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The Loo III: Muggle Studies

Disclaimer: We are the worm. J.K. Rowling is the spice.

When we last left our heroes...well, it's several hours after we last left our heroes...

Ginny was walking out of Astronomy, half-asleep, when the voice of Wendy Ledford woke her out of her stupor. "Weasley!"

Ginny paused, and hitched her books more firmly on her hip.

"What?"

Wendy appeared to be overcome by a fit of the giggles. Not for the first time Ginny wished that she didn't have Astronomy with the Slytherins. Some of the girls were sickening. Wendy, in particular, always seemed to be quoting Draco Malfoy. She suppressed a yawn. 1:30 in the morning was far too late to deal with smug Malfoy groupies. "Well, what then?" Ginny sighed.

"Do you know where your brother and his bushy haired girlfriend are?"

Ginny stared at her stonily.

"Better bushy haired than mean and stupid," she said coldly. "What are you on about, Wendy?"

Wendy attempted to ignore the insult, but her cheeks darkened. "I expect your brother will be expelled tomorrow. Just thought

I'd give you the glad tidings a couple of hours in advance." She said with poorly concealed glee. "Draco heard them talking in Potions this afternoon. Planning to sneak out tonight. Not exactly behavior becoming to a prefect." She made a great show of checking her watch. "Filch is probably dragging them up from the North Tower to the Headmaster's office about now." A nasty smirk blossomed on her face. "It's about time that Granger had her comeuppance, wouldn't you say?" But she spoke into the air. Ginny was already pelting down the halls toward Gryffindor Tower.

Ginny burst through the portrait hole and glanced around the empty common room. She had been hoping against hope that

Harry would be awake, even though it was a long shot at a quarter of two in the morning. Her mind went momentarily blank, seized with indecision. What to do now? She was running out of time, and she wouldn't be able to find them alone. Besides, she knew Fred and George had given him that old map of theirs. Harry would have to help and that meant one thing. She was going to have to go upstairs and wake him up. Absolutely against her will, she blushed.

Though she'd tried valiantly to think of anything but, Ginny had been unable to stop Myrtle's voice from running through her head. She'd been distracted all day, and had finally convinced herself that Myrtle must have been mistaken. Of course he liked her. She was his best mate's little sister. He had to like her. But he didn't like her like that. And didn't he tell Ron exactly that? Yes, he had. She'd been determined to put it in the back of mind and act like nothing was wrong.

Ron, of course, could always be counted on to exacerbate the situation. After Ginny's terrifically embarrassing disruption of the two of them in the library, he'd barely spoken to her for the rest of the day. That is, until dinner when he intercepted Harry before he could sit down next to her. Ron had proclaimed loudly that it was because he missed talking to his little sister and had then proceeded to ignore her for the rest of the dinner. Harry had given Ron a look and gone to sit across the table from them. Had it been her imagination, or had he looked at her too? She shook her head. The time had long since passed since she'd been misguided enough to try to interpret all of Harry Potter's actions.

She grimaced. What did it matter about stupid Ron and dinner? Another much more pressing issue was at hand-and it included a nighttime visit to Harry. She blushed again, deeper this time, wishing she hadn't thought of it that way. It was silly, really. All she had to do was go into the room and wake him up. She had five older brothers, and it wasn't as if anyone in there had anything she hadn't seen before. When they were little, she and Ron used to take baths together and it wasn't as if you could call Fred and George shy. And honestly, its not like he was going to be naked or anything...would he? She tried to push that mortifying thought out of her head. She was starting to lose her nerve. Then suddenly, she remembered Hermione and how humiliated she would be if Filch caught them. There wasn't any other way, right? It had to be done.

She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and marched over to the stairs leading up to the boy's dorm. Running up them silently, she hesitated for just a moment before pushing open the door. The room was dark and she realized in a moment of panic that she had no idea which bed was Harry's. She advanced cautiously down the center of the room, glancing from bed to bed. The curtains weren't drawn on the first bed, which contained a sleeping Dean Thomas. She peeked in the curtains of the second bed to find Seamus Finnegan snoring loudly and was approaching the third bed when something soft landed on her foot. Ginny slapped her hand over her mouth to contain the scream that rose in her throat and looked down to discover Neville's toad Trevor gazing up at her. She picked him and carried him along to the third bed. Neville's curtains weren't closed either and she placed Trevor gently on the pillow next to Neville's head. Ginny tensed as he sighed and turned over, muttering softly to himself. The last two bed were obviously Harry's and Ron's. She moved over to the closest one and pulled the curtains open a crack.

