"In choosing the one you love, don’t choose the one you can live with, but the one you can’t live without.”
"The Gryffindor team consists of Potter's best friend, Potter's girlfriend, and Potter's roommate. So much for partiality from the team captain..."
Ginny, as she mounted her broom, glared at Zacharias Smith. She dearly wished she could crash into him and wipe that smug smirk off his face, but she'd already done that once before. Professor McGonagall was onto her. Best not to push her luck.
On the ground, Draco ground his teeth. Potter's girlfriend indeed. Ex-girlfriend. What he'd give to lock Smith wandless in a closet with a Boggart. He glowered at the Hufflepuff commentator. Smith's greatest fear was probably a cockroach or something moronic like that.
"Ra-ven-claw. Ra-ven-claw," the Slytherins around him chanted. Not out of any great love for the Ravenclaws, but because their chances for the House Cup were greatly increased if the Gryffindors lost the match.
As one, the Gryffindor team rose into the air. Harry flew beside Ginny, leaning close to whisper something to her. She bent her head towards him to listen. Her hair was pulled back into a tight, no-nonsense bun, but a few stray strands had escaped, fluttering wispily across her face.
Automatically, Harry tucked the strands behind her ear. "Give 'em hell, Ginny."
She grinned, thinking with faint wistfulness that she would have considered his big-brotherly gesture wonderfully romantic a year ago. "You bet."
Harry smiled, then flew off to shake hands with the Ravenclaw team captain.
Below them, Draco seethed. He had been starting to think that Potter was a fine bloke under all that self-sacrificial hero crap, but now he saw that his first impression was right. Potter was actually just a moron with messy hair masquerading as a martyr for gullible girls like Ginny –
He tore his eyes away from Ginny, irritated. She was nothing. How had he gotten himself in so deep?
"What's wrong?" Goyle grunted next to him.
Draco blinked. Had Goyle actually perceived the expression on his face and decoded it to mean that something was wrong? Goyle was denser than the Forbidden Forest. You had to parade it in front of him to make him understand. And even then he probably wouldn't.
"Yeah, what's wrong?" Crabbe asked, joining in.
Draco sighed. First Goyle, now Crabbe. Was he that obvious? Next thing you knew they wouldn't be copying their assignments from him anymore.
"Nothing," he muttered.
For the rest of the game, he deliberately kept his eyes on the Ravenclaws, cheering them on. Although it was an effort to boo instead of laugh when a Bludger hit by a Gryffindor Beater accidentally knocked out Zacharias Smith, forcing Luna Lovegood to take the commentator's stand.
The crowd waited expectantly. On the rare occasions that she was given a chance to commentate, Luna never failed to entertain.
Ron bungled a save and let out a roar of frustration.
Luna looked at him. "Weasley seems to be afflicted with the Rogabibiky Ruckus," she said seriously into the mike.
"What's a Rigobakiky Ruckus?" someone shouted amidst the laughter. Even Ron, in the air, seemed to be laughing.
Luna appeared to be honestly shocked. "It's famous! The Rogabibiky Ruckus, named after Roga Bibiky, who first made use of it, is a –"
"Lovegood," Professor McGonagall interrupted, her tone hovering between amused and exasperated, "If you don't cease that prattle about nonexistent afflictions and start commentating on the game –"
A cheer rose up, drowning out whatever the Transfiguration teacher had been about to say. Ravenclaw had scored again. 50-50.
In the end, despite a heroic effort by Ravenclaw that managed to gain them a lead of 20 points, the Gryffindors won, thanks to Harry. His spectacular dive for the snitch, his toes actually brushing the ground before he pulled up, had brought the Gryffindors to their feet, stamping and cheering. A group of third years unfurled a "Go Potter" banner and set off fireworks, bought from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
"You'd think it was the bloody House Cup, the way they're carrying on," Draco grumbled. Ginny and Potter had just flung their arms around each other in celebration. Annoyed, he raked his hand through his hair and got up.
"What?" Crabbe and Goyle grunted at the same time.
"What do you expect?' Blaise Zabini appeared beside him, smirking. "I mean, from people who set off fireworks in broad daylight. It's like using the Lumos spell in a well-lit room."
