The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: On Dry Land  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.

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Based on the works of JK Rowling

A/N: Honeychurch made me write this, and then she saved me from despair while I was writing it by offering many fine suggestions, all of which I flagrantly stole and used. So I dedicate this one to her.

Disclaimer: Ginny, her brothers, and everything else here that is wonderful and magic, belongs to JKR.

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Ginny woke with a terrible knot in her stomach. She blinked up at the canopy of her four-poster, wondering if she'd eaten something funny at dinner last night... and then she remembered. It was Tuesday. Ginny felt her stomach grip more tightly and she rolled onto her side to ease the sensation of terrible nervousness that clutched at her insides. She tried to wrestle the feeling down, irritated with herself for being wrought up, but it didn't help at all. It was Tuesday, February twenty-fourth. The second task was about to start.

"Ginny, hurry, you'll want breakfast - "

"And I do want a good seat - get up!"

The door to the third year girls' dormitory slammed as two of Ginny's roommates exited in a rush. Ginny stared at her bed-curtains. She wished she could be as excited as the other girls were, but instead she felt horribly afraid. She knew that Harry had no idea what he was doing. The night before, she'd watched him come back from the library all alone, staggering under the weight of a dozen restricted books. He'd still been poring over them feverishly when she'd gone up to bed. Ginny didn't know what the task entailed, but she could tell Harry must still have been trying to figure out a way through it.

And what if he hadn't found anything? She shuddered. For a moment, she contemplated staying upstairs and pretending it wasn't going on. She didn't want to watch - because if anything should happen...

No. Ginny sat bolt upright, though the knot in her stomach intensified. No, she wasn't going to sit up here and hide like an idiot. It was only a tournament. It was only Harry. That thought made her flinch but she forced her way past it, jumping out of bed to dress in a hurry, and willing her brain to think of something else. It was an old struggle by now, but this time she was determined to win it. Harry didn't like her. He liked Cho. Ginny could go down to the task and watch it like everybody else - she could be detached - he was, after all - she would not care, she would not care. With a sharp, determined snap, Ginny fastened her robes and ran down the stairs.

"Good morning, Ginny," came an authoritative voice from the common room, which was nearly empty as Ginny flew into it. She recognized the voice as her brother's, and went to him at once.

"Percy! Oh, hi! But why are you here-"

"Ginny, you're going to want a cloak on over that, it's cold out," said Percy briskly, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "Hurry up, would you? I've got to be down at the lake in ten minutes. I'm judging."

His pompous tone irritated Ginny greatly and she stopped halfway across the room, though she had been about to hug him. "Hello to you, too," she said crossly, grabbing her cloak from the armchair where she'd previously flung it and wishing that her brothers would quit telling her what to do. She wrapped the cloak around herself and sighed.

"Ready? Good." Percy strode purposefully to the portrait hole and held it open for Ginny to climb through.

"Percy, I still need breakfast - why don't you go on without me?"

Percy tutted his tongue. "No time for breakfast now - though you really shouldn't go without, you know - what were you doing, sleeping so late?"

"What are you doing here at all?" Ginny hadn't meant her voice to sound quite so snappish, but Percy looked askance at her as he steered her by the shoulder down the stairs and toward the entrance hall.

"I'm judging," he said again, importantly. "Mr. Crouch is still a bit under the weather, so I," he puffed up slightly, "am stepping in for him again."

Ginny bit back a laugh. "Okay, Weatherby," she muttered under her breath.

"Pardon?" said Percy sharply.

"Nothing," came her innocent reply. "Erm... Percy, since you're judging and everything, why'd you come up to get me in the first place, if you're so late?"

"I won't be late if you walk a bit faster."

"Sor-ry," Ginny retorted, quickening her pace as they left the castle for the grounds. Percy still hadn't answered her question and they were fast approaching the lake. Huge stands had been magicked on the opposite side of the shore. They were filled with students, and the buzz of excited chatter floated across the water and hummed in Ginny's ears as they drew nearer.

Percy scurried with her around the side of the shore. At the waterfront, Ginny saw one of the squid's long, lazy tentacles rise up, slap the surface gently, and disappear beneath it again. The sight gave her a chill of unexpected panic as a new thought struck her.

"Percy," she said urgently, "Percy, what's the task? You know, don't you? You must, if you're judging - is it something to do with the lake? Do they have to go in? What are they going to-"

Percy cut her short and continued to hustle her toward the stands. "I can't tell you anything about that, obviously."

"Oh, but you have to tell me -"

"No." His tone was almost irrefutable, but Ginny thought there was something in his eyes that might give in - for the first time, she noticed that her brother was very pale and he looked quite worried. Yes, she thought, he was very likely to give her the information she wanted if she only went about asking for it in the right way. So she drew a breath, deciding to use a strategy that she saved for special occasions.

"Perce?" she ventured, making her voice very small, "Please? I want to know. Because if you don't warn me a little bit about what's coming, I - I know I'll be too scared to watch."

She quavered slightly and bit her lip. It was effective. Percy stopped walking so briskly and looked at her seriously from behind his glasses. "Well, I suppose you will be frightened. Perhaps... perhaps I ought to warn you."

Ginny made her face as young as possible, which was very young, and looked up at her brother imploringly. "Warn me?"

"Warn you not to be worried about - anybody. Because...."

"Because...? Oh, please, Perce..."

Percy looked as though he were about to say whatever it was, and Ginny held her breath tightly - but just before he let the words escape, he shook his head in a businesslike manner. "No," he said again, and this time Ginny knew his tone was final. "I can't tell you, I've been entrusted by the Ministry with that information; it's classified."

Ginny sighed in exasperation. She'd been so close.

"But listen here, Ginny," Percy went on in an undertone, "when Mr. Bagman announces what the task is, don't you get overexcited. There's nothing to be afraid of, while Dumbledore's in charge." But his voice was very tense as he said this, and Ginny felt her sense of trepidation begin to grow again.

"Why would I get overexcited? What's going to happen to the champions? Is Dumbledore -"

"Just be calm, all right? I knew you'd be scared, that's why I came up - to make sure you sit with Fred and George. You'll feel better if you do. I'd keep you next to me, of course, but I'm judging."

In a split second, Ginny forgot to play it young. She threw back her shoulders and stepped away from Percy with a disdainful sniff. She didn't need to be 'kept' with anybody. "I'm sitting with Hermione," she said staunchly. "I already told her I'd -"

"You can't. Sit with Fred and George."