Harry was sprawled across the bed on his stomach, the coverlet and sheets tangled down at the bottom. To Ginny's dismay or delight, she couldn't tell, he was wearing only the bottom of his pajamas. She'd never seen him without his shirt on before, and her stomach gave a peculiarly pleasant lurch. It was so strange to see him like that, so entirely out of context with the way she usually pictured Harry. She knew she should hurry, knew they were running short on time, but she couldn't stop looking at him. His arms were wrapped around the pillow that cradled his head, and he slept silently. A shock of black hair had fallen over his forehead, completely obscuring the scar. She shivered. Ginny hated the scar. She'd hated it from the moment she heard the story of its creation. Ron had told her once that Harry didn't remember much from the night his parents died, just a flash of green light and Voldemort's terrible laughter. When he told her about Hagrid finding Harry amid the ruins of the house, she'd started to cry. She cried herself to sleep that night, unable to get the image of the Potter's ruined cottage out of her mind. And since then she'd hated the scar because of everything it had to represent to Harry. It must be a special kind of torture to wear the reminder of your parent's death on your forehead.

A sudden creaking from the far corner of the room jolted her out of her reverie. She heard the rustle of bedclothes and then...silence. And then an awful realization struck Ginny. She was standing in the boy's dorm in the middle of the night, staring at Harry Potter. The pleasant feeling in her stomach was rapidly replaced by a full body freeze. She knew exactly what it would look like, and she would never live it down. Especially if Fred and George found out, which of course they would, and Ron, oh Ron would have an attack...and Harry. She could imagine exactly what Harry would think and it was so awful that for a moment, she wondered if she might throw up right there. Of course, if she did that, the only recourse would be to move to America and live as a Muggle.

Ginny had almost decided to leave when she remembered Hermione. She knew she couldn't find them without the Map and she couldn't use the map without Harry so...she was just going to have to figure out how to wake him up and do it fast, before someone woke up and got the wrong idea. Just then a loud bass grunt broke the silence. Ginny started violently and acting purely on instinct to elude capture, leapt through the crack in the curtains, narrowly avoiding landing on top of Harry's feet. It took her a moment to fully comprehend that she'd just leapt into Harry's bed, and then another moment to realize that she'd been flipped onto her back, hands pinned above her head.

She heard, "Lumos," and then the small space was filled with a soft light. Harry was sitting on top of her, holding his wand in one hand and her wrists in another. "Ginny?" he whispered, the shock on his face unmistakable.

"Um, Harry? Could you...um-" She glowed scarlet, and tried to move out from underneath him.

"Oh, god. I'm sorry." He let go of instantly, and moved toward the end of the bed. "I'm really sorry." He flushed. "I didn't mean to..." he paused awkwardly,

"or anything." Then his face changed as the obvious seemed to occur to him. "Hey- what are you doing up here in the boy's dormitory?"

"Oh Harry, I'm sorry I came in here, but we have to go find Ron and Hermione."

His face looked very puzzled. She hurried to explain. "Malfoy heard them talking today, and he knows they were planning to sneak out tonight. He's told Filch already. Look, Harry, I know you have that old map of Fred and George's- I've known about it for ages. I just thought-"

Harry was already off the bed and rummaging through his trunk. Ginny slid off the bed quickly. "I'll just wait for you down in the common room, shall I?" He nodded absently, and Ginny silently hurried out of the room and down the stairs, her heart pounding. Had she really done that? She couldn't seem to catch her breath properly.

**********

Harry rummaged quickly through his trunk, snatching up the map and his Invisibility Cloak. He turned to run down to the common room, and was halfway to the door when he realized he was wearing only his pajama bottoms. For the first time, he realized that Ginny had seen him like that. The oddest sensation swept over him, but there was no time to think about it. He ran back to his four-poster and quickly pulled on a T-shirt and jeans before running down into the common room. Ginny was pacing nervously back in forth in front of the fire, her face very pale.

For a long moment, they just looked at each other, and dull crimson swept up both their faces. Harry seemed to have more limbs than usual, and he didn't know what to do with any of them. He shuffled on his feet for a moment, and then said, "Er, look, Ginny. There's no reason for both of us to go. I mean, I've got the map and everything, and I probably know where they're going, so why don't you just, er…" She let him get no further.

"I'm not going to sit here and wait!" She hissed. "You'll need a look out, won't you. I wish everyone would stop trying to nudge me in the corner until the danger's over." Harry opened his mouth to say something conciliatory, but she raised her hand to stop him. "I'm coming. Now let's go." She swiveled resolutely, and headed toward the portrait hole. He had never seen her this resolute, and he wasn't going to be the one to tell her no. She was apparently prepared to charge through the corridors without him if he didn't follow.

"Ginny, wait." She stopped, plainly prepared to continue arguing her point. "No, it's- You see, I've got this other thing that comes in useful for stuff like this." He produced the long silvery cloak from his pocket. Ginny stepped forward, fascinated.

"It's an Invisibility Cloak," Harry explained quickly.

"I've never seen one before," she breathed.

He handed it to her. "We should probably put it on before we leave Gryffindor tower. It'll cover us both, no problem." He felt a choking sensation in his throat as if his entire body was trying to take back those words. What was he thinking? He couldn't run around Hogwarts with Ginny underneath the same cloak. He could barely be in the same room with her without experiencing a complete breakdown of higher motor functions. But it was hardly her fault that she was pretty and funny and Ginny. Besides, she was already shaking out the cloak.

