry and Ron, but Ginny took a seat right at the other end of the table.

"Where've you been?" asked Ron, through a mouthful of bacon. "Did you oversleep?"

Hermione glanced down the table towards Ginny, frowning. She spoke in a low tone, so that only Harry and Ron could hear her. "I was on my way down here when I heard someone crying in the girls' toilets. So I went in to investigate." Again she glanced down the table. "I found Ginny in floods of tears."

Ron looked faintly concerned. "Why?"

"I don't know. I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't tell me anything."

Harry looked at Ginny. Although she was some distance from them, he could see that she was still rather red-eyed. She was pushing some bread around her plate, but not eating much, or talking to her neighbours. "Perhaps she's just had a row with one of her friends."

"Yeah, you know what girls are like. Always falling out with each other and making up." Ron pretended not to see the glare Hermione gave him at this. "Or maybe she's quarrelled with her boyfriend - whatshisname - "

"Torquil. But you wouldn't mind, you don't like him anyway," said Harry. Torquil de Lisle was, like Ginny, a fifth-year. He was thin and dark-haired with a pale face and rather reedy voice. Harry knew Ron had a low opinion of him; partly because Torquil was said to be brilliant at Divination, and was one of Professor Trelawny's favourite pupils.

"True." A little brotherly concern showed on Ron's face as he looked at his sister's drooping figure. "Oh well. If it's just an argument with someone, she'll get over it."

At that moment, a flock of owls burst in and circled the Great Hall, and the discussion about Ginny's unhappiness was forgotten. Everyone looked up to see if there would be any post for them. A number of owls swooped down on the Gryffindor table, dropping letters and packages between the plates. Harry wasn't expecting Hedwig to deliver any post to him this morning - she was probably far away, still journeying to find Sirius with his letter. But to his surprise, a barn owl glided down and dropped a square parcel into his lap.

"What's that?" asked Hermione.

"Don't know." Harry picked up the parcel and looked at it. It was a box about ten inches square. "It's from Sirius!" he said, recognising the energetic writing and noticing the exotic foreign stamps. "It must have crossed with my letter to him in the post." He ripped off the brown paper which covered the box, and carefully lifted the lid. Inside, he saw a mass of crumpled paper which was obviously protecting something fragile. Harry took out the paper, and saw a sparkling cylinder. It was about six inches high, smooth and polished. It seemed to be made from transparent crystal, but a twisted column of gold ran through the middle of it, spiralling upwards.

"That's pretty," said Hermione, leaning over Harry's shoulder for a better look. "What is it?"

"No idea." Harry fished in the bottom of the box and found a note, which he read aloud to his friends.

"Dear Harry,

I know you've got a lot on your mind at the moment, and I thought this might cheer you up. I bought it from an old wizard in a street market. It's a Truth-Teller - they're fairly rare, so look after it. And be careful - they're powerful things. Good luck with the Quidditch final - and the exams.

Sirius."

"Hmm," said Harry, turning the cylinder in his hand as it sparkled and shone. "I've never seen one of these before."

"Me neither," said Ron, peering at it. "What did you say it was called?"

"A Truth-Teller. Wonder how it works?" They both looked expectantly at Hermione, who was usually a fount of most magical knowledge. She did not let them down.

"I read about them in 'The Encyclopedia of Magical Artefacts'," she said. "Anyone who holds the Truth-Teller in their hand is compelled to tell the truth. They can't lie."

"Now *that* could be interesting," said Harry.

"Hey!" Ron said suddenly. "Remember what you told us last night about Trelawny? She said you'd get a gift."

"Ron, that woman would say anything for effect," said Hermione acidly.

"Yeah, but - Harry has got a gift, hasn't he?" Ron grinned. "Better watch out, Harry!"

Harry had also remembered Professor Trelawny's words. "She said the gift would save my life. How could this save my life?" he asked, holding the Truth-Teller up to the light.

"And she said it would threaten your life too!" said Ron, not sounding as if he was taking the prophecy too seriously. "Don't go dropping it and cutting yourself on the bits!"

Harry grinned and put the Truth-Teller carefully down on the table while he went on with his breakfast. As he ate, he mulled over what Professor Trelawny had said. "...A gift which will both save your life and threaten it." And what else had she said? "...A friend will betray you." Harry shook his head and went on eating.

At the end of breakfast, Ginny had to walk by them on her way to the door. She looked more composed, though the traces of tears were there if you looked for them. "Are you OK, Ginny?" asked Hermione, as Ginny passed them.

"I'm fine," Ginny said, her face stiffening. She looked quickly away from Hermione and caught sight of the Truth-Teller on the table. "Oh, what's that?"

"Good, isn't it?" said Ron. "Sirius just sent it to Harry. It's a Truth-Teller."

"A what?" Ginny asked, looking puzzled.

"A Truth-Teller," Harry explained. "If someone holds it in their hand, they have to tell the truth. You can't lie when you're holding it."

To Harry's surprise, Ginny reacted with horror to his words. She backed away from the table immediately, her eyes wide with what looked like panic. "I - I've got to go," she gasped, and headed for the door, almost running. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, who were looking as surprised as he felt.

"What's the matter with her?" asked Ron.

"Perhaps I should try to talk to her again later - or you should, Ron," said Hermione worriedly.

"I hope it's nothing serious," said Harry. "I mean, I hope she's not feeling ill or anything. We need her in the team for the Quidditch final."

This made Hermione cross. "Honestly, Harry, can't you think a bit less about Quidditch and a bit more about people's feelings? Ginny might be really upset about something." She got up and stalked away to tell some first-years to stop arguing and line up quietly.

Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Harry. Ron shrugged. "Women."

Harry hurried upstairs before their first lesson of the day to put the Truth-Teller safely away in his dormitory. It was a nice present for Sirius to have sent him, he reflected, but would it really be of much use to him? Picking up his notes for Transfiguration, he forgot about the unexpected gift for the time being, but he might not have done if he had realised how important a part it was going to play in the events of the next two weeks.

* * * * *

"And so," Professor McGonagall finished, "I hope you will all continue to revise over the weekend. Don't work *too* hard though - or your brains will be exhausted by the time the exams begin on Monday!" She looked at Hermione as she spoke. The Gryffindor sixth-years laughed. Professor McGonagall had summoned them at the end of Friday's classes to give them some advice and information about next week's exams.

"Well, that's it," said Harry, as he, Ron and Hermione picked up their bags to leave the room. "No more lessons in between now and the exams. Can't wait to get them over with."

"Yeah, this time next week we'll only have the Quidditch final to think about," said Ron. "You won't be able to do much practice while the exams are on, will you?"

"No - we've got a training session tonight, and then we're going to have to stop until the exams are over," said Harry. He didn't like having to abandon Quidditch practice for a week, but had reluctantly admitted that it was necessary.