Ginny bristled. "What d'you mean, I can't? You're not Dad, you know - I'll sit with whomever I like and I told Hermione..." Ginny scanned the Gryffindor section of the stands for a glimpse of her friend, but didn't see her anywhere. "I can't make her out," she muttered. "Don't see Ron either... where are they...."

Percy made an impatient noise and began to steer his sister, against her will, toward their twin brothers. "Ginny, you'll understand in a minute, all right? Sit here, between Fred -" Percy bustled an embarrassed Ginny onto a seat - "and George. And pull that cloak tighter or you'll catch cold," he finished primly, fussing with the clasp at her collar. Ginny craned away from his hands, feeling her face go red. Why did he have to treat her like such a baby in front of the whole school?

"Well, hullo, Mum!" said Fred cheerfully to Percy, who was still clucking over Ginny's temperature. "Fancy seeing you here! Ginny, you didn't tell me Mum was going to walk you down. Smashing!"

"Ripping!" chimed George, throwing an arm around Ginny, who felt she might giggle in spite of herself. "Oh... but wait..." continued George momentarily, in a tone of recognition, "You're not Mum, are you?"

"Oh yeah...." agreed Fred, peering thoughtfully at Percy, "you're that Weatherby fellow from the Ministry! I'm honored!"

"Charmed!"

Fred and George both stuck out joking hands to Percy, but he didn't take them, nor did he take offense. He seemed extremely preoccupied.

"Keep an eye on her, you two," he said quickly, gesturing to Ginny, who cringed. "And don't be worried, any of you. It's all going to be fine, of course. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go." Percy swelled again, forgetting to be nervous for a moment as he drew himself up loftily. "I'm judging." And he marched grandly off toward the opposite side of the lake, where the other Triwizard judges were huddled. He looked younger than ever, Ginny thought, as he joined Ludo Bagman, Madame Maxime, Professor Karkaroff and Dumbledore. The five of them stood grouped together at the shore, while water lapped at their boots.

Ginny's eyes flitted back out to the deep center of the lake and she shivered, hugging herself. What on earth could be so unsettling that Percy would bother to take her aside about it, especially while he was on official Ministry business? What were the champions going to have to do? She turned to George.

"You don't know what the task is, do you?" she asked hopefully.

"Nope," he answered. "But don't listen to Perce, Ginny. It can't be any worse than dragons."

Ginny shivered again. Dragons. Watching Harry dodge around that beast in the first task had been dreadful. The way the Horntail had gashed his shoulder - awful - and people had cheered! Did they think he couldn't feel it? Just because he was Famous Harry Potter? Still... she had to admit.... the way he'd flown had been absolutely... Ginny blushed, bowing her head so that her brothers wouldn't notice. It had been wonderful.

She turned her head quickly in the direction of the champions, pretending to herself that she wasn't trying to find Harry - just looking around, she lied silently. There was Fleur, looking utterly composed, her silvery hair whipping behind her in what seemed to be a localized breeze. There was Cedric, looking every inch the hero, stretching his arms over his head in preparation for whatever it was he was about to do. There was Krum, who seemed even surlier than usual, though Ginny supposed he was just nervous - after all, Hermione had told her that Krum's dark expressions only meant that he was concentrating. And finally, there was.... Ginny shifted her eyes to Krum's right. She gasped.

There, where there should have been a fourth champion, was nothing but empty space. "But where's Harry?" she demanded, before she'd thought about it.

Fred grinned and nudged her. "Worried are you?" he teased. "About your hero?"

Ginny flushed, giving herself an inward kick. Idiot, she thought. She'd promised herself never to be obvious again, especially in front of her brothers, who seemed to think nothing of teasing her. "No," she said quickly, in what she fancied was a casual tone, "just surprised he's late - you know."

"Yes," George said, wickedly. "We know, don't we Fred?"

"Sure do - s'matter of fact, I think we even know a song about it -"

"Right!" George cleared his throat majestically. "His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled -" he began, but stopped abruptly when Ginny shot to her feet and climbed furiously over his knees toward the nearest aisle. "Hey, wait, Gin - where're you going?"

"Ah, come on, we're just having a spot of fun -"

Fun at her expense as usual, Ginny thought angrily, pushing herself out of the crowd and climbing up several rows until she could no longer hear her brothers. She didn't care how scary the stupid task was going to be - she didn't care where Percy wanted her to sit. She wasn't about to stay and listen to anymore of Fred and George's ribbing. Without looking back, Ginny climbed through the other Gryffindors and stumbled into the first empty seat she came across, not bothering to look and see who was around her.

"Hi, Ginny!" said Neville Longbottom happily from the next seat over. "What's up?"

Ginny cringed inwardly. "Hi, Neville," she returned weakly. She didn't want to stay in her seat, all of a sudden. Neville was such a nice person - she had no desire to hurt his feelings - but ever since the Yule Ball he had seemed to find her increasingly interesting, and she simply didn't know how to respond. Even worse, he seemed to mistake her withdrawal for shyness, which only encouraged him to be braver in her presence. Now he smiled brightly and held out his bag of Every Flavor Beans for her to share.

"Exciting, isn't it? Harry and everything? Hope he wins."

Ginny politely chose a red bean that was probably a very safe flavor, but she couldn't eat it. "Yes," she said flatly, "hope he wins." But in truth she didn't care. In truth, she wished he didn't have to compete in this tournament at all. And, she thought, twinging a little guiltily, she hoped that Neville wouldn't talk to her too much while the task was happening.

The task was clearly about to start. The knot of judges that had been conferencing at the lakefront now broke apart, and Ludo Bagman stepped forward. He gave a worried look toward the empty spot where Harry should've been standing, then tapped his throat with his wand.

"Sonorus. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament!"

The crowd erupted into screams and applause around Ginny, whose stomach plummeted.

"Today," continued Bagman in his booming voice, "you'll be watching as your schools' champions demonstrate their bravery and intelligence in an underwater battle for their prized possessions! At this very moment, the things that each of them would miss most are being held hostage by the mer-community at the bottom of the lake."

A general murmur of anticipation ran through the stands and Bagman went on, rubbing his hands together as if warming up to the drama of the moment. "Each champion must recover his or her individual hostage within the allotted time of one hour. They have prepared to do this without knowing exactly what they'd be recovering. But I'll tell them now, so that they know precisely what to look for. Champions, are you ready?"