"Do you know where they were supposed to be headed?" Harry asked, pulling out the map.

"Wendy said something about the North Tower," she offered.

Harry touched his wand to the map and recited, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." Ginny watched the ink lines blossom over the parchment in amazement.

"That's the whole castle and everyone in it? That's the most useful thing I've ever seen." She reached out to touch the small dot labeled "Virginia Weasley."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. He was scanning it quickly, looking for Ron and Hermione. They didn't seem to be in the North Tower, nor to his great relief, Filch's office. He finally located them in a part of the castle he had never been in. "D'you know where that is?" he asked Ginny.

"Sure," she said immediately. "That's the Muggle Studies classroom. That's a good place to pick, actually. It's close enough to a couple different staircases for a quick getaway, but pretty far from the teacher's offices."

Harry blinked. It sounded as if she had put some study into this question. Who was she sneaking out in the middle of the night with? Whoever it was, Harry hated him.

"Harry, we've got to hurry. How do you get this thing on?" She was struggling with the folds of the cloak.

"Here," he offered. He stepped as close to her as he could get without touching, and swirled the cloak over them both.

The familiar feel of the swishing fabric fell over his shoulders, and he felt Ginny give a small shiver. It gave Harry pause. How many times had he, Ron and Hermione used this cloak? Probably more than he could count, it had become such a part of his life at Hogwarts, and yet it was an entirely new experience to Ginny. He felt a small pang of regret, but he wasn't fully sure about what. "Let's go." He started to move toward the portrait hole, but stopped as he felt the cloak pull slightly.

"I guess I'm not as used to walking underneath this thing as you are," she offered. "Is there some trick I don't know about?"

He shook his head. "No, not really. We just have to stay close together and...um." His voice trailed off. With a burst of courage that appeared out of nowhere, he reached over and grabbed her hand. Much to Harry's relief, she didn't say anything. They moved toward the hole and clambered out, coming out into the empty corridor.

"Which way is it?" he whispered. "I've never been to the Muggle Studies classroom."

"It's this way," she whispered back, pulling him down the hall to the left. "It really pleased Dad when I said I would take it, he's been trying to get one of the boys to do it for years. I promised him I'd give him Muggle lessons this summer." Harry smiled; imagining Ginny in Mr. Weasley's shed teaching him about plugs and fellytones. His smile faltered a little as he imagined how

Mr. Weasley would feel about Harry sneaking through Hogwarts at 2 am under an Invisibility Cloak, holding the hand of his daughter. He tried to push Mr. Weasley from his mind. He followed Ginny as she led him down another staircase and around several turns.

It did make maneuvering under the cloak easier when you were holding hands, but Harry was quite certain that Ginny was the only Weasley whose hand he was ever going to hold. He found he quite liked having Ginny's small, strong hand in his, even though it seemed to occupy most of his attention. His entire body buzzed pleasantly.

They turned up a narrow staircase half hidden behind a squat statue of smug, chubby little wizard. According to the large plaque affixed to the base, he was named Humberto the Unbeatable, hero of the 6th Goblin Rebellion. "This goes straight up to the fourth floor, and the Muggle Studies classroom is just down the hall." Ginny whispered close to his ear. Not that there was much choice. There had never been so little room under this cloak before, not even when he, Hermione, Ron and Scabbers had crammed underneath it.

They had just reached a small landing when from below them they heard Filch's voice from the corridor below them. "Peeves!

I’ve got you this time! Short-sheeting the headmaster’s bed! I’ll have you booted out of this castle by morning!"

"Not Peeves! Not Peeves!" The poltergeist shrieked. Harry and Ginny froze. That voice sounded uncomfortably close. Don’t turn up this staircase, please, please, Harry chanted in his head. Even if no one could see them, they could still hear them, and this was a very narrow stair.

Peeves was chuckling maniacally, and from the sound of it, hovering just around the statue of Humberto. "What’s the fastest way out of here?" Harry asked Ginny in a barely audible whisper.

"There isn’t one," she replied in the same hushed tone. "This staircase goes directly up to the fourth floor. It doesn’t let off on any of the others." They were standing side by side now, flat up against the wall of the landing. If Peeves was coming up this way, it was the best they could do. There was at least a chance he’d zoom past if they stayed on landing, but there was no way they could be missed if they got caught on the stairs.

"Peeves!" Filch’s anguished howl reverberated against the stone walls. "Peeves!" To Harry’s horror, he heard Filch’s footsteps start to ascend the stairs at a run. "Ruddy bloody poltergeist," Filch’s muttering was getting closer. "Every time…every time…just shoots right up through the ceiling."

