The Three Broomsticks was so crowded that Harry and Ginny could only find seats at the end of the bar next to a large surly wizard wearing black robes with a shiny silver button on his chest that said “HH Security.”
Ginny raised her eyebrows at Harry and nodded her head toward the wizard. She had assured Harry that he would not be noticed out of bounds, blindly following Felix’s lead. It was obvious now why they had nothing to worry about.
What?, Harry mouthed, furrowing his brow. Ginny understood him easily. He could have mouthed the lyrics to a Weird Sisters song, and she would have caught every word effortlessly, thanks to Felix.
“That’s the Holyhead Harpies security guard,” she said in a low voice, confident she would not be overheard. “The team must be here, so nobody will be paying any attention to us.”
Ginny felt a rush of excitement as she spotted her favorite players scattered around the bar. They weren’t in uniform, but many of them were wearing Harpies scarves. She suspected they were having a night out after winning their match in Edinburgh yesterday.
“So what are you having?” she heard Harry say to her left.
“Huh?” she asked vaguely, still trying to pick the players out of the crowd.
“Two Firewhiskys, then,” he said in a cheery voice.
Ginny spun around, instinctively sensing that this was a bad idea. “No way! We’re underage,” she protested.
“But if we’re lucky the barman won’t care,” said Harry playfully.
Ginny rolled her eyes. She could get Firewhisky from the seventh year Gryffindors any time. She wasn’t going to waste her lucky potion on this. Besides, she sensed it would only cloud her judgement tonight.
She leaned over the bar, waving to the barman.
“What are you doing?” asked Harry, sounding confused.
“Ordering our drinks,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Isn’t it rude to wave? Surely he’ll come over when he sees us,” replied Harry.
Ginny couldn’t help laughing. “I suppose it’s easier to be noticed when everyone knows your face,” she smirked, being careful not to tease him too much about his fame.
She was sure that there wasn’t a wizarding pub in Europe where Harry would have to wait for a drink. But tonight he would be just like everyone else because Felix would ensure that nobody would notice him unless it was necessary.
Harry nodded, turning slightly pink in the ears. The barman helped a couple of witches with Harpies scarves before moving on to Harry and Ginny.
“Two Butterbeers,” said Ginny, before Harry could speak. The barman didn’t even look at Harry as he set the bottles on the bar and took a Sickle from Ginny.
Her stomach growled again, and her thoughts turned back to the shepard’s pie that had brought her here in the first place. She scanned the bar for Madam Rosmerta.
“That’s strange,” she said quietly, a feeling of unease coming over her. “It’s packed tonight, but Madam Rosmerta isn’t here.”
“Good,” said Harry, taking a swig of Butterbeer. “She gossips too much, and I don’t want her to know I’m here.”
“What a lucky break,” said Ginny a bit more weakly than she’d intended. She had a vague feeling that something was off, but it disappeared when she spotted a familiar face just a few seats away from her.
“Gwenog Jones!” she gasped. Felix reminded her not to point or draw attention to herself.
Harry nodded, but seemed uninterested.
Ginny could not tear her eyes away from Gwenog. She was the Holyhead Harpies team former captain and now coach. If anyone could get a scout to come see Ginny play, it was Gwenog. She was suddenly overcome with the urge to speak to her, but Felix warned her not to be too presumptuous. She sensed Gwenog might not appreciate being accosted in a bar by a fan who would appear to have deluded herself into believing she could be a professional Quidditch player.
But Ginny knew this was her chance to get access. She’d learned that getting her foot in the door required access to the right people and money for the development school. Right now, the first requirement was right in front of her.
If she received an invitation to try out at a development school and didn’t make the team, then she would know she didn’t have what it took to go pro. But she wasn’t willing to give up on her dream until she had the chance to prove herself.
She scanned the room, hoping to find Slughorn. She remembered that Gwenog had joined one of his Slug Club meetings in the fall. Perhaps he could introduce them?
Harry slid a butterbeer in front of Ginny, but she suddenly had no desire for any food or drink. Her eyes found Wilda Griffiths, a Harpies Chaser, sitting at a table across the room with some witches and wizards that Ginny did not recognize. She was taking out a deck of cards, clearly about to start a game. Felix told Ginny that they were about to play poker.