Draco laughed; glad that he would have someone else to talk to besides Crabbe and Goyle. At least for the moment. Crabbe and Goyle were unbeatable in terms of loyalty, but still, it was good to be with someone who could actually carry on a decent conversation. Zabini could be a bit vain sometimes, but Draco rather thought he'd be vain, too, if he looked like Zabini. He had that tall-dark-and-handsome thing going for him, all high cheekbones and intense eyes. Pansy was always ogling him when she thought Draco wasn't looking.
They began walking together back to the castle. The conversation turned to Quidditch, a subject which animated both boys. Zabini said that there was a new broom coming out, supposedly even better than the Firebolt, called Quitarol.
"Quitarol? Strange name," said Draco.
"Q.T.A.R.O.L. originally," Zabini explained. "The owner said it stands for Quicker Than A Ray Of Light."
The two of them laughed. "I wish. Not even Potty can beat something that moves faster than the speed of light," said Draco. "But it won't come cheap. I bet the broom costs a bloody fortune."
Suddenly, Zabini gave a short laugh, his dark eyes gleaming as they fixed on something in the distance. "Yeah. Nothing she could afford."
Draco turned. Ginny and Potter were walking together back to the castle, laughing and chatting. He felt an irrational spasm of anger at Zabini's arrogance, which he swiftly quenched.
And as to his initial reaction to the sight of the easy intimacy between the two Gryffindors... well, he didn't even want to think about that. Where were Weasley and Granger, anyway?
"She's not only poor, she comes from that crazy family," said Zabini contemptuously. "Purebloods, but they seem to exclusively befriend Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers. That girl is one of the worst. All she does is follow Potter around."
Draco inhaled, and made himself nod.
"At any rate," Zabini went on, "even if by some miracle she got her hands on a Quitarol, she probably couldn't handle it."
Finally, unable to stop himself, Draco spoke up, more loudly than he had intended. "I think she could."
Zabini blinked, taken aback. "Er – what?" Right then, he sounded remarkably like Crabbe and Goyle. And those two were looking askance at Draco too, surprised at his sudden defense of Ginny Weasley.
Draco turned away to hide his flush. He tried to salvage the situation. "I mean, she's not exactly a bad flier. You don't have to be Krum to fly a broom, even if it's a Quitarol." They didn't look convinced. Hastily he added, infusing as much arrogance as he could into his tone, "And after all, Weasley beat me once." His tone said, if you can beat me, you're bloody well good enough to handle any broom.
It worked on Crabbe and Goyle. Forgetting about Ginny, they settled down and started comparing muscles again, but Zabini was studying Draco shrewdly.
"What is it?" Draco asked defensively.
The other boy shook his head and said nothing. Harry and Ginny entered the castle. Zabini, Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle were a few steps behind them. To Draco's relief, Zabini turned the conversation back to the Quitarol.
But once they were inside the Slytherin common room, Zabini said casually, "Pansy says you've been ignoring her lately."
Draco gave him a sharp look. "So?" Inwardly he winced at Zabini's astuteness. Sometimes he forgot that the Slytherin was more than just a pretty face.
"I'm just wondering who's taken Pansy's place," said Zabini.
Draco was considering how to respond to that when a shout interrupted their conversation. "Hey, Malfoy, Zabini!" A group of younger students called to the popular seventh-years, inviting them to join their game of Exploding Snap.
Saved! "Guess we'd better humor them," said Draco instantly, ready to escape Zabini's offhand probing.
Zabini's smile, tinged with amused tolerance, lit up his handsome features. "Yeah, I guess we'd better."
They made their way over to the younger students. As Draco played, he mulled over the benefits of friends like Crabbe and Goyle, and friends like Zabini.
Ginny, carrying a bottle of ink and a quill, finally decided to start working on the mountain of homework she had neglected for Quidditch practice. She was smiling, still euphoric at their victory over Ravenclaw. She had just settled down in a cozy spot in front of the fire when Hermione suddenly sat down beside her.
"Ron and I have broken up," said Hermione without preamble.
For a moment Ginny didn't react. Then it registered, and she knocked over the bottle of ink, her mouth forming a soundless "What?" as she turned to face Hermione.