Bagman turned to address the three who were present. Fleur, Cedric and Krum seemed to square their shoulders all at once as they nodded bravely for Bagman to continue. He gestured grandly to Fleur with his wand.

"Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons must recover her sister, Gabrielle Delacour!"

Ginny blanched at these words. So did Fleur, who clearly hadn't expected anything so serious - Ginny watched her whip around to stare at Bagman, her earlier composure forgotten. So there were people at the bottom of the lake. How horrible. A buzz of apprehension shot through the stands as Bagman pointed to Cedric.

"Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts must recover his fellow Hogwarts student, Cho Chang!"

It was Cedric's turn to be shocked - his wand dropped to his side and he gaped out at the lake as, across from him, the stands burst into one long, excited "Ooooh!" Hushed conversations about Cedric and Cho ensued on every side of Ginny - "His fellow Hogwarts student? Try his girlfriend!" - seemed to be the general response. Even Neville managed to whisper, "What d'you think of that!"

Ginny shrugged noncommittally, though she was very pleased to hear that Cho Chang was Cedric's hostage, not Harry's. She wondered briefly what it would feel like to be the person somebody would miss most.

Ludo Bagman continued, gesturing to Krum. "Viktor Krum of Durmstrang must recover Hogwarts student Hermione Granger!"

This announcement was greeted by an immediate, ear-splitting shriek of noise. Whistles, catcalls and foot stamping - most of which was coming from the Gryffindor section - filled the cold air. Ginny wrung her hands in fright and excitement, her stomach feeling quite as though it was filling up with ice-cold butterflies. One of her closest friends at Hogwarts was being held hostage at the bottom of the lake. She was also undeniably the thing Viktor Krum would miss most, which was causing something of a riot among the girls. Ginny saw Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson give a high-five, while Lavender Brown gasped and dissolved into giggles with Parvati Patil.

But not everyone greeted the news with enthusiasm - next to her, Neville give a tiny sigh. Suddenly she remembered that Neville had asked Hermione to the Yule Ball first. Ginny found herself wondering if he really did like Hermione... which reminded her...

Ginny grinned and stood up, looking for Ron. If she was right about what she'd been thinking lately, he ought to be sizzling more angrily than a filibuster firework at what had just been announced.

"What is it?" Neville asked, squinting up at her in confusion.

"Nothing," Ginny muttered, searching the stands, which showed no sign of her brother's telltale hair. The only flashes of red in the crowd belonged to Fred and George. "Nothing - just looking for Ron. Why isn't he here, anyway? Did you see him this morning?"

"No, I didn't. I thought he was sick."

Ginny looked at Neville bemusedly. "Sick? Why would you think that?"

"Well, because he never came back to our dormitory last night. So I thought he was probably in the hosp-"

But Neville was cut off. Ludo Bagman had begun to speak again, but this time it was without his characteristic energy. Ginny thought he sounded incredibly disappointed as he said "And as for Harry Potter of Hogwarts..." he trailed off, shrugging wearily at the spot on the shore that should have been Harry's. "Well, if he arrives within the next five minutes," Bagman continued, sounding as if he very much doubted that would happen, "then Harry Potter must retrieve fellow Hogwarts student Ronald Weasley."

Ginny literally fell into her seat. Her heart slid like a cold weight into her stomach. Her brother was under the water. And since Harry was nowhere to be seen, that must mean that nobody would be recovering Ron at all. She shut her eyes.

"Hey," said Neville anxiously, "Ginny, did you faint?"

She let out a dry laugh. "No," she managed, "I'm fine." But she wasn't, and her eyes remained shut.

"Wow, so they've got Ron!" Neville continued a moment later. "You must be really worried about him, since he's your brother."

Ginny nodded faintly, not sure if she'd be able to sit near Neville too much longer. Out across the water, Ludo Bagman was concluding his speech, clearly making an effort to sound cheerful and booming again. "The champions have had three months to prepare their spells for underwater survival. They'll now have an hour to bring their hostages to safety. The whistle will sound in three minutes' time. Champions - take your places!"

The stands around Ginny were raucous with the cheers of people screaming for their favorite champions. She felt jostled on all sides and sicker by the second as Neville's voice went steadily on in her ear. "This is going to be great - I hope Harry makes it in time - wonder what'll happen if he doesn't come! - I bet I'd choose my Gran for a hostage if I was a champion, but then I don't really know. Who d'you think you'd pick - that'd be a hard one for you, wouldn't it, with all your family?"

Ginny groaned slightly at this barrage, and wished she knew how to quiet Neville without hurting his feelings - none of this was comforting at all.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Neville queried, at her small sound of distress. "Want me to get your brothers or something?"

Ginny's eyes flew open at this and she looked at Neville, feeling suddenly grateful instead of annoyed. She'd forgotten her brothers were there. She could always go and sit with Fred and George - that would be a comfort - even if they'd teased her earlier. It didn't matter any longer, now that Ron was underwater. She got to her feet and pressed Neville's shoulder lightly with her hand. "I think I do want to move a bit closer to the lake," she said. "Thanks - see you, Neville."

"See you," Neville called after her, sounding slightly disappointed. But Ginny was too worried for Ron and Harry to feel guilty about Neville, and she made her way down the stands very quickly, hardly thinking at all until she had squeezed herself between Fred and George once more. They were obviously as worried as she was, for though they didn't say a word, each put a protective arm around her.

"You okay?" whispered George.

"You know nothing'll happen - not with Dumbledore looking out," Fred assured her, sounding almost confident. "Ron's fine."

Ginny had just opened her mouth to ask how he could be so sure, when she stopped abruptly and leaned forward on the edge of her seat. Her eyes fixed across the lake on a black-haired figure who was racing flat out along the shore, toward the judges' table. Ginny felt a thrill course through her.

"Right, Harry!" shouted George.

"Excellent show - knew he'd make it!" hollered Fred.

And he had. Ginny watched, unmoving, as Bagman pulled Harry aside briefly, then sent him toward the other champions, all of whom were already ankle-deep in the lake. Percy looked disapproving of Harry's tardiness, Karkaroff and Maxime looked upset that he'd arrived at all - but Dumbledore looked pleased.

Harry, however, looked peaked. Ginny watched him try to catch his breath as he looked wildly out over the water, clearly in a panic. She could see that he was very shaken - she only hoped he was ready, that he had found a spell for this, that he and Ron were going to come out all right. "Come on, Harry," she whispered, so quietly that even Fred and George didn't hear her. "Come on..."