After supper, Harry headed out towards the Quidditch pitch to meet the rest of the Gryffindor team. As they pulled on their scarlet robes in the changing rooms, he looked across at Ginny Weasley, remembering how upset she had been at breakfast time. She was now studying her broomstick intently, looking pale, and not joining in the team chatter. Before the team headed out on to the pitch, Harry called them together.

"Now, we know this is our last practice for a few days, so let's really try to get our best moves working. It's a shame we can't practice during the exams, but maybe we'll be fresher after a break. Let's start off with some shooting practice - Tony, Ginny, Rosalie, you take it in turns," he said, turning to the three Chasers.

The Gryffindor team walked out to the pitch, mounted their broomsticks and took to the air. They practised hard for an hour, with Harry shouting advice and comments on their tactics. "Brilliant, Dean! Wish Malfoy had been in the way of that Bludger you just hit! Look, Tony - try to loop to the left, and Rosalie, go to the right - that'll draw the Slytherin Beaters away from Ginny, and you can pass to her."

As the practice went on, it became clear to the rest of the Gryffindor team that something was wrong with Ginny. She was playing very poorly, not at all up to her usual standard. She dropped the Quaffle on half the occasions Tony or Rosalie threw it to her, and seemed to keep losing concentration - turning much too slowly, getting out of position and becoming flustered when Harry shouted advice to her. Dean Thomas accidentally hit a Bludger towards her, and called a warning, but Ginny didn't even seem to try to get out of the way, and it hit her on the shoulder. She cried out, and tears came to her eyes as she steered her broomstick to the ground, clutching her shoulder with one hand. Concerned, the rest of the team landed around her.

"Are you OK, Ginny?" asked Tony Forest.

"I'm really sorry -" Dean looked guilt-stricken.

"I'm fine." Ginny waved aside Dean's apologies. "It's all right Dean, I should have got out of the way."

"D'you want us to take you to Madam Pomfrey?" Rosalie Little asked kindly.

"No!" Ginny looked half-cross, half-frightened. "No, it's only a bruise. I'll be fine."

"Is there something wrong, Ginny? You - er - you don't seem to be quite yourself tonight," said Harry, trying to be tactful.

Ginny looked down, her face flushing until it was almost as red as her team robes and Weasley hair. "I know - I'm not playing very well - I'm spoiling the team -"

The others made instant disclaiming noises. "No - no -"

"Yes I am!" Ginny insisted. "I was awful!"

"Maybe you're just worrying about the exams," said Rosalie, who, like Ginny and the other fifth-years, was taking Ordinary Wizarding Levels next week.

"Yeah, you'll feel much better when they're over," said Harry, trying to sound reassuring.

"No I won't!" Ginny backed away from him, fresh tears rolling down her face. "Maybe you'd better just find a substitute - I'm no good to the team any more -" She turned and started to run back towards the school. The rest of the team stared after her in alarm, wondering if someone should go after her, but deciding unanimously that she would probably just tell them to go away.

"She's been working ever so hard for the O.W.L.s -" said Rosalie after a pause.

"We're all under a lot of pressure," said Harry, realising that he had to prop up the morale of the rest of his team. "I'll see if I can get her to talk to me later. Let's stop now. Most of you were really good tonight. We'll get together next Friday, after exams finish - OK? And then we'll have three days to practise really hard before the final."

"D'you think Ginny will be all right for the final?" asked Dean.

"Yes," said Harry firmly, trying to sound confident. "She'll be fine. And we're going to thrash Slytherin, just you wait and see." The rest of the Gryffindor team smiled at this, and felt more cheerful as they walked to the changing rooms.

Although he put on a positive air for the benefit of his team, Harry was filled with misgivings as he walked back to Gryffindor Tower later. Ginny's odd behaviour bothered him, not just as team captain but as a friend. He was very fond of Ron's younger sister, and had felt that he knew her very well now. In her first two years at Hogwarts Ginny had had an embarrassing crush on Harry, but she had got over that a long time ago, and she and Harry were usually good friends, especially since she had joined the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and since Harry and Sirius spent a good deal of time with the Weasleys each summer. Ginny would sometimes ask Harry for advice when she wanted an impartial opinion, and didn't want to tell her brothers or parents about something. Harry was a good listener. He wondered if she would talk to him now. He had only seen her this upset once before, a long time ago. In her first year at Hogwarts, a shy and homesick Ginny had become enchanted by Lord Vol demort, who had possessed her through a magical diary. As a result of this she had nearly died, but fortunately Harry had been able to rescue her. Ginny had been very subdued after this, but she had recovered, and had been much happier and more confident ever since. What could have happened now to throw her so off-balance?

Harry was still pondering this problem when he reached the Gryffindor Tower entrance. "Lesser Lucidia," he said to the portrait of the Fat Lady, and climbed through the hole. The common room was quiet again; with small groups of students still wrapped up in their pre-exam studying. Ron and Hermione were nowhere to be seen, but somewhat to his surprise Harry saw Ginny sitting alone at a table near the window. She had books out in front of her, but did not seem to be reading them. He decided that perhaps he should take the opportunity to speak to her now, and crossed the room. She looked up as he sat down in a nearby chair. "Ginny? Can I have a word with you?"

"I'm busy," Ginny mumbled, looking down at a book, her red hair hanging over her face.

"It won't take long. Look, I know there's something wrong. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No!" Ginny slammed her book fiercely. "I'm all right."

"Oh come off it, Ginny, anyone can see you're not all right," Harry persisted, leaning towards her. "It might help to talk about it - I won't tell anyone - not Ron, or -"

"Harry, I don't want to talk to you!" Ginny stood up and grabbed at the books on the table, gathering them up hastily. "Just leave me alone."

"Ginny -" Harry stood up too, trying to think what to say that might get her to open up about her problem, whatever it was. But before Ginny could leave, or Harry could think of another approach to try, they were interrupted by a rather high, bleating voice.

"Ginny, do you know - Oh, hello, Hawwy. Am I intewwupting?"

"No," said Ginny, in the same tight, fierce voice she had used before. "Hi, Torquil. Sorry, I'm just going to bed."

"But it's not that late," said Torquil de Lisle mildly. Lank, dark hair fell around his thin face and dark eyes. He was holding a pile of books too. "I thought you might like to come and study in the libwawy."

Harry broke in again. "Ginny, I really think it would help -"

"No!" Ginny pushed past both Harry and Torquil, clutching her books against her chest. "Goodnight, Torquil." She made for the girls' staircase. Harry followed her.

"Ginny - " But he knew it was a waste of time.

"Go away!" she said, and hurried up the stairs. Harry sighed, and turned round to see Torquil looking faintly surprised.

"Is she upset about something?" Torquil asked.

Harry shrugged. "Who knows?" He really didn't want to get into a conversation about it with Torquil, who plainly didn't know anything helpful either. Instead, Harry left the common room and went to the library, hoping to find Ron and Hermione. He was lucky. He found them at a table in a quiet corner, taking it in turns to question each other about their Transfiguration textbook.