Ginny had spent years sneaking out of Hogwarts to play poker at the Hog’s Head. She could get to know Wilda by joining the game and hopefully meet Gwenog through Wilda.
She stood abruptly, nearly knocking her stool over.
“Hey! Where are you going?” asked Harry, throwing out an arm to stop her.
“That’s a Harpies Chaser,” she said, nodding her head toward Wilda. “I’m going to join her poker game.”
“No, you can’t do that,” said Harry seriously.
Ginny immediately understood why, but Felix told her to carry on.
“Harry, I have to get into a summer session at a development school if I’m ever going to have a chance to play Quidditch professionally,” she explained, knowing he understood how important this was to her. “And that means I need to get to know other Quidditch players.”
“But you can’t play poker with lucky potion,” protested Harry. “It’s cheating, and they’ll notice that you’re winning every hand! That’s not the impression you want to make.”
But Ginny could not shake the urge to join the game. Felix pressed her to insist.
“I won’t win every hand because my goal isn’t to win,” she said in a voice that was calmer than she felt. “Besides, I’ll give back everyone’s gold when I’m done.”
Suddenly, the urge to join the game vanished. Felix wanted her to wait. Ginny watched Harry, who was looking across the bar and pursing his lips, as if struggling with himself.
After a long pause, Harry turned back to Ginny. “Come with me.”
Without waiting for her to respond, he slipped his hand around her wrist and led her across the bar. Before she knew it, they were standing right next to Gwenog.
“Great game last week!” said Harry with an enthusiasm that only Ginny could tell was forced.
Gwenog turned abruptly as if irritated, but her eyes widened with surprise when she saw Harry.
“Harry Potter!” she said, her face slowly breaking into a smile. She held out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
As Harry shook her hand, a realization hit Ginny like a bolt of lightning: Felix had led her to Harry tonight because Harry, and Harry alone, could get her access to Gwenog.
Her heart ached with gratitude toward Harry and excitement for the possibilities. She knew that Harry loathed his celebrity status, and she’d never seen him use it to get anything before. What had made him do it now?
“I was so disappointed to miss you when I visited Horace’s Slug Club meeting last fall,” said Gwenog with an exaggerated sad face that Ginny found slightly repulsive. It was off-putting to see her Quidditch idol fawning over Harry for his fame.
“I’m sorry I missed it, too, but we had Quidditch practice,” replied Harry, sounding earnest. “We had a big match coming up, so I couldn’t cancel practice.”
Ginny didn’t need the lucky potion to know this was a bald-faced lie. Harry deliberately scheduled practice that night to avoid Slughorn and the Slug Club. Ginny hated the Slug Club as well, but had been disappointed to miss Gwenog.
Gwenog nodded sagely. “I know how that is. Every bit of practice counts.”
Harry suddenly slipped his arm around Ginny’s waist and pulled her forward. Ginny felt a swooping sensation in her stomach at the contact.
“This is Ginny Weasley,” said Harry abruptly. “She’s the best player on the team and a huge Harpies fan.”
Normally Ginny would have blushed at the compliment, but Felix kept her emotions at bay. Besides, professional Quidditch players like Gwenog wouldn’t blush. She would confidently embrace the compliment as if Harry were merely stating a fact.
“The best? Better than you?” laughed Gwenog, putting her hand on Harry’s arm in a flirtatious manner that inexplicably made Ginny want to hex her. “I’ve heard that you were the youngest Gryffindor Seeker in over a century.”
“She’s brilliant,” said Harry smoothly, sidestepping Gwenog’s roving hand with ease. Ginny suddenly got the sense that Harry was experienced at deflecting unwanted attention.
“She might not be as good as a legend like you...” he said slowly. Gwenog giggled at the compliment, clearly eating it up.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the English Premier league one day,” Harry continued.
“Really?” said Gwenog, finally tearing her eyes away from Harry to look at Ginny for the first time. “Oh, I recognize you. You’re a Chaser.”
“That’s right,” replied Ginny, surprised that Gwenog followed Quidditch at Hogwarts.
“Horace invited me to your match last fall, and I’ll admit that I did think you were rather talented,” continued Gwenog, sounding a bit bored now that the subject had shifted away from Harry and herself. “But when I’d asked my scout to find out what development school you attended during the summer, he said he’d never heard of you.”