"Sonorus." Ludo Bagman was addressing them again, looking greatly relieved and giving the champions his final words with gusto. "Well, all the champions are ready for the second task, which will start on my whistle. They have precisely an hour to recover what has been taken from them. On the count of three, then. One... two.... three!"

The whistle sounded. Ginny watched, amazed, as Fleur, Cedric and Krum all raised their wands commandingly. In moments, all three of them had transformed slightly. Around both Fleur's and Cedric's heads, helmet-like bubbles appeared, which distorted their fine features in an almost comical manner. And Krum's head - it seemed as if - Ginny clapped her hand over her mouth in surprise. He was turning into a shark! His face elongated, widened, became bluish-gray and almost waxen, and razor-sharp teeth began to protrude. But before he had completed his Transfiguration, he was gone, along with Fleur and Cedric. All three of them had dived beneath the surface and out of sight.

Which only left one champion. Harry hadn't raised his wand at all. Instead, to Ginny's confusion, he appeared to be stuffing something into his mouth.

"Last meal," muttered Fred.

"Shut up!" said Ginny sharply, still watching Harry intently. He was waist-high in the water now and seemed to be hesitating - waiting for something. He looked quite as if he didn't know what he was doing, and pockets of laughter began to rise up in the crowd. The snickering was loudest, of course, in the Slytherin section, where Draco Malfoy seemed to be having a field day.

"Looks like we're finally in luck," he was drawling loudly, a sneer plastered across his pointed face. "Potter's going to drown and leave Weasley to rot. Too bad Krum's actually got brains, or we might've been rid of Granger as well. Pity."

Ginny unthinkingly got to her feet and reached for her wand, but she was arrested quickly by the twins, who yanked her down and held her fast in her seat.

"Why not?" Ginny demanded in a fury, twisting uselessly to shake off their double grip. "I'm good at hexes and I'm sick of -"

But Ginny's eyes had fallen again on the lake and she froze, forgetting Malfoy as her heart seized up into her throat. Harry was gone. There was nothing but a ring of ripples where he'd just stood, radiating out over lake's chilled surface. Ginny took an instinctive gulp of air, as if she meant to hold her breath until Harry resurfaced.

"Does he... does he think he can swim for it?" asked George, bewildered, peering out across the water.

"Dunno," returned an equally confused Fred. "Maybe it's some kind of... breathing charm?"

It was neither, they found out a moment later, as Ludo Bagman began to speak once more.

"Well!" he boomed, "that was certainly impressive! Both Fleur Delacour and Cedric Diggory made excellent use of the Bubble-Head Charm - Viktor Krum did a bit of self-Transfiguration, and Harry Potter - what a surprise! - comes through in the eleventh hour with gillyweed! Looks like none of the hostages have anything to fear - these champions were prepared!"

"Gillyweed?" repeated George. "Never heard of it."

"Like to get a hold of some, though," said Fred thoughtfully. "Harry'll have to show us. Think what we could do to the first years when they're crossing the lake next year, if we could breathe underwater! Just hide down under the boats and- "

"You're a terrible person," interrupted Angelina Johnson, behind them. "But go ahead and try it - see if the grindylows don't get you."

Fred grinned at her. "Think I can't handle a bunch of grindylows?" he said, in his manliest tone, causing George to snort.

"Horrible things," said Katie Bell, shaking her head. "I don't know why we keep them in our lake, really."

Ginny agreed with Katie - she'd just finished studying grindylows in Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Moody, and they were perfectly dreadful. She wondered if Harry were pushing his way through them now. She tried not to imagine their brittle hands shutting tightly around his ankles... dragging him into the weeds....

Ludo Bagman's voice bellowed across the lake at them again, cutting into Ginny's morbid thoughts. "Now, for those of you with friends being held hostage, I've got good news. Don't be worried, any of you - the hostages are in an enchanted sleep, perfectly safe until their heads are above water." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Couldn't say anything while the champions were listening, of course. Urgency is part of the excitement! So then sit back and relax, because the only people you've got to be nervous for..." Bagman paused dramatically, "...are the champions!"

Ginny shuddered involuntarily, giving both Fred and George a reason to turn and look at her.

"Hey, Ginny, it's all right," said Angelina, who had noticed her extreme tension. "You heard Bagman - Ron's not in any danger."

Katie smiled at her kindly, as well. "Neither's Hermione - they'll both be just fine."

George snorted again. "Oh, it's not Hermione she's worried about," he said knowingly. Fred gave a wicked smile, but said nothing, apparently remembering that their earlier teasing had sent Ginny on her way. But Ginny was affronted nonetheless, and she turned to George at once.

"For your information," she said hotly, "Hermione is my friend, and I am worried about her."

"Oh, right," said George, "you're so close with Hermione Granger."

To Ginny's relief, Katie came to her defense at once. "Actually, they are close, George. You didn't know that? I see them talking in the dorms all the time."

Ginny smirked. George shrugged. "Like I care what you girls do upstairs. Anyway, all I'm saying is, she's not in this nervous snit over Hermione or Ron - are you, Ginny?" He waggled his eyebrows at her and Ginny thought for a moment that she might pull out her wand and hex him. Wouldn't he be surprised to find himself covered in Creeping Fungus? But she stayed still. She didn't want Angelina and Katie catching on to what George was trying to say and so, calmly, she turned in her seat to ignore him.

"What's in the lake beside the grindylows and the squid?" she asked Angelina, in a careless tone, hoping for Harry's sake that the answer would be, "Nothing."

"Oh, everything," Angelina replied happily. "It's a regular zoo in there, I'm telling you. Hard to believe they even let the first years cross it in those shaky little boats - I know I'm always careful swimming in it. Let's see, there're kappas... they're tricky, they'll drown you if you're not careful, but that's more on the other side where it's boggy... ugh, and did you know some of the plants in there'll kill you? Like Devil's Snare, only underwater - what's that one called?"

"Strangleweed," said Katie. "It chokes you to death if you don't do the counter charm right off- have you worked with that one yet in Herbology?"

Ginny tried very hard to keep her face from revealing her growing concern. Strangleweed, kappas, grindylows, a squid - what were they thinking, having Harry face all that? He was young and small for his age and couldn't possibly know all the proper counter curses yet. Ginny knew in her heart that the hostages would be all right - Bagman had said as much and Dumbledore would never let them die, because they hadn't volunteered to compete in the tasks - but what about the champions?