"How did the practice go?" asked Ron, looking up as Harry joined them.

Harry told them what had happened at the Quidditch practice, and in the common room afterwards. Ron and Hermione both looked concerned. "I knew there was something really wrong," said Hermione. "We must try to find out what it is."

"I've tried!" Harry protested. "She just told me to go away."

"Maybe she'd tell you Ron - you *are* her brother," suggested Hermione.

Ron looked very dubious. "She'd be more likely to tell you," he said. "Another girl, I mean."

Harry opened his mouth to say "We've got to sort this out before the Quidditch final," but he caught Hermione's eye and remembered how she had told him off at breakfast time for thinking more about the Quidditch team than Ginny's feelings. So he said instead, "D'you think you should send an owl to your mum, Ron?"

"I could - but Ginny might kill me," said Ron. "If she doesn't want Mum to know about whatever it is." Harry saw Ron's expression change from worry to hostility, and looked up. Draco Malfoy, the Slytherin Quidditch Seeker, and one of their least favourite people, was leaning over their table.

"Something wrong, Weasley?" he asked smoothly, a malicious smile in his voice. He had blond hair, a pale face and eyes which glinted with pleasure when someone else was in trouble.

"Push off, Malfoy," Ron snapped irritably.

"That's not very friendly, Weasel," said Malfoy, in the same annoyingly smooth tones. "I was merely checking to see if there was a problem, since I couldn't help hearing that you sounded worried about something."

"That's none of your business, Malfoy," said Hermione evenly, putting a warning hand on Ron's arm. Ron didn't let Malfoy provoke him as much as he had when they were younger, but he still bristled when Malfoy tried to stir up trouble.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "No? Well, I quite understand that you have a lot on your minds. What with Weasel's sister's little problem, that is."

"What do you know about Ginny's problem?" asked Harry quickly.

Malfoy looked like the cat who had eaten the cream. "Me? Why should I know anything? Of course, I may have overheard something the other day - something, perhaps, she didn't want me to overhear?"

"What?" asked Harry, but Ron scowled at him.

"You don't know anything, Malfoy."

"Perhaps. Perhaps not," said Malfoy, moving away from them as he saw Madam Pince, the librarian, heading in their direction. As he left, he said over his shoulder, "But if I were you, Potter, I'd start looking for a substitute Chaser - such a pity if she were to be, shall we say, off-form on the day of the Quidditch final."

Harry wanted to make a rude reply to this, but restrained himself because Madam Pince was within earshot. He turned to Hermione and Ron. Ron was still scowling. "He's bluffing."

"Yes, he must just have heard that Ginny didn't play well today," said Hermione. "Maybe Slytherin had a spy watching your practice."

"Maybe." Harry looked across the room at Malfoy, who was leaving the room. "But what if he does know something about Ginny?"

"Even if he does, he wouldn't give you a straight answer," muttered Ron, still annoyed.

"Unless he was holding that Truth-Teller of yours, Harry," said Hermione. Ron and Harry both looked at her. She shrugged. "But, of course, you'd never get him to hold it. Would you?"

"Hmm," said Harry.

* * * * *

Harry was dreaming again. This time he dreamt that the Quidditch final was interrupted by Professor Dumbledore, announcing that they must all return to the castle at once to retake their exams. Harry was just about to protest at this when he felt someone shaking his shoulder. A moment later, he roused blearily from sleep to realize that somebody really was shaking his shoulder. It was Hermione, leaning over him in the darkened dormitory. "Harry! Wake up!"

"Huh? Uh?" Harry tried to shake off sleep. "Hermione! What are you doing here?" It was not like Hermione to forget her status as a prefect and break school rules by going into the boys' dormitories.

"Ssshhh!" she hissed. Her brown curls were tangled and she was wearing her dressing gown and slippers. "Get up, quickly. It's Ginny. I'll wake Ron."

Harry didn't ask any questions, but threw back the bedclothes and reached for his slippers. Hermione had pulled back Ron's bed-curtains and was sitting on his bed. She took the precaution of putting a hand over Ron's mouth, since he was prone to shouting out when woken suddenly - this had once caused much amusement in a History of Magic class. Ron mumbled and stirred reluctantly. Harry glanced across, and to his amusement saw Hermione lean down and kiss Ron lightly on the nose. That woke him up, and his eyes flew open. "Wha-?"

Hermione told him what she had told Harry. Ron got out of bed, muttering, "What about Ginny?" He looked worried.

"I'll tell you outside," Hermione murmured, and waited on the landing until Harry and Ron joined her, closing the dormitory door behind them. They hadn't awoken Dean, Neville or Seamus, who were all still slumbering heavily.

"Something woke me up," Hermione explained quickly in low tones. "A noise on the girls' staircase. I went out to see what it was, and I saw Ginny going downstairs. I think she's sleep-walking - her eyes were open but she didn't seem to see me. She's in the common room. We've got to follow her."

Silently, they crept down to the empty, darkened common room. A shaft of moonlight shone through the window and showed them a white figure who was standing in the middle of the room. It was Ginny, pale-faced in a nightdress, her red hair looking darker in the dimness. As Hermione had said, her eyes were open and she was staring ahead of her, but she did not seem to see Hermione, Ron or Harry as they came into the room.

"Ginny?" said Ron quietly, but she gave no sign that she had heard him. She was now pacing around the room restlessly, and muttering under her breath. Harry edged closer, trying to hear what she was saying.

"No, no, it's all wrong - I can't do it - "

"Do what?" Harry thought. He turned to Hermione and Ron and whispered, "Should we wake her up?"

"No!" Ron hissed. "I remember now - she used to do this sometimes when we were little, when she was upset about something. Mum told me you should never wake sleep-walkers up suddenly; it might be bad for her."

"We should try to get her to come back to bed," Hermione whispered.

Ginny was still muttering, "Torquil, I don't want to know - I didn't want to find out - now *he* knows - what am I going to do?"

Harry raised his eyebrows inquiringly at Ron and Hermione, who both shrugged as if to say that Ginny's mutterings didn't make much sense to them either.

There were papers scattered about on some of the tables, left there by various students. Ginny picked one or two up, then put them down again, sighing. Hermione went quietly up to Ginny and put a hand on her arm. Ron went to her other side.

"Ginny, let me take you back to bed," said Hermione softly. "Come on." She and Ron pulled Ginny gently towards the girls' staircase. Ginny didn't put up any resistance, but went with them unprotestingly. Harry followed behind as they led her up the stairs to the fifth-year girls' dormitory. Hermione checked to make sure that the other fifth-years were all still fast asleep before they led Ginny across the room to her empty bed. She lay down in it, still not really seeming to be aware of where she was or who she was with. But when she was in bed, and Hermione had drawn the bedclothes over her, she closed her eyes and seemed to go to sleep again. They waited for five minutes, almost holding their breath, but she didn't move, lying still and breathing quietly. Hermione motioned to the others that they should leave, and they crept back down the stairs to the common room.