Harry and Ginny were frozen to the wall, as small as they could make themselves. The clattering of Filch’s feet was getting louder and louder, and any moment he would round the corner and be visible just below them. Just then, Peeves’ unmistakable voice could be heard back in the corridor below them. "Peeves ain’t up there, Filchy!" He crowed, obviously delighted to have gotten one up on Filch. "Peeves didn’t go nowhere!"

Filch had just come around the corner, panting, but he stopped abruptly at the sound of Peeves’ voice. He burst out, "Ruddy bloody poltergeist!" one last time, and then turned on his heel and clattered back down the steps.

Harry heaved an enormous sigh of relief, and next to him, he could hear Ginny doing the same. As if they could read each other’s thoughts, they grabbed hands again and bolted up the stairs as quickly and silently as possible. They erupted into the corridor at the top of the steps, and Ginny tugged him to the right.

"There it is," she said, and moved down toward the end of a small hallway. The large wooden door was closed and loomed high above them. They stood there for a moment, collecting their breath and waiting for their hearts to slow. That had been very close.

Harry looked around the hallway and pulled the cloak off of them both. They stood there for a moment in the faint light, undecided. Now that they were here, how were they to go about fetching them? Opening the door and walking in wasn't tempting in the slightest.

Ginny pressed her ear against the door. She listened for a moment, biting her bottom lip in concentration, and shook her head as she straightened. "I don't hear anybody in here. D'you think that we've missed them? You'd better check the map again, Harry." He pulled it out of his pocket, and searched it quickly for two small dots labeled Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger.

Sure enough, there they were, located in the corner of the Muggle Studies classroom, with two dots just outside the door marked Virginia Weasley and Harry Potter.

"Yeah, they're in there, all right, " he said a trifle grimly. She looked relieved, and started to give Harry a small smile. He tried to return it, but couldn't. Harry wasn't taking the silence as a good sign at all. Sure, Ron and Hermione hadn't been caught by

Filch yet. But all that meant was the job was now left to Harry and Ginny-a task he was not looking forward to. In fact, he realized that he'd almost rather face another Hungarian Horntail than to interrupt...that. He grimaced, and pushed the hair out of his eyes as he made a mental note to give Ron a good kick to the shins at the first opportunity.

Ginny's smile faltered. "What is it?" she whispered. An uncomfortable wave of awkwardness washed over him and he suddenly felt very stupid. Harry wasn't exactly sure how to respond. After all, didn't she realize why the room was so quiet? She had to have an idea what was going on in there...didn't she? She couldn't have come all this way thinking that Ron and Hermione were somewhere having a nice chat!

He cleared his throat. "Well. Um, why do YOU think it's so quiet in there?" He nodded vigorously toward the closed door. "I thought you knew...what was going on with them...and...well..." Oh, this was even worse than anything he'd imagined. There wasn't a shade of red that hadn't paraded across his face and he felt his left eye actually begin to twitch. Harry cleared his throat nervously and stared up at the ceiling. "I'm not really sure how to explain it..."

Harry gave up. Perhaps the less said the better, but he sincerely wished for a convenient trap door to open up. It wasn't that he had deluded himself into thinking he was never going to have to see Ron and Hermione kiss, but to have it happen like this, and Ginny... she was standing right next to him and he was thinking about kissing. He was thinking about kissing, and handholding and absent pajama tops and he couldn't seem to stop. He rested his hot forehead against the cold stone wall for a moment. As long as he didn't actually touch her, he thought, he might be ok.

"Harry? Is something wrong?" Dimly, he realized that Ginny had been trying to talk to him for some time. "Harry?" And she laid her hand on his forearm to get his attention.

Her touch was light and unexpected and startled him so much that he whirled around, knocking them both off balance. His back slammed into the wall as Ginny fell into his arms. Instinctively, he closed his arms around her waist. Her hands, which had flown up to break her fall, were now resting on his chest. She turned her head up and looked straight at him. Harry's head was filled with a strange buzzing and somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered if she could feel his heart hammering under her small hand. He knew he should let go, but he couldn't. He wasn't ready to let her go yet. Of course, he'd imagined this situation before, but it had never been like this. This...this was startling. It was as if something inside his head had switched on. All of the awkwardness and uncertainty were gone now and all that existed was Ginny. It didn't matter, any of it, except the two of them, standing together.

He stared down into her eyes and wondered how long it would be before she noticed he hadn't let go. A moment later, she noticed for the first time her hands resting on Harry's chest. She pulled them back quickly, blushing, and attempted to move away from him. But he tightened his hold around her waist and pulled her closer. Ginny's head snapped up and their eyes connected. Her lips parted slightly and he couldn't stop himself, nothing could stop it now. Slowly, he leaned toward her, the rushing in his ears becoming louder and louder until he was almost touching her lips and SNAP! The noise, whatever it was, echoed through the hall. Harry and Ginny jumped apart, startled. He quickly threw the cloak over them, not daring to look at her.

He'd run away if he could, he really would, he thought. He'd never been so intensely mortified in his entire life. What did he think he was doing? Had he completely lost his senses? Yes, that was exactly what had happened. He'd lost his senses, and they might be gone for good, because all he could think about was that she was only inches away, still within kissing range.