Hermione pulled out her wand. With a wave she righted the mess, then she met the Ginny's eyes, her own tired and sad. "He hasn't told you yet?"
Ginny shook her head, lost for words.
"I suppose he told Harry first," said Hermione quietly.
Finally Ginny found her voice. "Oh, Hermione..." She leaned forward and gave Hermione a hug, which the older girl gratefully accepted. Ginny felt tears soaking her shoulders.
After a moment Hermione pulled away, swiping at her eyes. Ginny had never seen such pain and confusion in her eyes before. She reached out and clasped her hand, gently asking, "What happened?"
"Ron and I have been arguing a lot lately," said Hermione, her voice shaky, "But I didn't think..." she trailed off, pulling away from Ginny to bury her face in her hands. "Oh, I don't know!"
Ginny sat quietly, letting Hermione cry for awhile. She looked around the common room, but Harry and Ron were nowhere in sight.
She was about to ask Hermione if she wanted to sleep when the portrait door swung open. Professor McGonagall clambered ungracefully in, and she spotted them immediately. "Weasley, Granger," she began, marching towards them.
When she saw the expression on Hermione's face, she stopped. "What's wrong?"
"N-n-nothing, Professor," Hermione sniffled. This was obviously a lie, but Professor McGonagall decided not to question it.
"Remus Lupin has just informed me that Potter wrote him a letter, asking him to ask me for permission to let the four of you visit Nymphadora," said the Transfiguration professor briskly. "That means you two, along with Potter and Weasley. I have decided to allow you, on the condition that you return to Hogwarts by lunchtime tomorrow. You may skip your morning classes, but not your afternoon ones. You may use my fireplace to leave first thing tomorrow morning."
Ginny and Hermione exchanged guilty looks. What with the Quidditch match and Ron and Hermione's break-up, they had almost forgotten about Tonks. "Thanks, Professor," said Ginny. "We'll tell Ron and Harry – I mean, I will," she hastily amended, seeing the stricken look on Hermione's face.
"Very well," said Professor McGonagall. "I shall see you tomorrow, then." She hesitated, looking closely at Hermione, then she turned and left the common room.
Ginny started to say something, but Hermione quieted her with a gesture. She motioned around them. To Ginny's surprise, almost everyone in the room was stealing covert glances at the two of them. Professor McGonagall's arrival had drawn attention to them, and they looked curious as to what Hermione was crying about.
"Nothing to see," Ginny said loudly, glaring at everyone who met her eyes. "Just two girls gossiping –"
"It's all right," Hermione interrupted, sighing. Wearily she said, "I need some rest, anyway. I just wanted to let you know."
Ginny wondered where her brother was, and if this was his fault. She'd make him sorry if it was! To Hermione she said, "We'll talk after we get back from visiting Tonks, okay?"
Hermione nodded, standing up. Then she left.
Ginny turned back to her homework, but she could no longer concentrate.
She wondered if Ron was as miserable as Hermione was.
"We're done with Lupin," said Bitter Wand, sounding satisfied. "Word has it that Tonks is getting worse."
"Then it seems you are forgiven, Shadow." Dark Moon's tone was unreadable.
"He was number eight," said Howling Night. "Nine is Kingsley Shacklebolt. Ten is Alastor Moody. Eleven is Rufus Scrimgeour. Twelve is –"
"That's enough for now," Dark Moon interrupted. "Let us concentrate on the problem at hand. How shall we punish Shacklebolt?"
"We should hurt him directly," said Danaya.
For a moment the five Death Eaters were silent, considering how best to attack a wizard as powerful as Shacklebolt. Then Dark Moon spoke, coldly.
"Shadow shall do it," he said. Beside Danaya, Shadow stiffened.
Howling Moon spoke up. "I think Bitter Wand should assist him." He looked at Bitter Wand, who was glaring furiously at him. "You and Shadow have been at odds for a while now. We cannot afford that."
"I agree," said Dark Moon.
Danaya spoke woodenly. "That settles it, then."
Bitter Wand clenched his fists, but he said nothing.
Shadow smiled. It was a hard smile, joyless, cold and flat. "This should be interesting."
A/N: See y’all next chapter, when it comes… which may be a while…
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