"D'you think she'll be all right now?" asked Ron.

"I don't think she'll get up again tonight," said Hermione. "Anyway, let's hope not. If I hear her I'll get up and check."

"What was she talking about?" asked Ron.

"About knowing something - she said she didn't want to know something - she said *now he knows* - whoever *he* is," said Harry.

"And she said Torquil's name - I heard her," said Hermione, starting to shiver in the cool, darkened room. Ron noticed, and put an arm around her.

"You should go back to bed. We all should. If someone catches us up at this hour, we'll be in big trouble."

"Yeah, it wouldn't look good for prefects to be breaking rules," said Harry. "We can talk about this in the morning."

In the morning, when they did have a chance to discuss what had happened, Harry told the other two that he had developed a theory.

"When Ginny said *now he knows*, do you think she could have meant Malfoy? You know he was hinting yesterday that he knew something."

"Unless he was just winding us up," said Ron, moodily.

"Perhaps we should ask Torquil if he knows anything," said Hermione. "Ginny did mention his name."

"You know what you said yesterday, Hermione, about using the Truth-Teller on Malfoy?" said Harry. "I think we should try that. We could catch him in the library - there's quite a good chance he'll be there revising, with exams starting on Monday."

"He's not going to hold the Truth-Teller if we ask him to though, is he?" said Ron. "He doesn't trust us."

"Well, of course I'm not going to ask him to," said Harry, pulling a face at Ron. "No, but if he thinks we want him to keep *away* from it, it would be just like him to pick it up."

"Yeah, that could work," said Ron, grinning, and they had a brief discussion to plan their tactics. They agreed that Hermione would find Torquil and see if she could get any useful information from him. Meanwhile, Harry and Ron would take the Truth-Teller to the library and lie in wait for Malfoy.

"And you might as well do some work while you're waiting," Hermione insisted, as they left her. "Don't forget the exams start the day after tomorrow!"

Harry and Ron sat at a table in the library, books piled around them, and the Truth-Teller in a prominent position. They had chosen a table with a good view of the door, so that they could see Malfoy if he came in. They had to wait half an hour before he did, though, so they took turns to read through their Transfiguration notes and watch the door. Finally, Ron grabbed Harry's arm. "There he is!" Malfoy had just strolled in, flanked by his usual simian sidekicks, Crabbe and Goyle.

Harry pretended to be deeply interested in looking at the Truth-Teller. He turned it between his hands so that it sparkled eye-catchingly. "He's coming over," Ron muttered between clenched teeth. A moment later, from the corner of his eye, Harry saw movement as Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle stopped in front of their table.

"Well, if it isn't Potty and the Weasel again," Malfoy smirked, as Harry and Ron looked up. "Where's your know-it-all girlfriend, Weasley - has she got fed up with doing your revision for you?"

Under the table, Harry trod on Ron's foot to remind him not to lose his temper, before he spoke himself. "Shame *you* haven't got a girlfriend to help with your revision, Malfoy - you need all the help you can get!"

At this, Crabbe and Goyle both leaned over the table threateningly, but Harry hardly noticed them. He had set the Truth-Teller down on the table when Malfoy spoke, and now Malfoy's eyes were narrowing at the sight of it. "That's a pretty new toy you've got, Potter." To Harry and Ron's delight, Malfoy picked up the Truth-Teller and turned it in his hands. "I wish I had one," he said, sounding uncharacteristically sincere. He looked surprised, as if that wasn't what he had meant to say. Crabbe and Goyle looked at him, also surprised.

"You know what you were saying about Ginny yesterday, Malfoy?" asked Harry carefully.

"Yes."

"You said you thought she might play badly in the Quidditch final. Why do you think she might play badly?"

"Because I told her she had to, of course," said Malfoy, and looked horrified at what he had said. Crabbe and Goyle were now looking at Malfoy in alarm.

"And why would she play badly because you told her to?" asked Ron, mystified, but enjoying the sight of Malfoy being forced to speak truthfully.

"Because I told her if she didn't throw the match I'd tell on her." Malfoy's eyes were wide. He was still holding the Truth-Teller. "I don't understand - what's going on?"

"You'd tell on her? What would you tell about?" asked Harry.

"I'd tell everyone that she knows about - " But Malfoy's brain had finally made a connection between his unusual frankness and the object he was holding. He looked at it, as if putting two and two together, and suddenly dropped it, as if it was red hot. Harry jumped up, and with his Seeker's quick reactions just managed to catch it before it hit the floor.

Malfoy was backing away from the table. "How did you make me say all that? What is that thing?"

"It's a Truth-Teller, Malfoy," said Ron, who had enjoyed Malfoy's alarm very much. "Did you like telling us the truth? And will you like it when we tell Dumbledore you've been threatening my sister?"

Malfoy's face twisted in a sneer. "You won't tell him anything - or I'll tell him what your precious sister's been up to."

Ron had jumped up. "What has she done?" he asked angrily.

"Never you mind - but trust me, Weasley, you won't like it if everyone finds out about it. So you'll keep your mouth shut about me unless you want to see her expelled," said Malfoy, and beckoning to Crabbe and Goyle he left the library, casting dirty looks back at Harry and Ron.

Harry and Ron exchanged looks. Ron looked shocked. He sat down again. "Expelled? What has she done?"

"Come on Ron, just because Malfoy says she's been doing something wrong doesn't mean it has to be something terrible. You know how he enjoys making you feel bad," said Harry.

"Yeah - but -" Ron looked uneasy. At that moment Hermione joined them.

"Well? I saw Malfoy coming out of here. Did you get him?"

"Yeah." Harry and Ron told her what had happened. Hermione looked angry.

"That's so typical of Malfoy! I can just see him threatening poor Ginny - telling her to play badly or he'll sneak on her."

"Yes, but, Hermione," said Harry, "Ginny must have done something she's ashamed of, or she wouldn't have let Malfoy's threats have any effect on her."

Ron groaned, his head in his hands. "I hope she hasn't got herself into anything really bad. How could she even think about letting the team down? Mum and Dad'll go ballistic."

Hermione rubbed his shoulder comfortingly. Harry asked her, "Did you find Torquil?"

"Yes. He's a bit strange, isn't he? I asked him if he knew why Ginny was so upset, and he said he had no idea. I think he was telling the truth. He was quite upset himself, actually - he says Ginny's been avoiding him for the past few days."

"I think we'd better talk to Ginny next," said Harry. "It's the only way we're going to find out what's really going on."

"Yes, then we can tell her about the sleep-walking and confront her with what Malfoy said," agreed Hermione.

"She'll probably just yell at us again and tell us to go away," said Ron, who still looked gloomy.

"Maybe, but we've got to try," said Harry. "We've just *got* to make her talk to us."