"N-no," she said, aiming for a steady voice and falling miserably short, "w-we haven't worked with that one."

"Quit telling her things," whispered Fred, to the older girls, before leaning in toward his little sister with a grin. "Can't stand to think of him down there, eh?" He'd said this last phrase in an undertone meant just for Ginny, but it was quite loud enough for everyone to hear and Ginny felt her face go every possible shade of red. She glared furiously at Fred.

"Be quiet!" she hissed, her eyes darting up to see if Angelina and Katie had understood Fred's meaning. They were exchanging a look of amusement, and Ginny cringed.

"Oh, like they don't know," teased Fred. "Everybody knows, you never made it secret."

"In first year!" Ginny hissed again, trying very hard to keep her voice inaudible to the other girls. "I've not said anything since then, and I wish you wouldn't!"

"Yes you have," said George at once, not bothering to keep his voice low. "What about that singing get-well card? That was last year, wasn't it? Lovely idea, eh, Fred?"

"Yeah, wish I'd thought of it." They sniggered together, neither of them noticing that Ginny's bright brown eyes were quickly welling up in her frustration. But she wouldn't cry. Determinedly, she rolled her eyes skyward, keeping the tears at bay.

"There are merpeople, too, Ginny," said Angelina quickly, in a comforting tone. She'd obviously noticed that the teasing had gone a bit off the mark, and wanted to change the subject for Ginny's sake. However, she couldn't have picked a worse topic, as she continued to detail the horrors beneath the water. "Obviously - that's where the hostages are, in the mer-community. I've heard it's a wreck down there. Hagrid told us a bit about it in Care of Magical Creatures, actually - the mer-houses are crumbling old stone, and the merpeople have mossy yellow teeth. Apparently they're nasty old things - I guess they don't take too well to humans and they like to try and hold them under, when they can."

Ginny managed a very watery smile over her shoulder - she was even more worried for Harry after that description, but at least Angelina hadn't teased her. Katie took a look at her tearful face, however, and whispered in Angelina's ear as Ginny turned back to face the lake.

"We really shouldn't say anything else - I think she really is scared for him. That's some crush, isn't it?"

It was almost out of Ginny's earshot, but not quite. Her cheeks burned and she clenched her fists, digging her short fingernails into her palms. So everybody knew, did they? And everybody thought they had to protect her. Well, if everybody was so bloody smart, why couldn't they just shut up about it? Ginny was about to holler out something to this effect when the surface of the water burst apart, and twenty grayish-yellow heads were seen swimming toward Dumbledore, screeching wildly.

"Merpeople!" gasped Katie.

"Cool!" cried Angelina. "I've never seen any!"

In Ginny's opinion, the merpeople were not cool. They were an awful color, and the Mermish language they were using was by far the ugliest one she'd ever heard. She hoped very much that none of them would try to hold Harry at the bottom of the lake - she knew how frightening it was to be deep underneath the world with beings you couldn't trust, and her heart gave a dark thud at the memory.

The merpeople set themselves up in the shallows near the judges' table and began to sing - at least, it seemed like a form of singing, though it was actually painful to listen to. Behind them, Ludo Bagman raised his voice once more.

"Ladies and Gentlemen - we have reached the halfway mark! The champions now have thirty minutes to return to the surface! Please welcome our underwater delegates who have agreed to grace this event - the Mermish Chorus!" There was a scattering of unenthusiastic applause, but most people moved to cover their ears as the screech-singing continued.

Ginny didn't hear it, though - she was lost in thought. Thirty minutes. That meant Harry was probably at the very deepest point now - probably working to set Ron free from whatever bonds they'd put him in. That is, if he'd made it that far - if he wasn't choked to the muddy bottom by some mad plant or detained unmercifully by some magical creature. And if he were - if something really awful should happen to him... She wondered what she would do, what she would really do, if Harry were killed in this tournament. Her whole chest grew deadly cold at the very idea. It was odd, she thought, to know that nothing would ever happen between Harry and herself, and still to feel so strongly about everything that happened to him.

"I really hate this," she sighed after several minutes had passed, not even realizing she'd spoken.

"It is a bit scary," said Katie from behind her. "I know." But Ginny shook her head. Katie had no idea.

"I wonder," mused Angelina, "what happens if one of them doesn't make it back in an hour? I know that Bubble-Head Charm doesn't last much longer than sixty minutes at a shot."

Fred laughed. "Or what if the charms work way too well? What if Krum's down there right now, a fully-fledged shark, tearing everyone to shreds?"

Katie and Angelina both let out laughing cries of protest, but Ginny shuddered again. How was this funny? She simply couldn't see the humor. It was excruciating, the idea of another twenty minutes, just waiting.

"What I mean is," said Angelina briskly, swatting Fred lightly on the back of the head, "if their head-bubbles burst far under the surface, then Cedric and Fleur could really drown, couldn't they?"

"Worried about Cedric, are you?" said Fred dryly, grabbing her hand as she swatted him again and drawing her into a sort of half-wrestling match that served to distract Ginny from her anxiety. For the first time all day, she forgot her fear, observing as her brother's face lit up in a manner slightly different from his usual joking self. He really liked Angelina, Ginny realized, pleased. She looked swiftly to George, who gave a grin that told her she was right. She grinned back.

"I should've thought you'd be worried about Fleur," laughed Angelina, fighting Fred off easily and throwing his hand back into his lap.

"Nah," Fred said, settling back against Angelina's knees with a contented look on his face. "That's Ron's department." He snorted. "Bet if he were the champion, she'd be his hostage." He and George chortled over this for a moment, and George went so far as to adopt a high voice and cry, "Oh, Ron, save me!" which made them all - even Ginny - split into giggles.

"You're awful!" cried Katie, clearly enjoying herself. "Who would you have Angie, if you were champion?" They all straightened up - that was an interesting question.

"Ooooh, let's see. My mum, maybe?" said Angelina thoughtfully. "Most important person in my life? That's hard. Could be you, Kate," she said, throwing an arm around her friend, who smiled.

"Thanks. Mine could be you, too - or my dad. Or my older brother - he taught me how to play Quidditch, after all. Who'd you have, George?"

"Dunno..." said George slowly.

"You don't KNOW?" Fred yelled at once. "Lord, man, I'm your twin!"

"Oh, and you'd pick me, would you?" shot George.

"Well..." Fred stopped and considered his options. "True. You're not exactly a gorgeous girl now, are you? The smart thing would be to pick somebody who'd be seriously grateful."