Ginny’s stomach turned over. She felt both excited and disappointed at the same time. Gwenog had noticed her and thought she was talented! But had she already blown her chance because she wasn’t at a development school?
“I decided to hold off on applying to development schools until this spring,” said Ginny confidently. Felix was giving her the strength to keep her voice steady and strong. “I wanted to make sure I was in top form.”
“A lot of the summer players are waiting until fifth year to start applying these days,” added Harry. Ginny had no idea if this was true, but nodded emphatically anyway.
“That’s wonderful,” said Gwenog in a tone that indicated to Ginny that she did not think it was wonderful and she was already losing interest.
Harry must have sensed it, too. “You must have gone to the best development school in Britain.”
Gwenog’s face brightened now that the conversation had moved back to her. “It wasn’t the best school at the time, but, yes, the Highlands Quidditch Academy is now the top school. It really didn’t gain prominence until I was drafted by the Harpies. You could say I put them on the map,” she said haughtily.
“I’m sure an endorsement from you would go a long way for Ginny’s Highlands application,” supplied Harry.
Ginny thought this was a bit heavy handed, but she sensed that Harry would recover. Gwenog looked annoyed and waved a hand dismissively.
“If I noticed her, I’m sure the Highlands scout will like her just fine,” she said with disinterest.
“But a nudge from you would mean a lot,” said Harry earnestly. “Ginny is in the Slug Club too, and I think we should all look out for each other, don’t you think?”
Gwenog took a swig of her Firewhisky and shrugged, clearly unconvinced. Ginny knew Harry would have to offer her something, or she wouldn’t do it. She wanted to signal to Harry, but Felix reassured her that Harry would come through for her.
Ginny snuck a sidelong glance at Harry. He looked uncomfortable as he ran a hand through his messy hair, presumably planning his next move.
“The Minister of Magic came to visit me over the Christmas holidays,” he said a casual voice that Ginny could tell was forced.
Gwenog raised her eyebrows, her interest piqued, but said nothing.
“I read in the Daily Prophet that the Harpies are trying to get Ministry funding for a new stadium,” continued Harry. “If you could, er–” Harry shot a glance at Ginny for help.
Ginny quickly mouthed, Sponsor!
Harry gave an almost imperceptible nod before he cleared his throat and shifted his eyes back to Gwenog, who was helping herself to another drink.
“If you could sponsor Ginny for a tryout at the Highlands, I could put in a good word with Minister Scrimgeour about the new stadium next time I see him,” he said smoothly.
Gwenog set down her glass and gave Ginny a long look, pursing her lips. It was clear she was weighing Harry’s offer.
“She is quite good,” said Gwenog in a bored voice, as if Ginny weren’t there. Normally, Ginny would have rolled her eyes, but Felix helped her keep her emotions at bay. Instead, she smiled congenially.
“Oh, alright,” said Gwenog finally with a note of arrogance in her voice. “I’ve already seen her play, so I know she won’t embarrass me.”
Ginny’s heart leapt, overcome with excitement at the possibility of getting a tryout with the Highlands Academy. She was a step closer to making her dream a reality.
“Thank you very much, Gwenog!” she said sincerely, barely able to contain her joy. She knew she mustn’t appear too excited lest Gwenog might change her mind.
She merely nodded to Ginny, barely acknowledging her before turning back to Harry.
“Harry, darling, why don’t you send me an owl tomorrow with the sponsor paperwork?” she said with a satisfied smile. “That way we can keep in touch.”
And with a wink at Harry, Gwenog swept away. Ginny exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding as she watched Gwenog join her teammate Wilda at the poker table. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought it might explode from her chest.
This was really happening. She was going to get her chance to prove herself. She was overwhelmed with both fear and excitement.
Ginny turned to Harry, grinning so hard her face hurt. Harry was leaning over the bar, waving down the barman. The barman eyes widened when he recognized Harry, and he rushed over to him nearly tripping over a crate of glasses in his haste.
Within seconds, Harry had two glasses of Firewhisky in his hands. “Time to celebrate!” he said with a grin to match hers.
Ginny groped for a stool as she sank backward, her eyes back on Gwenog who had joined a table with her team across the bar and was talking animatedly. Her hand found the stool, but she nearly slipped as she sat down.