* * * * *

It was not easy to catch Ginny alone. She seemed to be avoiding them, which didn't really surprise Harry, Ron or Hermione. And, after his experience with the Truth-Teller, Malfoy also seemed to be avoiding them, which, as Ron said, was something to be grateful for.

They finally caught up with Ginny that evening, when they found her sitting alone in the Transfiguration classroom, reading through some notes. She must have chosen it as a likely place to avoid other people and get some revision done. When she saw Harry, Ron and Hermione at the door she scowled, reminding Harry very much of Ron when he was in a bad temper. "I'm busy."

"We need to talk to you, Ginny," said Ron, crossing the room, folding his arms and looking down at her. Hermione followed him. Harry closed the door and stood in front of it.

"Go away Ron, I'm trying to work," said Ginny, not meeting his eyes.

"No. We need to talk to you," Ron repeated.

"Ginny - we know that Malfoy was threatening you," said Hermione quietly. "He told us that he was trying to make you play badly in the Quidditch final."

"What!" Ginny stood up suddenly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes you do," said Ron. "Malfoy knew something about you - he was trying to blackmail you into throwing the final. What does he know?"

"Nothing! I haven't done anything!" Ginny insisted desperately, looking at the door, and Harry blocking it. "Go away! Please!"

"Ginny - you were sleep-walking last night," Harry told her. "We saw you. You were saying something about Torquil, and about not wanting to know something. What was all that about?"

Harry's words seemed to stun Ginny. She stared at him, her mouth open and her face drained of all colour. "I - I -" she stammered. She sat down again, shakily, buried her face in her arms and began to cry.

"Ginny -" Ron looked at her, sighed, and crouched down to pull her into a brotherly hug. Ginny clung to him, sobbing bitterly.

"I'm sorry - I'm sorry -" she kept repeating.

"Yes, but what is it? What are you sorry about?" Hermione asked. Ginny gulped, hiccoughed, and wiped her eyes on Ron's sleeve before raising her tear-blotched face to Harry and Hermione, who were now standing just in front of her.

"T-T-Torquil's very good at D-Divination - " she began. They waited patiently. "S-Sometimes he g-goes off into these t-trances. He sees things - l-like Professor Trelawny, only T-Torquil's predictions always come true."

"Oh, I see," said Hermione. "So Torquil went into a trance, did he? And what did he see?"

Ginny looked even more miserable, if that was possible. "He s-saw us doing our O.W.L.s next week - he started saying things that are going to be in the Transfiguration exam - and I know they will be because his predictions are always right." She looked at Ron beseechingly. "I didn't want to know - it's cheating if you know what's going to be in the exam - "

"And how did Malfoy get involved?" asked Ron grimly.

"We were in the library when Torquil went into his trance - Malfoy was behind the shelves. He came round and said he'd heard what Torquil said, and he'd tell everyone we were cheating by using Divination to find out about the exams - unless I agreed to fly really badly in the Quidditch final..."

"But Torquil said he didn't know anything about why you were upset," said Hermione, looking puzzled.

Ginny shook her head. "No, he doesn't - he was still in the trance when Malfoy was talking to me. When he came out of it he didn't remember anything he'd said - he never does."

"Oh, I see," said Hermione, but she was cut short by a new voice from behind her.

"And so do I." It was Professor McGonagall, looking stern. They all gasped. She had come quietly into her classroom while Ginny was speaking, and none of them had noticed. "Very interesting, Miss Weasley. Now I understand why the staff say you have been looking like a scared mouse all week."

Ginny looked horrified. "P-Professor, I didn't want to find out about the exams!" she said wildly. "I wish I hadn't heard what Torquil said - I've felt so guilty -"

"So I can tell," said Professor McGonagall. "It seems to me, Miss Weasley, that you have been very silly. Why didn't you come to me straight away? In the circumstances I could have arranged for an alteration in the O.W.L. Transfiguration paper - short notice though it is -" She looked at Ginny shrewdly. "Ah well, I can see I will just have to spend the rest of my weekend arranging it."

Hope and relief were breaking over Ginny's face like a tidal wave. "Y-you mean, you can change the paper? Will I still be allowed to do the exams?"

"Certainly you will do your exams," said Professor McGonagall firmly. "And I expect you to work very hard on your revision between now and Monday." She paused. "By rights, you should come with me to Professor Dumbledore when I go to explain this to him, but I doubt that he would want such a woebegone looking object in his office. Go and wash your face, Miss Weasley."

Ginny got up, looking as though she couldn't believe her luck. Harry said suddenly, "But what about Malfoy, Professor? He tried to blackmail Ginny - we could have lost the Quidditch final because of him."

Professor McGonagall's lips thinned, and her nostrils flared. "Rest assured, Potter, that I shall be dealing with Mr. Malfoy myself. You will find out in due course what his punishment will be." And she looked so grim that none of them dared to ask her any more questions. They filed out of the room past her, and hurried off towards Gryffindor Tower, feeling decidedly shaken but relieved at this turn of events.

As they reached the portrait hole, Ginny turned to the others. "Thanks," she said awkwardly. "I know you were trying to help me - I was just scared that if anyone thought I was cheating I'd be expelled."

"Don't worry about it, Ginny," said Hermione. "You didn't *ask* Torquil to tell you the exam questions - it was an accident that you were there, and heard him. Professor McGonagall understood that."

Ginny nodded, before turning to Harry, looking very awkward. "Harry - I'm so sorry - I feel like I've let down the team. What must they think of me after that practice yesterday?"

"It's OK, Ginny, really," Harry reassured her. "They'll all understand."

"But I was going to do what Malfoy wanted - I was going to betray you -" Ginny said.

"Look," said Harry. "It's all right now. McGonagall's going to deal with Malfoy, and when the exams are over we're going to practice until we're ready to wipe Slytherin off the pitch." He was pleased to see that this brought a watery smile to Ginny's face. "Come on."

They entered the common room. Torquil hurried towards Ginny, looking anxious. "Ginny! I was wowwying about you. Are you all wight?"

"I'm fine, Torquil," said Ginny, and she let him lead her away to the table where he was studying.

Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, and they all let out a joint sigh of relief. "Thank goodness that's all sorted out," said Hermione. "Now we can concentrate on getting ready for exam week."

Ron and Harry both groaned at this. "Thanks for reminding us," said Ron, but he and Harry both got their books out without too much persuasion.

It was about an hour later that Dean Thomas burst into the Gryffindor common room and made a beeline for Harry, looking as if he was longing to share some really momentous news. "Harry! You'll never guess what!"

"What?"

Dean beamed from ear to ear. "Everyone's talking about it downstairs - Parvati and Lavender overheard McGonagall telling Snape she'd had to punish Malfoy for something - not sure what. Must have been serious though, because apparently Dumbledore himself said that Malfoy's to lose a hundred points for Slytherin - and what's more, he's banned from Quidditch for the rest of the season!"

Ron whooped at this news, and Harry grinned. "Really? Wow. Looks like Slytherin will have to find themselves another Seeker for the final."