She was completely motionless underneath the cloak with him. What was she thinking? He had to know. But the silence between them was growing longer and longer, and he didn't know how to break it. Just as he was contemplating chucking it all and going for it, her voice broke the stillness.

"What was that? Do you think that it's gone now?

Harry started. It took him a moment to figure out what she meant. "Er- I guess I should check," he whispered. He pulled themap back out of his pocket and thrust his hand outside the cloak. If anyone walked down the corridor, all they'd see a disembodied hand clutching a bit of parchment. He peered at it in the semi-darkness. "It doesn't look like anyone's around. Filch is still roaming around by the North Tower. " He unwound the cloak from around her, revealing her breathless and a bit mussed. He still couldn't meet her eyes.

"Should we knock first, do you think?" she asked. Harry desperately tried to control his breathing. He thought he might start to hyperventilate. He didn't know whether to be relieved that she didn't sound as bad off as he was or deeply upset. How could she act like nothing happened? He'd almost kissed her, and he'd thought, just for a moment, that she was entirely willing to be kissed.

Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation washed over him. Here he was, sneaking through the castle in the middle of the night trying to catch his best friends making out before Filch did. And to top it all off, he was being forced to do it with the girl he'd most like to sneak off and kiss. What a bizarre form of torture- he began to see the twisted humor in it.

"What I think is that we should go back under the cloak and give them the scare of their lives. They deserve it, making us chase them around the castle at 2:30 in the morning. And them prefects." Harry said. His sense of humor was returning, and with it, a desire for a bit of payback.

"Should we?" Ginny's eyes were sparkling with mischief. "I don't know, Harry. I mean, it's too late for me, but your eyes are still innocent. There's still a chance for you to avoid permanent psychological damage." The relief Harry felt was enormous. He could do this if they could just ignore what almost happened. Maybe she felt the same way- regardless, Harry was profoundly grateful she was playing along.

Harry grinned widely. "And how did you sustain this permanent damage, Ginny?"

She hesitated a moment. "I walked in on them in the library this afternoon," she confessed. "I'd rather not repeat that experience if at all possible." She started to giggle. "And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't live through it a second time. I thought Ron was going to club me." She shook her head and dissolved into noiseless mirth, obviously reliving the look on Ron's face.

Harry started to laugh, too. There was more than a bit of hysteria mixed with his great, heaving silent chuckles. It was such a relief, such an outlet for all the embarrassment and mixed-up emotions he'd been bombarded with this evening, that he found himself unable to stop. "Ok, here's what we're going to do," he said when he could draw a breath. "We're going to check the map one more time and see how close those two dots are from each other." Ginny snorted again, and they were both swept away on another debilitating bout of laughter. "And... and if," he drew a lungful of air with difficulty, "If we can see daylight between the dots, as it were," he struggled through to the end of the sentence, "We'll just walk in, ok?"

Tears were streaming down Ginny's face. "And if we can't?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Harry said firmly, and then lost control again.

Both of them were now leaning against the stone wall, unable to hold themselves upright. Harry couldn't remember anything being so funny in his entire life. "Ok, ok, ok." He said, more to calm himself than anything, and tried to read the map through the tears that had gathered in his eyes. Ginny leaned over his arm to get a peek. He blinked furiously to clear his eyes, and squinted.

"Is that one dot or two?" he said finally, and they both crumpled to a heap on the floor, shaking with uncontrollable giggles. He had developed a stitch in his side, and Ginny was doubled up next to him.

This was bad. He had to get a handle on himself. He heaved two deep breaths, stood up, and offered Ginny a hand. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and grasped it. Tingles shot from his hand through his entire body as he hauled her to her feet. It sobered him a little, enough at least to be able to think a bit.

"All right then," he said. He found himself unable to let go of her, so he kept talking, hoping she wouldn't notice. "What if we walk in backwards?" The silliness of this solution struck him the moment he uttered it, and they caught each other's eyes as they forced back another fit of laughter.

"I guess we'd better," Ginny finally choked. "Ok, let's go on the count of three, then." They positioned themselves just in front of the door, and Harry grasped the handle behind him. Still clasping hands, Ginny started the countdown.

"One...two...three." Harry turned the knob, pushed the door in behind him, and they started backing through the door. When they had cleared the doorframe, Harry announced their presence.

"Ron? Hermione? It's just us." Despite all his good intentions, a tremor of amusement tinged his voice.

"Come on kids, time to break it up," Ginny said in a dead-on impression of Mrs. Weasley. It was too much for Harry, and he lost it again. The utter absurdity of the situation hit him once more, and he was helpless to prevent the enormous guffaw that broke out of him. He simply couldn't control it. He felt very guilty that it was at his best friends' expense, and he knew that Hermione at least was going to be utterly mortified, but sod it all, it was funny. The fact that Ginny was still clutching his hand, wheezing with shared laughter, placed this as one of the highlights of his life. He knew there were going to be dire consequences for this moment of levity, but just couldn't care.