That’s odd, she thought, settling onto the stool as it wobbled beneath her. But Felix did not let her dwell on her moment of clumsiness. A wave of happiness washed over her, and she turned to Harry.
“Thank you so much, Harry,” she said, her voice full of emotion. “I know you hate using your fame like that.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said with a shrug. “Gwenog’s friends with Slughorn, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to resist an opportunity to collect another famous friend.”
Ginny felt a pang of guilt. Had she unwittingly manipulated Harry into using his celebrity to get her what she wanted? She didn’t like that she needed lucky potion to get Harry’s help.
“That’s not why I wanted you to come with me tonight–” she started, but her voice died in her throat as she was overcome with a powerful urge to stop talking. Another wave of happiness washed over her, but her thoughts remained contrite.
“I would have done it even if you hadn’t taken the potion,” said Harry earnestly. His brilliant green eyes were filled with intensity. “I’m glad I came with you tonight.”
Butterflies erupted in Ginny’s stomach, and her mind went blank. She couldn’t concentrate with Harry looking at her like that. She felt hot all over with a heat that didn’t feel like the lucky potion.
Ginny shook herself, confused about what was going on. Was the lucky potion wearing off? As the thought formed in her head, she felt Felix return to her, as if he’d only stepped outside for a moment, and she found her voice. “I’m glad you came, too, Harry.”
Harry smiled awkwardly and raised his glass. “To achieving dreams,” he said quietly.
Ginny clinked her glass against his, and they both took a long drink from their glasses. The Firewhisky burned all the way down, but she kept drinking, hoping it would burn all of the awkward feelings that were coming up.
Harry coughed loudly, his throat and nose feeling as if they were on fire. He’d swallowed too much Firewhisky.
The barman suddenly appeared with a glass of water for Harry and another Firewhisky for Ginny. She’d downed hers in one go.
Harry guzzled the water, trying to cover his choking and cool his burning throat. Almost as soon as he’d set the empty water glass on the bar, the barman was back with another Firewhisky.
“Enjoy, Mr. Potter!” he said cheerfully, taking away the water glass. Harry felt his eyes linger on his scar for a moment before he swept away to help other customers. He supposed the lucky potion could only do so much to keep people from staring.
“The service has certainly improved,” Ginny giggled. “You haven’t even finished your first Firewhisky, and he’s already brought you another!”
Harry’s felt goosebumps on his neck as she tossed her long mane of vibrant red hair over her shoulder and leaned against the bar, looking relaxed and happy. The flowery scent of her hair drifted over him. Her cheeks were rosy from the alcohol and the heat in the room.
Ginny raised her eyebrows at him, and he suddenly realized he must have been staring. He hastily grabbed his drink and poured the rest down his throat, desperate for something to do with his hands. The burning sensation was slightly duller this time. Perhaps he was getting used to it.
Ginny gave a small wave and a glowing smile to the barman, who immediately brought them each another Firewhisky.
“Is that your third one?” asked Harry, surprised that Ginny wasn’t too drunk to sit up. Firewhisky was incredibly potent. He’d seen many students get sick from drinking it too fast, and he didn’t want Ginny to be too intoxicated to follow the lucky potion’s instructions.
“I can barely feel it with the lucky potion!” she said cheerfully. She drank a bit more from her new glass, and then said, “Besides, I thought we were celebrating!”
Harry laughed. He was starting to feel a bit more relaxed. He’d been slightly on edge all night, torn between the overwhelming desire to spend the evening with Ginny and the urge to throw her over his shoulder and hightail it back to the castle before they got caught out of bounds.
He’d been skeptical of the lucky potion even after he’d agreed to join her. But there was no way he was going to let her leave the castle alone. As far as he was concerned, anyone connected to him was in danger with Voldemort back.
But he’d also been very curious to know why the potion had led her to him. Part of him hoped that it was because she still had feelings for him. Truth be told, even if he’d discovered she was lying about drinking the potion, he’d have followed her anywhere.
Over the past few months, Harry had found himself thinking about Ginny increasingly more often. He looked forward to every Quidditch practice just to watch her fly. He scanned the Great Hall for her at every meal, hoping to sit near her. He listened raptly whenever Hermione casually mentioned her, hungry to know everything about her.