"Yeah, I hope their reserve's worse than Malfoy - and that would be saying something," said Dean, still looking as though he'd just had the best birthday present of his life. "What d'you think he *did*, though? Must have been something pretty bad."

Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged glances and tacitly agreed not to share the truth with Dean. "Nothing Malfoy does would surprise me," said Harry.

"No, he's the lowest of the low," agreed Ron.

Dean nodded. "Well, I feel like I don't even mind doing exams now. Lavender says Snape looked pretty sick when McGonagall was telling him the news. I'm going to find the rest of the team and tell them now - see you, Harry!" And Dean hurried off.

"Well, I think it serves Malfoy right," Hermione said, sounding unusually vindictive.

"Hey, he's REALLY going to hate us now," said Ron, sounding as if he didn't mind this a bit.

Harry grinned at Ron and Hermione. Then he looked across the room at Ginny, who was talking earnestly to Torquil. She still looked pale, but better than she had done for several days. A thought came into Harry's head. What had Ginny said? "I was going to do what Malfoy wanted - I was going to betray you." Hadn't Professor Trelawny predicted that a friend might betray Harry? Or was it just coincidence? And what else had she predicted - would the Time-Teller threaten his life - or save it? Harry frowned, then shrugged and went back to his books.

* * * * *

A week had passed since Ginny had made her tearful confession and Malfoy had been banned from playing Quidditch. The exams were over, and students who had been looking haunted and worried for weeks were walking about looking drained, but relieved. On Friday evening, after the last exam, Harry had summoned the Gryffindor team to the Quidditch pitch and they had practised harder than ever. To Harry's relief, Ginny seemed to be almost back to normal. She was still quite subdued, and seemed to be a bit ashamed of the fuss and anxiety she had caused, but she tried very hard at the practice, as if trying to make amends to the rest of the team for the way she had played before. They practised for hours on Saturday and Sunday, getting ready for Monday's match.

"That was excellent!" Harry told the team at the end of their last practice. If we can play like that tomorrow, I really think the Quidditch cup will have our name on it again this year."

"Oh, I hope so!" said Rosalie Little. She - along with most of the team - had experienced the buzz of winning last year; but Ginny and Tony Forest were new to the team this year, and they were keen to find out what victory felt like.

"Just make sure you all go to bed early tonight and get plenty of sleep," said Harry, and grinned to himself, thinking how much he sounded like Oliver Wood, who had been the Gryffindor captain when Harry first joined the team. Wood now worked for his father's company, designing new and faster brooms, which was good news for the Gryffindor team because he sometimes sent them prototypes to try out.

When Harry and the rest of the team arrived back in the Gryffindor common room, there was a festive atmosphere. Everyone was happy that the exams were over, and looking forward to the Quidditch final next day. Harry and Ginny joined Ron and Hermione, who were playing chess.

"Bet Malfoy feels sick he's not playing tomorrow," said Ron, directing his bishop to take one of Hermione's knights. "Check, Hermione."

Hermione promptly moved her king out of danger and said, sounding rather worried, "I hope he's not planning to do anything to get his own back. He's been glaring at us every meal-time since then."

"So Malfoy hates us, so what's new?" shrugged Ron. He moved his bishop again. "Check."

"He can't do anything during the final, can he?" asked Harry. "All the teachers will be there. He'll just have to sit in the stands and cheer when the rest of the Slytherin team commit fouls on us."

"Who are they playing as Seeker now?" asked Hermione, making her next move.

"Blaise Zabini. Never seen him play, but I'm not too worried," said Harry.

"Yeah, we're going to beat them anyway," said Ron, considering for a second and then moving his queen. "Checkmate. Sorry, Hermione!" He grinned across at her, and she smiled back, ruefully.

After breakfast the next morning, Harry went back to the dormitory to change his shoes. He was nervous about the match, but tried to give himself confidence by remembering how great it had felt to win last year, and how well his team had played yesterday in practice. Ron was sitting on the side of his bed, looking at the Truth-Teller, which he had picked up from Harry's bedside table.

"Pretty useful present this turned out to be. Made Malfoy say a few things he didn't mean to say!"

"Maybe I'll take it out to the pitch with me," said Harry. "We could do with a good luck mascot." He put the Truth-Teller carefully in his pocket. Then he went to find the rest of his team, while Ron went in search of Hermione.

As the start of the match drew closer, the stands began to fill up with people carrying red or green flags and banners. The summer sky was clear and blue. In the changing rooms, the Gryffindor team were nervously changing into their scarlet robes. Tony Forest looked as if he was about to be sick. Ginny looked pale, but determined, as she tied back her red hair. Harry was trying to think of something to say to his team which would fill them with confidence. He had shown the others the Truth-Teller, and they had put it on a shelf for safe-keeping. They were almost ready to go out to the pitch when there was a tap on the door. Harry opened it. He was astonished to see Professor Trelawny standing there - probably the last person he would have expected to see at that moment. She was peering anxiously through the doorway, blinking through her glasses, draped in jewellery and gauzy shawls as usual, though the day was warm.

"Professor!" said Harry in surprise.

She came in, looking around at them, before drawing Harry to one side and speaking in a confidential whisper. "My dear boy, please forgive my intrusion. I was anxious to find out if you had heeded my warnings - we spoke last week - "

"Oh, yes," said Harry.

"I warned you of a possible betrayal by a friend..."

The rest of the team were eavesdropping and looking at each other in amusement, but on hearing this, Ginny blushed guiltily. Harry noticed her discomfort, and said hastily, "Honestly, Professor, I think that's been avoided. It's not going to happen."

"I hope not, my dear, indeed I hope not. But what of the gift? I predicted a gift..."

"Oh. Yeah. I did get a gift. It's there, actually." Harry pointed towards the Truth-Teller, glittering on the shelf.

Professor Trelawny's eyes widened with interest, and she put out a hand eagerly. "May I? Ah, thank you." She turned the Truth-Teller over in her hands. "Fascinating. And very powerful." She closed her eyes, still holding the Truth-Teller, and began to breathe deeply. "Ahh...I am Seeing...a vision is coming to me...yes...beware...beware the South. Beware the South." She paused, breathed deeply once more and opened her eyes. "Now what could that mean?" She replaced the Truth-Teller on the shelf and turned to Harry. "Be careful, dear boy. I do not always know the meaning of my predictions but the Fates do not lie." She nodded to the rest of the team and swept out of the changing rooms.

"Weird!" said Dean Thomas. "What was that all about?"

"Well, I don't know about 'The Fates do not lie', but most of her predictions are a load of rubbish if you ask me," said Rosalie, lacing her shoes.

"Mm...but she was holding the Truth-Teller when she made that one," said Harry. "So anything she said must be true. But what does it mean - Beware the South?"

"Don't worry about it, Harry," said Dean. "She's nuts."