There was dead silence behind them for a moment, and then they heard a strangled squeak, obviously from Hermione. They shook harder. "Is it safe to turn around now?" Harry managed. Finally, Ron's voice boomed from behind them.

"You'd better damn well turn around now and tell us what the bloody hell you're doing here!" Ginny squeezed his hand more tightly and they both turned slowly. Harry had never been in the Muggle Studies classroom before, but he hadn't expected this.

In the center of the room there were desks like any other classroom, but the perimeter was filled with effluvia from the Muggle world. Microwaves, televisions and typewriters were stacked on tables. There was a refrigerator in the corner, and an entire telephone booth pushed against the back wall. By far the largest object in the room was an entire automobile, with the bonnet removed to show the engine. Hermione was still sitting in the back seat. For a moment, Harry wasn't sure he would be able to control himself, although he knew that more laughter would be the worst possible move. He looked up at Ron, and Harry's amusement died completely as he saw the expression on his face. He looked as if he could easily kill them with his bare hands, and Harry knew he had to head him off quickly.

"No, listen. I'm really sorry, but we had to come and find you," he said earnestly. "Malfoy overheard you two in Potions, and he tipped off Filch."

"It's true, Ron. Wendy Ledford told me just after Astronomy." Ginny chimed in. "I'm so sorry, Hermione. You know I never would have..."

Hermione's face was buried in her hands. Only the tips of her very red ears were visible. Ginny moved across the room and crouched by the car door. "Hermione, please. I don't blame you for being mad at me. That was mean, what I just did. I just didn't think about it before I said it."

"We brought the Marauder's Map and the cloak so that you can sneak back to Gryffindor," Harry said to Ron. Ginny was now talking very quietly to Hermione, and he thought it was best to let them be for a moment. He did feel extremely guilty. "If Filch catches you, you're done for as prefects."

Ron was still regarding him stonily. Harry was beginning to feel slightly irritated. Did Ron really think he got his jollies from wandering around the castle in the middle of the night to catch his best friends snogging?

"Hermione's crying." He said quietly, as if there would be retribution for this later. "You burst in here, acting like two year olds, and humiliated her."

Harry swallowed.

Ron's eyes narrowed. "And just what is Ginny doing with you, roaming around in the middle of the night?"

Harry could find no good answer to this. He didn't think "I can't say no to your little sister" would pacify Ron at all.

"Cozy under that Invisibility Cloak, isn't it?" Ron hissed. Harry could feel his face getting very hot. He didn't know where to look. He hoped that Ginny was too busy with Hermione to pay attention to what was happening on the other side of the room.

"Ah, but you don't like her, like her, do you?" He mocked.

Harry was getting very angry. He was sorry they'd burst in the way they had, and he was very sorry that they'd upset

Hermione, but after all, they were only trying to save their necks. If Ron was going to be angry with him, he might as well give him a reason. "Yes, I do." He said very firmly but quietly. "I do like her, Ron, and I'm sorry if you don't think I'm good enough for her, but if she likes me back..." his voice trailed off. "I don't think there's anything you can do about it." He finished. He waited with trepidation for Ron's reply, but at the same time, he felt a great weight lifted from his heart. It was such a big thing, his feelings for Ginny- it took up so much of him- it hadn't felt right that Ron didn't know. He had always had as few secrets as possible from his best friends, and this was the one that weighed him down the most.

Ron was looking utterly flabbergasted, as if that was the last thing he expected Harry to have said. He seemed to have forgotten that his audience included the person in question. "You want to go out with my little sister?" His voice rose with outrage. Ginny and Hermione looked up from the intense conversation they were having by the automobile.

Harry's face burned, and he couldn't look over at them. But he was backed into a corner now, and there was nothing for it.

"Yes." He said simply, and waited for the punches to start flying. Nothing happened. The room was deadly silent. He snuck a glance over to Ginny. She was looking as flabbergasted as Ron. Surprisingly, Hermione seemed to have regained her composure. She got up from her seat, and walked over to Ron.

"Come on, Ron," she said. "We've got to get back to Gryffindor." She grasped his hand and tugged him toward the door. "Come

on!" But Ron was rooted to the spot, his gaze moving between Harry and Ginny.

"Here," said Harry suddenly. He thrust the cloak and map at Hermione. "Take these- Filch must have realized by now that you

lot aren't up in North Tower. You'll never make it back without them."

"You want me to leave you here at 3:00 in the morning with my little sister?" Ron said, incredulously. "Are you nutters? After you just announced your undying love and dishonorable intentions? I don't think so." Harry didn't think it was possible to be redder in the face than he was right now, but he caught a glimpse of Ginny and changed his mind. Her face and her hair had blended together.