He smiled as he took another drink of Firewhisky, proud that he had been able to help her get the tryout that she had so desperately coveted. It felt good to see her so happy (and to know it had been him who’d made her happy).
“It’s a good thing you bought a new broom,” he said, still smiling as he imagined her impressing the scouts at her tryout.
“Huh?” asked Ginny, confused. She wobbled a bit on her stool as she threw back her fourth Firewhisky, but Harry was feeling too warm and relaxed to worry about it interfering with the lucky potion.
“For your tryout,” he supplied, absently helping himself to another Firewhisky that seemed to appear on the bar out of thin air.
Ginny threw back her head and laughed, her long red locks cascading down her back. Harry felt the creature in his chest purring appreciatively and the blood rushing to his head.
“Of course!” she exclaimed, laughter still in her eyes. “I’m so happy I got the Nimbus!”
Harry smiled broadly, remembering the joy he’d felt when he’d got his Nimbus in first year. “I was hoping you’d choose that one. I really loved that broom!”
Ginny giggled and put her elbow on the bar, knocking over her water glass in the process.
“It’s brilliant!” she enthused, oblivious to the water dripping off the bar. The barman swept over, waving his wand and Vanishing the water.
“I guess there’s only one downside,” said Harry slowly, suddenly feeling playful.
Ginny cocked her head to the side, confused. “What’s that?”
“You’ll never beat me in another race on a Nimbus,” he said with smile.
To his delight, Ginny giggled again. “I think that our race proved that it’s the flier, not the broom, that wins races!”
“Is that another challenge?” he asked. His pulse quickened as he imagined flying with Ginny alone.
She tossed her long red hair to the side, and he caught another waft of her flowery scent.
“Maybe,” she replied coyly. She shot him a smile that made his stomach turn over. Was she flirting with him? He couldn’t tell.
“And how do you think you’ll beat me?” he asked, wishing she’d suggest they race now even though it was dark and they were in the middle of Hogsmeade. He put his elbow on the bar and leaned toward her, overcome with a desire to be closer to her.
“The same way I did last time–I’d find a shorter path to the finish line,” she retorted confidently.
Harry knew she was right, but he wasn’t going to admit it. In his foul mood, he hadn’t taken the time to study the course before their race. Nonetheless, it was a fair race, and he didn’t want her to think otherwise.
“You found the shorter path only after you saw me run the course first,” he said, attempting to goad her more. “This time, we should race head-to-head with a straight path to the other end of the pitch.”
“There’s no skill in that!” she shot back, not taking his bait.
“You’re the best flier on the team, so I’m sure you can find a way to win,” he replied, hoping she wouldn’t miss the compliment.
His heart leapt as he saw her cheeks turn pink.
“You’re righ’,” she said with a bit of a slur in her words. “I’ll jus’ have to hex you.”
Harry laughed, not expecting her accept the compliment. It felt good to laugh and joke around with her. It took his mind off of his darker preoccupations, such as Malfoy’s sinister behavior and his lessons with Dumbledore. He was feeling lighter than he’d felt in a long time.
His sudden euphoria and the warm Firewhisky in his belly was making him feel more impulsive. Without thinking, he scooted his stool few inches closer to her. His knee was nearly touching hers now.
“What kind of hex would you use on me?” he said, lowering his voice and giving her what he hoped was a mischievous smile.
Ginny shifted in her seat, her cheeks and ears turning pink. Harry’s heart leapt again, hoping that this was a sign that Ginny hadn’t completely given up on him.
She ran a hand through her hair and looked away from him, as if overwhelmed by his eye contact.
After a moment, she turned back to him with a teasing smile and leaned forward, putting her hands on his knees. Harry felt adrenaline surge through his body like an electric shock at her touch.
“If I told you, then you’d be ready for it,” she whispered impishly, unable to suppress a giggle. She wobbled a bit with her hands still on his knees, and Harry put a hand on her arm to steady her.
He slowly slid his hand down her arm before he let go, enjoying the sudden closeness and the contact. He could tell she liked it when he challenged her, so he decided to keep at it.
“You don’t think I’m quick enough to block any spell from you?” he whispered back, wanting to run his fingers through her hair. He was almost close enough to touch it.