Harry realised it was time for them to be out on the pitch. "OK, now remember, we're a better team than Slytherin and we're going to win," he said, trying to sound confident. "It's a good clear day, there's no wind and there's no reason why we can't play as well as we did yesterday in practice. Good luck, I know we can do it." He grinned around at the team. Most of them managed to grin back. Ginny nodded tensely, and Tony Forest gulped, still looking a bit green.

When the Gryffindor team walked out on to the pitch they were met by a storm of applause from their supporters and a few boos from the Slytherin end of the pitch. Looking up, Harry saw Ron, Hermione, Neville, Hagrid and his other supporters sitting ready with their rosettes and banners. Ron gave Harry a 'thumbs-up' sign. Harry saw Professor Snape sitting grim-faced with the other Slytherin supporters, but he couldn't see Malfoy anywhere.

In the front row of the stands, Professor McGonagall was sitting next to Seamus Finnigan, who was commentating on the match.

"Here come the Gryffindor team!" Seamus called as they walked on to the pitch. "Potter hoping to lead the team to a fourth consecutive victory. Two new caps this year for Gryffindor - Ginny Weasley and Tony Forest - but they've proved they can do the job in this year's other matches. And here come the Slytherins - they're fielding a new Seeker today as we all know - will Zabini be up to the pressure of playing in the final?"

Madam Hooch called Harry and the Slytherin captain, Leech, to shake hands in the centre of the pitch. Then she called, "Mount your brooms! Three...two...one..." and the whistle blew. There was a huge cheer as the two teams took off and the match started.

Harry forgot his nerves and looped around the pitch, looking for the Snitch and checking what else was happening in the match.

"And Rosalie Little of Gryffindor has possession of the Quaffle," Seamus yelled, "she's going very wide to the right, there's a Slytherin Beater in pursuit - and she's passed in to Weasley - oh, nice catch! - Weasley's right in front of the Slytherin goalposts - SHE SCORES!"

The Gryffindor supporters cheered. So did Harry. Ginny gave a whoop of delight as she slapped hands with Rosalie.

The game continued fast and furiously. Several times the Gryffindor Chasers fooled the Slytherins by going wide and passing the Quaffle into the middle at the last minute. One of the Slytherin Beaters targeted Ginny and kept hitting Bludgers towards her, but Dean Thomas made a beautiful move that sent a Bludger crashing into the Slytherin Beater's stomach and kept him quiet for a good ten minutes, recovering. Blaise Zabini's strategy seemed to be to stick as close to Harry as possible, but Harry was on a faster broom and managed to leave him behind on several occasions, still looking around eagerly for the Snitch.

The score was soon fifty-ten to Gryffindor. Harry noticed the Slytherin Keeper looking harrassed, squinting into the sun and scowling as Tony swept towards him again with the Quaffle. "Lucky our Keeper isn't looking into the sun," thought Harry. "Good thing we drew the southern goalposts to defend. The southern - "

For just a moment Harry forgot about the Snitch as he remembered Professor Trelawny's words. "Beware the South." No. Surely it couldn't have meant the south end of the pitch? What danger could there possibly be there...?

He was startled by the blast of Madam Hooch's whistle and an outbreak of shouting. The Slytherin Keeper had tried to pull Rosalie off her broom to stop her from scoring. Madam Hooch had awarded Gryffindor a penalty and the Slytherins were complaining loudly. Harry, with Zabini still shadowing him, flew towards the scene of the argument, hoping none of his team would retaliate and earn Slytherin a penalty. The whole of both teams had now converged on the northern goalposts, where the Slytherin Keeper was still protesting his innocence. Harry was just about to join in the discussion when -

BANG! CRACK! BOOM!

A series of deafening explosions blasted out, drowning out the noise of the crowd's cheers and the players' arguments. The south end of the pitch under the Gryffindor goalposts seemed to have exploded as the ground shook, huge fountains of fire and sparks burst out and the air filled with dense smoke. Blinded, the players were thrown in all directions by the blast and Harry fought for control as he felt himself falling through the smoke. There were screams from the Gryffindor supporters - those in the front rows were fleeing as the front barrier of the stands was blown apart and bits of wood flew into the air. Everything was chaos and confusion. Ron and Hermione had grabbed each other and dived to the floor when the explosions started. Hermione gasped "Harry!" as they looked up fearfully at the swirling dust and smoke which hid the place where the players had been.

* * * * *

Harry had managed to slow his fall, but was still thrown to the ground. He landed hard, and lay winded, face down. He had lost his glasses and his elbow hurt, but he didn't think there was anything broken. There was still noise, smoke and confusion all around. He could hear Professor McGonagall shouting for calm. He clambered painfully to his hands and knees and looked around. He couldn't see very far but he could see Dean Thomas nearby, sitting on the ground looking dazed but otherwise unhurt. Harry turned his head, and felt his stomach plummet as he saw another figure lying, unmoving, on the grass only a few feet away. It was Ginny.

A sick feeling enveloped Harry as he crawled towards her. He knelt beside her and was hugely relieved to see that she was breathing. But she was very pale, her eyes were closed and there was blood oozing down her face from a large bump on her forehead. Her broomstick lay nearby.

"Ginny! Are you all right?" Harry whispered, but she gave no sign of having heard him. He crouched over her, putting an arm round her shoulders and brushing a few bits of debris out of her dusty hair. Something clenched in his own chest as he felt her heart beating rapidly against his arm.

"You'll be all right, Ginny," he whispered in her ear, a strange feeling of protectiveness coming over him. "I know you will. Please - say something?"

But she was still, and silent.

"Harry! Harry, where are you?" Voices were shouting, getting nearer. The smoke was starting to clear, and Harry looked up to see many figures milling around. Professor McGonagall and the other teachers were ordering people about, and doing enchantments to get rid of the smoke and extinguish a few bits of wood still smouldering on the ground. Harry could see Professor Snape in the distance, conjuring up stretchers for the fallen Slytherins. He was glad to see Rosalie and Tony both on their feet, although Rosalie appeared to be limping and Tony was looking miserably at his damaged broomstick.

"Harry, thank goodness you're alive!" Ron and Hermione had arrived, running.

"Ginny!" Ron dropped to his knees next to the spot where Harry was supporting Ginny's unconscious figure.

"She's breathing, Ron, I think she's just knocked out - I hope so," Harry told him. Hermione picked up his battered glasses and handed them to him.

Madam Pomfrey had arrived on the scene. "More casualties? Can you walk up to the castle, Potter? You can? Good." She bent to examine Ginny. "I think she'll be all right - but we'll need a stretcher. Miss Granger, please go and tell Professor McGonagall I want all available staff helping in the hospital wing."

"What happened?" Harry asked Ron, as they stood, moments later, watching Ginny being lifted on to a stretcher.

Ron shrugged. "No idea. One minute we were watching the game, the next minute there was a big bang and smoke all over the place."