"Listen," he said soberly. "We can't all fit under the cloak, and we can't all go back together the same way. We'll get caught for sure. Ginny and I will just get detention, but you and Hermione..." He didn't need to finish the sentence. McGonagall would have their prefect's badges if she ever heard. "At least take the cloak. We'll take the map, and that way we should all make it back."

"Ron, please." Hermione looked at him beseechingly. "Harry will get her back to Gryffindor safely. They'll be right behind us. Won't you, Harry?"

But it was Ginny who spoke. "Ron, just go. I don't care if you're cross at Harry- do you really want to get Hermione in trouble?

This was your idea in the first place, wasn't it? What did you have to do to talk her into this?"

Ron looked sheepish.

"Come on," said Harry. He was checking the Marauder's Map. "Filch is on the second floor now. We've got to leave soon or we'll all be in his office."

Ron reached out his hand for the cloak, and Harry tossed it across the room. "Right." He gave Harry a penetrating look. "But we're not through with this conversation." Ginny looked exasperated.

"Would you just get out of here, you big stupid git? I don't need a bloody keeper." Ron looked at her, shocked.

"Give me that," snapped Hermione. She wrenched the Invisibility Cloak from his fingers. Ron was now wearing an expression of utter bemusement. The girls had turned on him. A moment later, Hermione swirled the cloak over them both, and they were gone. Harry could hear their footsteps heading for the door.

"Avoid the second floor if you can," he hissed after them, and then he and Ginny were alone once more.

Harry watched as the door began to slowly close behind them. The realization of what he’d just done was starting to sink in. As the door clicked shut, a heavy silence filled the space between him and Ginny. He sneaked a glance in her direction and saw that she had crossed her arms in front of herself. She seemed to be trying to keep her face as blank as possible. He knew he had to say something, something intelligent and witty preferably, but anything to take away the uncomfortable silence that hung in the air. Harry felt desperate. He knew that he’d thought at least thirty different things about Ginny today in Potions alone, but they didn’t seem appropriate things to say just now. Maybe he should tell her how pretty she looked standing there in the moonlit classroom, or how much he liked it when she wore her hair up and he could see the fine russet hairs on the back of her neck. Or maybe he should tell her what he had really thought after realizing it was Ginny he had pinned to his bed. His cheeks flushed again, and it irritated him. He reached under his glasses and rubbed his eyes, searching for the something to say.

"Harry?" Her voice cut through the haze in his brain, and jolted him back into reality. She was biting her lip again, and when she spoke again her voice was barely above a whisper. "I’m sorry that had to happen. We shouldn’t have been so insensitive, I suppose. And, I’m sorry you had to say what you did. I mean, you managed to distract him and…I just want you to know that I understand why you did it. That’s all. You don’t have to…worry, or anything. " She looked away.

He was stunned. Of everything Harry imagined she would say, that certainly hadn’t been it. And then suddenly, he understood.

She didn’t think he’d meant what he’d said. She thought that it had just been an elaborate ruse to distract Ron from yelling.

And best of all… she was upset about it. He could tell she was trying not to be upset, could see the struggle in her face. A warm tingling was spreading through his stomach. If she was upset about it, it had to mean that she wished it was true. And if she wished it was true, then… well, then maybe this wasn’t going to be so difficult after all.

He almost leapt toward her, but stopped. Her face was guarded again, and he desperately wanted to say the right thing.

"Ginny. I…I wasn’t lying. I mean, I meant it, you know. About liking you." He felt like an idiot, the words tangling inside his mouth. But she had fixed her eyes on him and there was a glint there that made him take a step toward her. "I didn’t say anything before because I knew Ron would be upset and… well, I didn’t know if you liked me." The unspoken "anymore" hung in the air between them. Ginny arched a delicate eyebrow at him and looked amused. He grinned and stepped closer still to her.

"Besides, you know Ron. Protective is the nice way to describe it." This time she did laugh, softly and twinkling, and it made him shiver. Harry closed the gap between them. He wanted so badly to touch her, to hold her again like he had in the hallway. It must have been obvious because her eyes widened a little, but they were clear and smiling as she tilted her head back to look at him. A stray lock of hair had fallen across her forehead and he brushed it back, tucking the strand behind her ear. He heard her small, sharp intake of breath as he took her face in his hands, and felt her shiver as their lips brushed. He kissed her harder then, and she melted against him, entwining her hands around his waist. The rushing in his ears had returned but it was more like singing now, and Harry realized that he’d finally found something he liked better than flying.

Ginny was the first to notice that they weren’t alone anymore. Harry wouldn’t have noticed at all if she hadn’t broken away suddenly and looked down at her feet. But as he followed her gaze down to the mouth, he felt his mouth go dry. Standing in the space between their feet and looking extremely pleased with herself, was Mrs. Norris. They jumped apart and Harry looked around quickly for Filch, who was nowhere to be seen. Ginny and Mrs. Norris were staring at each other with intense dislike and Harry got the distinct feeling that this was not the first time the two of them had met. He made a mental note to ask Ginny about it later, and moved carefully around the skinny gray cat. "Ginny. We’ve got to get out of here before Filch comes. He’s got to be close", he whispered into her ear. She nodded and clasping hands, the two of them began to inch toward the door. The cat moved so fast that Harry barely caught it. She stretched out in a pose of feline domination, ears back and ready to fight.