Ginny, who had been listening to this conversation with mounting frustration, finally let out a disgusted breath. None of them had any idea what it was that they were talking about. Shouldn't it be obvious, whom they valued most? Shouldn't it hit them right in the heart?

"What's that, Ginny - got an opinion?" said Fred keenly, leaning in from one side.

"Bet I know who you'd pick!" sang George, closing in on the other.

Ginny felt an unwelcome warmth fill her face. She knew unhesitatingly which person they'd take if she were competing in the task, though she resisted the idea with her whole self. It should have been her mum or dad, or even one of her brothers. But it wasn't, and the person whom it was would never, ever know.

"Don't," she pleaded quietly between her brothers. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Harry, isn't it?" whispered Fred. "C'mon, Gin, we all know anyway, just say it out."

Ginny flinched. "Please - seriously -" she whispered, glancing up at Katie and Angelina, who were watching with a mixture of amusement and concern.

"Look at those cheeks," said George, pinching one, "blushing like a schoolgirl, she is."

Humiliated utterly by this, Ginny smacked his hand hard. "Leave me alone," she said heatedly.

George withdrew and gave her an offended look. "You don't have to get so cross about it," he muttered, rubbing the back of his hand.

"Well then, shut up when I tell you to!" Ginny spat, anger coursing through her.

Fred shook his head at her, looking almost disappointed. "Come on, Ginny, have a sense of humor. Nobody cares but you." He shrugged. "Get over it already."

This was the last straw. Ginny knew she didn't care who heard her as she whirled to face him. "Nobody cares but me!" she repeated, her voice like iron. Fred looked at her, surprised, never having heard her quite so deadly. "So then it's all right to say whatever you like, because it's just my feelings, is that right? And I should get over it, should I, because you feel like having a joke? Oh yes, very funny. You'd find it funny, would you, if I went around making fun of you and Angelina in front of crowds?"

The words were out before she could stop them and Ginny was surprised to find she didn't even care as Fred's face registered pure shock, and then embarrassment.

"People can hear you," he protested weakly.

"You didn't care who could hear when it was about me," she shot, and turned on George. "And you." George inched away from her, though she had lowered her voice considerably. In fact, with the screeching of the Mermish Chorus still in the background, only the four of them who were closest could still hear Ginny speaking. She looked at George, hurt showing in her eyes, and drew breath.

"You're the first person I ever told about - about Harry. Did you know that?" George shook his head uncertainly. "Yes, I told you first, because you were so nice to me that summer. And then as soon as I got to school you turned around and - and when I wrote that stupid valentine you wouldn't let it drop - and that was such a horrid year with.... everything...." Ginny trailed off. George looked suddenly and terribly guilty.

She turned her face toward the lake and spoke quietly to herself, finishing her outburst without looking at anyone. "I did like him, and I did act like an idiot about it." She sniffed back the burning beginnings of tears, which were threatening to fall. "And I'm sure it was very funny because I was so little. But I'm not little, and he's -" she stopped, choked in another deep breath and shook her head. "It's just not funny anymore."

Fred and George looked speechlessly at each other over the top of her head. Behind her, Angelina and Katie were perfectly still. But the sound of the chattering stands and the merpeople, still screeching in her ears, made her feel ill - both about everything she'd just said, and about Harry, who was still underwater, still unsafe. Nobody spoke for a long moment and Ginny sank very deeply into her thoughts. She didn't move again until Ludo Bagman shouted across the water to announce the arrival back of the first champion.

"Here we are! The first to return is..." Bagman paused, peering beneath the water as every pore in Ginny's body sat anxiously edge. Please let it be Harry, please let it be Harry...

"Yes, it's.... aha! A Hogwarts champion! Three cheers for Cedric Diggory!"

The stands positively howled with joy as Cedric's dark head, still surrounded by an enchanted bubble, broke the surface of the lake. Up came his shoulders and his body to the waist. And he had found his hostage. In his arms was the limp figure of Cho Chang, who, upon hitting the air, gasped and threw her arms around his neck. For a moment they stared at one another while the crowd whistled and cheered, and then Cedric set Cho gently on her feet and walked her to the shore, where Madam Pomfrey bustled them into warm blankets at once. Ginny felt an odd beating in her heart, imagining what Cho must feel. She only knew it had to be wonderful.

"Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts is first to return with his hostage!" cried Ludo Bagman. "And only one minute outside the time limit! Bravo, young man!" Cedric grinned down at Cho, who beamed up at him, and the crowd only calmed down again when Bagman gestured toward the lake with his wand and bellowed, "And here's another one!"

Ginny hardly had time to feel hopeful for Harry's sake before Bagman continued with a booming laugh, "And it's not hard to tell who this is - can't miss that bit of Transfiguration - Viktor Krum!"

Sure enough, in the hush, Viktor Krum's shark-head pierced the water and he was revealed, only half-Transfigured, holding up Hermione Granger. Ginny leaned far forward on her seat, wanting to miss nothing. Katie patted her shoulder from behind and whispered, "Oh, good, she's fine." And Hermione seemed to be fine indeed - though the moment she gained consciousness she spat a mouthful of water into Krum's shark-face, and began to kick wildly in his arms, yelping when she finally had air enough to do so. It was all Krum could do not to drop her in the lake.

"Oh, now that's comedy," Fred muttered, speaking for the first time since Ginny had upbraided him.

"Wasn't expecting to see a shark in her face, I imagine," observed George, as Hermione continued to fight Krum with increasing intensity.

Professor Karkaroff sprinted up to Krum and raised his wand. In a moment, the shark-head had been restored to a human one and Hermione quit fighting as she realized her surroundings. Krum set her down and helped her off to a more isolated part of the shore. He hunched toward her and began to say something as Bagman roared, "Viktor Krum of Durmstrang is second to return with his hostage, and only three minutes outside the time limit! This is a close run!"

The crowd applauded almost as loudly for Krum as it had for Cedric - partly because his hostage had been a Hogwarts student and partly because many in the audience had seen Krum's magnificent performance in the Quidditch World Cup and couldn't help but cheer him now. Ginny, however, was frowning - why had Krum taken Hermione aside like that? Shouldn't they be up in the first aid area, getting blankets? Instead it looked as though they were having a very serious conversation - at least, Krum was. Hermione stared at him, not saying a word. Ginny itched to know what was happening and hoped Hermione would tell her later on. She hardly had a moment to think about it before she was interrupted by a horrible scream from the shallows near the judges' table.