It took several hours for the confusion to subside. The teachers had cleared the Quidditch pitch as quickly as they could, and all the casualties had been taken to the hospital wing for Madam Pomfrey and her helpers to assess. Professor McGonagall had sent an owl to Professor Dumbledore, who had been summoned that morning to the Ministry of Magic in London, so had missed the match. The whole school was buzzing with speculation about what had happened.

Madam Pomfrey wouldn't let Ron, Harry or Hermione go into the hospital wing with Ginny because it was too crowded, so they had to wait outside for news, once Harry had been checked over himself and given a clean bill of health.

Two hours later, Madam Pomfrey had come to tell them that Ginny had come round and spoken a few words, although she was still very groggy.

"She'll be fine after some rest and sleep," said Madam Pomfrey. "What's that, Weasley? Well, yes, you can just look in on your sister, but don't disturb her, I want her to sleep." She would only let Ron go in, and shooed him out again after he had seen Ginny for a few moments.

"She's still really pale," he reported to Harry and Hermione, "and she's got a bandage on her head, but it could be a lot worse. I'd better go and send an owl to Mum and Dad - coming?"

Harry and Hermione followed him down the corridor, Harry falling behind his two friends, reliving in his mind those terrible moments when he had feared Ginny might be dead. Something had changed for him in those moments, and he wasn't sure he would ever feel quite the same again.

By supper time it was all round the school that Dumbledore had arrived back from London, and that he and the other teachers were investigating what had happened during the Quidditch final. Rumours were flying about, but by the next morning the truth was beginning to emerge. And by the time Madam Pomfrey grudgingly agreed to let Ron, Harry and Hermione visit Ginny, they had a lot to tell her.

Ginny was sitting up in bed in the hospital wing, looking much better. "Madam Pomfrey says I've got to keep this bandage on for a week, but it's not too sore now - my awful headache is going away."

"Good." Harry, Ron and Hermione sat down around the bed.

"So - what happened to the other players?" Ginny asked, leaning forward eagerly. "I've asked Madam Pomfrey, but she keeps saying she's too busy to give me all the details. Are they all right?"

"It was a miracle no one was killed," said Hermione, "all of you falling as you did. And I'm amazed none of the spectators were injured."

"Apart from you, Leech was knocked out - but he's OK - and the Slytherin Keeper had a broken arm," Harry told her. "The rest of us all got off with bumps and bruises, I think. We were really lucky."

"Oh good. And what about the match - what's happening about the Cup?"

"Dumbledore's ordered a replay - next Friday, if everyone's fit enough," Harry said. "So don't worry - we're still going to win the Cup!"

Ginny smiled at Harry, and he felt that strange clenching feeling in his chest again. Then she frowned. "Did they find out what caused the explosion?"

Ron snorted in disgust. "Oh yeah. And I'll give you three guesses which cretin was behind it."

"Who?"

"Come on - sneaky expression, blond hair, Slytherin, name starts with M -?"

"Malfoy? But how did he do it? And why?" Ginny gasped.

"Well, 'why' he did it is obvious," said Ron. "He wanted to sabotage the match to get revenge for being banned from Quidditch."

Hermione took up the story. "So he buried a load of extra-strong fireworks from Zonko's in the pitch at one end. I don't suppose it occurred to him that people might get badly hurt, he just wanted to ruin the match. He was lurking a safe distance away, waiting for the right moment to set them off by magic."

"How did they find out it was Malfoy?" Ginny asked.

"He got one of the Slytherin second-years to help him bury the fireworks - that weedy kid, Mossop," said Ron. "Mossop panicked afterwards when he saw what they'd done, and confessed everything to McGonagall when she started asking questions."

"So how are they being punished?"

"Mossop's got detention for a week," said Harry, "and Malfoy's been suspended for the rest of term. I think Dumbledore wanted to expel him, but Malfoy's father managed to persuade the Governors to let him come back next term."

Ron looked disgusted. "Typical. Well, at least Dumbledore took two hundred points off Slytherin as well - so we're pretty sure to win the House Cup now even if we don't win the Quidditch on Friday."

Ginny smiled. "But we *will* win the Quidditch!"

Harry smiled back at her. "Of course we will!"

Hermione was looking thoughtful. "Harry - I've been thinking - d'you remember what Professor Trelawny said about your gift - the Truth-Teller?"

"What - that it would threaten my life - and save it?" said Harry.

"Yes. And - in a way - it has, hasn't it?" Hermione went on, seeing looks of puzzlement on Ron and Harry's faces. "I mean - if you hadn't used the Truth-Teller on Malfoy, he wouldn't have threatened your life by setting off those fireworks. And though you didn't take much notice of Professor Trelawny telling you to beware of the South -"

" - it *could* have saved my life, because the fireworks were at the south end of the pitch," finished Harry. "Yes - I suppose, in a way, she was right..."

"Sounds a bit far-fetched to me," grumbled Ron, "but then, when did you ever know one of Trelawny's predictions to be 100% accurate?"

Harry could think of one accurate prediction she had made, in their third year, but he didn't say anything. "Mm. No, I suppose this time she was pretty close to the truth - for her!" He wondered if the Truth-Teller would ever come in useful again - fortunately it had been undamaged by the explosion, and was now safely back in its box.

Ron looked at his watch, then at Ginny. "Mum and Dad should be arriving any minute - they sent an owl to say they'd come and check on you this evening. I'd better go down to the Entrance Hall and wait for them."

"I'll come with you," said Hermione, also getting up. "Harry can stay here and keep Ginny company - you can talk about Quidditch!" She grinned at Harry as she followed Ron to the door.

When the other two had gone, Harry looked around. The hospital wing was fairly quiet. Leech was asleep in a bed on the far side of the room, but Madam Pomfrey had let all the other casualties go back to their Houses by now. He turned back to Ginny, who was starting to look tired.

"So - has Torquil been in to visit you?" he asked, just making conversation.

A shadow crossed Ginny's face, and she looked away towards the window.

"Torquil and I broke up," she said abruptly. "A couple of days ago." She looked sad, and impulsively Harry put out a hand towards her. Ginny continued, "I couldn't cope with the Divination. He's so good at it - but I don't like it. It's a very uncomfortable thing, to know what's going to happen." She sighed. "Not just because of the whole exam trouble, but - well, I'd rather not know the future. I'd rather find out what's going to happen as I go along - wouldn't you?"

As she stopped speaking, she looked down at Harry's hand, still outstretched on the bedclothes. Harry looked down at it too. Then, slowly, Ginny reached out and touched his fingertips with her own. Harry took a deep breath and gently closed his fingers round hers. They sat very still for a moment, looking at their clasped hands.

"Yeah," Harry said, his voice sounding odd to his own ears. "Sometimes - things can happen when you aren't expecting them -"

"I know," said Ginny. "It's better that way." She looked up, and smiled a little. And they continued to sit very still, waiting for the others to return, and wondering about the future.

The End

The final story in this series is The Siren and the Spy.

 

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