"Harry, she’s not going to let us leave! She’s going to keep us here until Filch comes."

"This is ridiculous. We’re being held hostage by a cat", he whispered back. "We’re going to have to escape. Come on, what’s the worst she can do? She’s just a cat, right?" Harry hoped sounded more confident about that than he felt. Mrs. Norris’ great lamp-like eyes fixed on Harry’s face, and he suddenly wished he hadn’t said anything at all. Abruptly, the cat’s posture changed. She sat up and turned one ear toward the direction of the door.

"I think she’s listening to something." Ginny said, after a moment.

"Yeah, probably Filch", he said gloomily.

Ginny shook her head, still staring at Mrs. Norris. "No, I don’t think so. Look!" Harry looked on in surprise as the cat began grooming herself frantically. "I’ve never seen her do that when Filch was coming. I can’t imagine…Wait. Something’s happening." The door to the classroom was opening slightly and Harry was amazed to see that it wasn’t Filch pushing through, but a familiar ginger cat.

 

"It’s Crookshanks!" Ginny whispered. Harry nodded, unable to take his eyes away from the scene unfolding in front of him. The large ginger cat strolled in a wide circle around Mrs. Norris, his bottlebrush tail flicking irreverently in the air. She watched him impassively, and waited until he had stopped in front of her to bat a gray paw toward his face. Crookshanks did the same and sat back on his impressive haunches. He let out a loud meow, to which Mrs. Norris responded and for a few moments they were deeply engaged in conversation. Ginny and Harry were completely silent, utterly fascinated by the discussion. And then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Mrs. Norris was gone. Harry shook his head, not quite sure what had just transpired. Ginny leaned down and scratched Crookshanks behind the ears. The enormous cat arched his back and moved toward the door, slipping out the way he had come. And for an instant, Harry was quite sure the cat had winked at him.

He turned back to Ginny and smiled at her. "This place is busier than Euston Station. Let’s get out of here before bloody Malfoy comes prancing through as well."

"I don’t believe that just happened. I think Mrs. Norris fancies him." Ginny was shaking her head in wonder. "I wonder what

Filch would say if he knew his faithful sidekick was corruptible."

Harry held out his hand, and Ginny took it. There was no hesitation or awkwardness. It was if they’d been walking hand in hand always. Harry’s heart was very full, suddenly. He felt tall and somehow more than he had been a few minutes earlier.

Ginny liked him, really liked him. It was amazing.

They were out in the corridor again, and both of them stopped to scan the map. Mrs. Norris was now on the staircase they had taken on their way to the classroom. "We don’t want to take those stairs again, anyway," said Ginny. "It’s too easy to get stuck on them. Come on, we’ll go down the main stairs and cut through the entrance hall."

Harry knew he should be paying attention to where they were going, but Ginny seemed to have that well under control, and his mind was preoccupied with more pleasant things. It was a very different trip from the one he had taken just an hour before. He felt almost giddy.

They ducked into corners a few times to check the map, and he considered leaning over and kissing her, but thought the better of it. It was more important to get back to Gryffindor, he told himself firmly, if half-heartedly.

It was a surprisingly uneventful trip back. They had to double back once to avoid Peeves, and almost walked into the Bloody Baron, but they stopped just in time and hid behind a suit of armor. Even so, it was after four a.m. when they neared the portrait hole.

"Wait." Harry stopped abruptly. It had occurred to him suddenly exactly what they would be walking into. It was too much to hope Ron and Hermione had gone to bed. No, a showdown was going to be unavoidable, and with a sinking feeling he remembered the look on Ron’s face just before he’d left the Muggle Studies classroom. Surely he’d calm down a bit after a while and get used to he and Ginny being… he and Ginny. But he knew Ron too well to expect that to happen for a week, at least.

Ginny looked at him expectantly, and he towed her back around the corner toward the stairs. "I just want to do something before we have to go in there and get told off by your brother," he said, and he leaned down to kiss her.

Author’s Notes: Well, here we are, at the end of our epic. (Honeychurch dabs her eyes delicately with a hankie while Lallybroch looks wan and stoic.) There will be no sequels to this puppy. We feel we’ve been fairly kind to them. Well, except that Ron is stalking around the common room channeling Mrs. Weasley right now. Aw, but Harry can handle it. He’s a battle-hardened veteran who sleeps with one eye open and can soundlessly tackle and pin any intruders. Erik, be assured that no harm came to Trevor, and he is out there having adventures of his own. To Arabella, Zsenya, and the rest of the lovely people at Sugar Quill: you rock, and there is no more to be said. Long live W.A.I.L! Thank you and good night.