Ginny slid off her stool, her hands creeping up to his thighs as she stood. Her hips were pressed between his knees. Harry inhaled sharply. His heart felt like it skipped a beat. His eyes moved automatically to her lips, looking red and tender against her rosy cheeks.
“You’re right,” she said softly, giving his thighs a gentle squeeze that sent waves of heat through his body. “I guess I’ll have to find another way to subdue you.”
Harry suddenly felt like he’d been doused with cold water as the door burst open to his right, blasting him with a flurry of icy wind. He tore his eyes from Ginny’s glowing face in time to see Slughorn entering the bar, shaking snow off of his purple velvet coat.
Harry jumped off his stool as if he’d been shocked. His stool tipped over and hit the ground with a loud clatter, as Ginny stumbled backward, clearly caught off guard. Instinctively, he grabbed Ginny by the arm and yanked her toward him.
“Harry, what–oof!” she spluttered. Ginny tripped and collapsed against Harry as he frantically shushed her.
“Slughorn is here!” Harry hissed, nearly dragging Ginny as he backpedaled toward the end of the bar, trying to get as far away from the door as possible.
Slughorn had paused at the door to remove his cloak, but now he was headed straight for them.
Harry’s back hit the wall, and Ginny stumbled again, giggling uncontrollably.
“H-Harry! Tha–that tickles!” she gasped between giggles. She was doubled over in front of him, overcome with laughter. In one motion, Harry pulled his cloak from his school bag and whipped it over both of their shoulders, desperate to hide them both. Slughorn was only a few feet away, jovially greeting a few Harpies players on his way to the bar.
The cloak felt unusually taut around him. Ginny was too far away from him, leaving them both partially exposed as Slughorn started to turn in their direction…
Without thinking, Harry slipped his hand around Ginny’s waist and roughly pulled her against him. The cloak fell easily around them just as Slughorn looked straight at them.
“Oh!” she gasped, colliding with Harry hard. Harry felt his breath catch in his chest. He was pinned against the wall with every inch of Ginny’s body pressing on him like a hot iron branding him with her mark. Her hands came to rest lightly on his collarbone with her forearms on his chest. She laid her cheek against his chest, and he could feel her start to shake all over with laughter.
“Merlin, Harry! The look on your face–” she said loudly, throwing her head back.
Harry felt the cloak start to slip at her movement. Slughorn had already turned away from them to call out to Gwenog. He either didn’t see them or didn’t care…
“It’s so hot under here!” she shouted obnoxiously, sounding suddenly irritated. She pushed off against Harry’s chest, and he saw the cloak start to fall across her face.
Over her shoulder, Harry saw several people, including Slughorn, start to look around, presumably searching for the source of Ginny’s sudden outburst.
Alarmed, Harry tightened his grip around her waist and spun around, trading places with her. Ginny yelped as her back hit the wall, and Harry pushed himself against her.
“Shh!” he hissed, pressing a finger to her lips. His other hand came to rest on her hip and immediately felt like it was on fire. At that moment, Harry was unusually aware of his body, noticing how his thighs and stomach pressed against hers.
Ginny seemed too drunk to understand and started giggling again. “Oh, Harry, I didn’t know you liked it so rough–”
Harry felt a shiver run down his spine at her words. He wanted nothing more than to show her just what he liked, but this wasn’t the time…and she was still with Dean.
With great effort, Harry tore himself away from her and led her to the door.
Ginny suddenly found herself on her knees in the snow outside of the Three Broomsticks. The last thing she remembered was talking to Harry about her new broom. How did they get outside?
She scooped up a handful of snow and squeezed it in her bare hands, watching it ooze between her fingers and slowly melt. She could barely feel the cold…
Then, as if from far away, she heard Harry’s voice, “Ginny, we need to get back to the castle.”
She looked up, feeling like she was moving in slow motion. Harry’s face came into view. He looked concerned.
“Harry–” she started, but she didn’t know what she was going to say. She felt like her mind was engulfed in a deep fog. She had the vague sense that she’d had too much Firewhisky...
“Ginny, you need to get up!” he said abruptly. She felt his arms around her, and suddenly found herself on her feet. She stumbled and grabbed his arm to steady herself.
And then they were walking, Harry pulling her by the arm. As she stumbled through the deep snow, she felt the cold start to penetrate her body and her mind began to clear. She could see they were heading toward Honeydukes, presumably to go back to the castle.