"Fleur Delacour returns - without a hostage!" hollered Bagman at once, throwing the stands into an immediate and tense silence. Indeed, Fleur had returned alone- her Bubble-Head Charm had worn off and her hair was plastered across her face. She reached for her wand desperately and raised it - Ginny thought she might put a second charm on herself and dive under again to find her sister - but before she could finish, Madame Maxime had come up behind her and pinned Fleur's arms to her sides.

"No -" Fleur wailed, so despairingly that it carried across the water faintly. The crowd in the stands was breathlessly quiet, straining to hear her. "Please, let me go - Gabrielle will drown - ze grindylows attacked me - let me go -"

It struck Ginny at that moment that this task was not only morbid, but very, very cruel. "Somebody ought to tell her," she whispered fiercely. "Someone should say that her sister's in an enchanted sleep, or she'll go mad with worry!" Indeed, Fleur did seem to be losing her mind. She was doing hard battle with her Headmistress, fighting desperately to return to the water, though to no avail, since Madame Maxime was impossible to fight. Fleur's tears were growing more frightened by the second.

"They should tell her," agreed Fred vehemently. "That's wrong - to do that to someone's sister."

"Yeah," said George. "She thought she only had an hour and it's nearly seven minutes past, now." He paused. "I'd be going mad if I was her," he added quietly.

Ginny didn't look at them. She knew they were trying to make things right and she almost appreciated it, but there were more pressing matters at hand. It was seven past the hour and Harry had yet to be seen. Ginny braced herself for another round of teasing, but it couldn't be helped, she had to know. She turned to Katie and asked in a low voice, "How long does gillyweed last?"

Katie shook her head quite seriously and there was no sign of teasing, even in her eyes. "I don't know. Angie?"

Angelina shook her head as well. "No idea. But he's fine. He must be - it's Dumbledore."

Ginny nodded tensely and turned back to the water. He was fine. He must be. She repeated this over and over to herself as another minute crawled by, then two, then three. Finally, unable to contain herself a moment longer without physical restraint, she pulled her knees up under her chin with her feet on the seat, put her arms around her legs and hugged herself tightly. Another minute, she thought, and she'd explode. This was the worst kind of waiting she'd ever had to do.

Another thirty seconds... another minute.... another... the stands had gone utterly still - everyone seemed to be holding their breath for Harry. Ginny rocked herself back and forth, not caring how it looked. Bagman and the other judges were pacing along the shore, peering into the water. Percy was standing to the side, wringing his hands most unprofessionally. Hermione had separated herself from Krum and was pushing through the other hostages toward the lake, though Madam Pomfrey was holding her back by her blanket - when suddenly all activity at the shoreline stopped. Bagman had raised his arms in triumph.

"And finally - Harry Potter!" he shouted.

Ginny's cry was instantaneous - she let go of her legs and shot to her feet, grabbing the back of the seat in front of her and leaning forward as far as she could go. She couldn't see him yet. She opened her mouth to yell his name, but found that she couldn't - her throat had suddenly constricted - and, as Harry's face surfaced, her knees almost buckled with relief. He threw back his head and gasped for air as the crowd sent up a deafening cheer. Everyone had gotten to his or her feet by now - Fred and George hollered themselves hoarse, each with a hand shaking one of Ginny's shoulders. She just stood there between them, making no sound. She couldn't. Harry was safe.

So, thankfully, was Ron; Harry had dragged him to the surface by the neck of the robes and his head came up at almost the same time. Ron spat water out and then began to tread easily, grinning at Harry and then craning behind him to look at the roaring stands.

"Should've left him, Harry!" bellowed Fred.

"Put him back!" hollered George.

Ginny didn't say anything - her eyes were fixed on another hostage and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Ron wasn't the only person that Harry had retrieved from the depths of the lake. Under his other arm, Harry held a little blond girl tightly around the waist.

"Oh my goodness!" Ginny gasped, finally able to speak. "He brought - he brought Fleur's sister! He didn't leave her - he couldn't - oh - Harry -"

She felt both Fred and George turn their heads toward her, and though neither of them said a word, both of them nodded. Ginny wasn't sure what their meaning was - they might've been making fun of her - but she was too excited to care.

Down in the lake, everything was chaos. Harry took one of Gabrielle's hands and both he and Ron helped her to the shore. There, Percy threw himself on Ron, while Hermione flung herself at both of them together. Fleur Delacour made a mad dash toward Gabrielle, still sobbing, and dragged her to Madam Pomfrey where the tiny girl was immediately swathed in blankets. Cedric and Cho were still standing huddled together, looking shyly at each other. Dumbledore strode past them smiling and waded out into the lake, where he engaged in a Mermish conversation with what seemed to be a merperson of some authority.

Ginny was the first person to sit down again. It was over. She wouldn't have to feel this way again until the third task - Harry was safe until then, at least. For the next four months, she would just have to feel.... well, it didn't matter. She sighed softly.

"Wish he'd won, though," Angelina was saying as the other four sat down as well. "For Gryffindor's sake. But as it was a Hogwarts champion, I'm all right with it. Wonder what took him so long down there?"

"Whatever it was," said Katie, "it's a good thing that the gillyweed lasted over an hour, isn't it? Lucky."

"It almost didn't last," George said, shaking his head. "Didn't you see him gasping when he came up? I don't think he had any air left in him." He glanced at Ginny. "But I'm sure he was fine."

Fred shrugged. "'Course he was - he made it, didn't he? Probably just got held up by weeds, or a grindylow or something - that's what I expect - nothing too awful, right?" He looked carefully at Ginny. "Right?"

But Ginny, who had hardly been listening, shook her head absently. "He didn't get held up," she murmured, still looking out across the lake, watching Madam Pomfrey force a blanket around Harry, and one around Ron.

Angelina leaned in. "Got a theory, then?" she asked keenly. "I'd like to hear it." She didn't sound like she was joking. Ginny turned and searched her eyes for a moment, then decided to risk continuing. Angelina and Katie knew everything now, after all. She could hardly embarrass herself further at this point.

"Well..." Ginny said slowly "...the champions didn't know that the hostages would be safe at the end of an hour, did they? So I think... I think Harry waited to make sure Fleur would come, and then when she didn't, he couldn't see leaving her sister there.... so he brought Gabrielle along, too." She looked into her lap. "I think that's what took him so long," she muttered, knowing she must be blushing. She could hardly have painted a more heroic picture of Harry, she knew, and she probably sounded like a silly schoolgirl.

But to her surprise, no one made a move to tease her. Instead, George put an arm around her shoulders. "More credit than he deserves," he said gruffly, "but we'll see if you're right."

"And if you're not, and it was the grindylows after all," said Fred, throwing an arm around her as well, "five sickles to me. Wager?" He grinned at Ginny. She grinned back, though on the other side of her, George was groaning.

"No bets, Fred," he muttered, "Can't afford 'em right now."

Ginny turned to smile broadly at George as well, glad as anything to be through fighting with them. She was only mildly embarrassed when the twins called, "Sandwich!" over her head and squashed her between them with sudden ferocity. She giggled and gasped, "Stop - stop - I can't breathe -" But they only agreed to quit torturing her when she made a sound of true protest.

"Well really!" she said, furiously - and it had nothing to do with the twins. Across the lake, Fleur Delacour had flown at Harry and kissed him flamboyantly on both cheeks. Her hair had somehow dried perfectly already, and it was shimmering even under the weak sun. Harry went red and Ginny felt even more jealous than she had of Cho Chang, at the Yule Ball.

"That's quite a thank you," said Angelina sarcastically.

"Ugh, the French," said Katie, with distaste.

"Hey, Harry!" called Fred. "You prat!" He turned to his sister. "I don't care what kind of hero he is - you don't go near him," he commanded, as George muttered something about public displays of affection being sick and wrong.

Ginny didn't know how, but instead of making her blush, everyone's defensiveness made her feel ten times better. She threw back her head, determined not to mind Harry for another moment, and was immediately distracted by a very annoying sight.

"Oh no!" cried George "She's kissed Ron as well!"

"He won't shut up about this one for a month," groaned Fred. "Kissed by a veela."

Sure enough, a very overexcited Fleur had descended on Ron and kissed both his cheeks as well, while, next to him, Hermione's face registered exactly what Ginny had felt a moment before. She sighed in sympathy for her friend. Boys were such idiots.

But there wasn't any time to dwell on that - Ludo Bagman had just raised his voice again to announce the conclusions of the task. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our decision. Merchieftainess Murcus has told us exactly what happened at the bottom of the lake, and we have therefore decided to award marks out of fifty for each of the champions, as follows..."

Everyone grew quiet to listen, bursting into applause after each champion's name was spoken, along with the number of points he or she had earned. Fleur earned twenty-five, Cedric took the lead with forty-seven, and Krum came in with forty. Bagman took a deep breath after announcing all this, and continued with a look of pride on his face.

"Harry Potter used gillyweed to great effect," he shouted into the February air. A thrill of anticipation shot through Ginny and she shivered, forgetting her promise not to mind Harry anymore. It didn't matter how many points he'd been awarded - all that mattered was his safe return, and that had happened. Still, she couldn't help hoping he'd place well...

"He returned last," Bagman continued, "and well outside the time limit of an hour. However, the Merchieftainess informs us that Mr. Potter was first to reach the hostages, and that the delay in his return was due to his determination to return all hostages to safety, not merely his own."

Fred and George elbowed Ginny simultaneously, while Katie and Angelina both nudged her from behind.

"Right in one, Ginny!" George grinned at her.

"Yeah, you win - but you'll have to do without those sickles," joked Fred.

"You must get good marks in Divination," Katie teased.

But the best moment for Ginny was Angelina's voice, whispering close to her ear, "You've got the measure of him, haven't you?" Ginny went pink and her heart sang. She'd been right - she knew him - and he was everything she'd ever expected.

"Most of the judges," here Bagman shot a particularly nasty look at Professor Karkaroff, "feel that this shows moral fiber and merits full marks. However... Mr. Potter's score is forty-five points."

Ginny clapped her hands together instinctively and around her, the Gryffindors burst into wild cheers and applause. Forty-five points put Harry at a tie with Cedric - the Hogwarts champions were neck and neck for first place in the Triwizard Tournament - even all the way across the lake, Ginny thought she could see Harry shining. She shone back at him as hard as she could

"The third and final task will take place at dusk on the twenty-fourth of June. The champions will be notified of what is coming precisely one month before hand. Thank you all for your support of the champions."

Ludo Bagman tapped his throat with his wand, and his voice returned to a normal pitch. The crowd in the stands began to break up and filter back up to the castle. On either side of Ginny, her brothers stretched and stood up, chatting idly with Katie and Angelina as the four of them descended from their seats and climbed back up the lawn toward Hogwarts. Ginny lagged behind them somewhat, looking backwards occasionally to see if Harry had come back around the lake yet. She wanted to tell him congratulations, though she doubted she could do it without humiliating herself. Perhaps it would be better not to speak to him at all.

"Who're you checking up on?" The question startled Ginny, who had been looking over her shoulder again - George had dropped back to walk next to her without her noticing. She shook her head.

"Just looking for Ron," she lied quickly, looking away from him as they entered the castle. But there was no escape - Fred had appeared on her other side, looking impish.

"Still worried about ickle Ronniekins, eh?" he chided, as they crossed the entrance hall together. "I dunno if I believe that.... d'you George?"

George peered at his sister, a grin twisting at his lips. "Nope. Definitely not. But I've got a theory on who it might be..."

Ginny sighed. So nothing was going to change after all. She supposed she should've expected it.

"Right," she said wearily, trudging up the steps toward Gryffindor. "Ginny likes Harry, ha ha ha - can't we just drop it now?"

"Oh, no!" said Fred, pretending shock.

"That'd never do," George confided, tickling her a little.

"What would we do for fun?" Fred demanded, throwing up his hands.

"Get girlfriends," Ginny retorted. She stopped before the portrait hole, crossing her arms across her chest to glare at the two of them icily. Fred and George stared at her a moment, then burst into laughter at the same time.

"Reckon we might, at that!" Fred cried.

"Regular little smart-mouth, you are," said George delightedly, giving her a light jab on the arm. He nodded and turned to the Fat Lady. "So, how about it?" he asked, bowing. "Got a boyfriend these days, O mistress of Gryffindor Tower?"

The Fat Lady looked appalled. "That is hardly the password," she sniffed.

Ginny shook her head. "Don't listen to them," she said comfortingly. "I don't. Puffapod." The Fat Lady sniffed again, but swung open accordingly at the password, and as Ginny moved to climb through it, each of her brothers offered her a hand.

She took both.

 

FIN

 

//
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