Felix whispered to her like a dying man breathing his last words. They were going the wrong way.
Ginny stopped in her tracks. Harry spun around. “Ginny, we have to go now,” he said urgently, almost pleading with her.
“I know a faster way,” she said hoarsely. The cold wind cut through her like a knife as she felt Felix finally leave her. They were on their own now.
Ginny stepped inside the Hog’s Head with Harry hidden under the cloak by her side. She’d made him promise he would stay under the cloak. Now that the potion had worn off, she couldn’t be sure it was safe for him.
The cold wind and her distress at Felix’s departure had sobered her a bit, but she still felt as if she were on a boat in rough water. She swallowed hard, fighting a sudden wave of nausea.
With effort, she spotted Aberforth, the barman, across the room. He was serving drinks to a few old warlocks. Felix had told her that the fastest way back to Hogwarts was through the portrait hole in Aberforth’s office. It would take them directly to the Room of Requirement.
Ginny had used this secret passage many times to play poker at the Hog’s Head, and she’d paid Aberforth for his silence with her winnings.
She slowly headed toward the bar, hoping that her gait was steady. This wouldn’t be easy, even if she were completely sober.
When Ginny first met Aberforth, she’d suspected that he was a Legilimens. He always saw through her lies, no matter how well she hid them. Even the best bluffers in her poker group couldn’t get anything by him.
But over time, she realized that while he could spot lying, he couldn’t uncover the truth unless it was revealed. A true Legilimens would read the truth in her thoughts. Aberforth simply had an extraordinary ability to discern when he was being lied to. So the trick to getting past Aberforth was to not tell lies.
“Is that your boyfriend with you?” asked Aberforth sourly as Ginny approached him and motioning over her shoulder.
Ginny felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. How did he know that Harry was there?
Fighting to keep her face neutral, she looked behind her slowly. There was a large man with warts on his face at the table across the room.
“The bloke with the warts?” she asked, making an effort to enunciate each word lest she slur. “I don’t know him.”
“No, the invisible one,” said Aberforth, sounding irritated by her deflection.
Ginny looked around, feigning confusion. “I can’t see him.”
“Don’t be wise with me,” snapped Aberforth. Ginny’s stomach clenched, unsure of what to say next. Her mind was still foggy from the Firewhisky, and she was slow to react.
Aberforth narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re drunk,” he said sourly.
“Am not!” she said automatically. She cringed as soon as the words were out of her mouth, realizing she’d given herself away. She couldn’t believe she had broke so quickly.
Aberforth rolled his eyes and folded his arms. “What do you want, Weasley?”
“We need to get back to the castle,” she said plainly, hoping Aberforth wouldn’t ask too many questions. She had a bag of gold in her pocket if he wanted payment.
“Then I’m going to need to know who your friend is,” he responded pointedly.
She felt Harry move closer to her, and she worried that he might be preparing to draw his wand.
“He’s a Hogwarts student,” she said quickly, willing herself not to accidentally give Harry away. “He’s not going to hurt anyone at the castle, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Aberforth groaned and muttered darkly under his breath as he rummaged behind the bar. He slammed a grubby blue bottle on the bar and pulled out the stopper.
“Drink this,” he said shortly.
“What–” protested Ginny.
“I’m not letting you go until you drink it all,” he insisted.
Ginny stared at the bottle, confused. She’d always simply paid Aberforth for passage back to Hogwarts after her poker games. What was he on about? Was he trying to enchant or poison her? He could be ornery at times, but she never knew him to be untrustworthy.
She groped in her pocket for the bag of gold and clumsily threw it on the bar, spilling a couple of Galleons in the process.
“I don’t need anything to drink,” she said cautiously. “This should cover both of us.”
But Aberforth shook his head. “You’re not going anywhere until I see you drink it all.”
Deciding that it was unlikely that Aberforth would harm her, especially in her state of intoxication, Ginny grabbed the bottle.
But before she could lift it to her lips, she felt Harry’s invisible hand on her wrist, holding her arm down.
“What’s in it?” he demanded from under his cloak.
“Hark! The invisible boy speaks,” said Aberforth derisively. “It’s none of your concern, boy. You’re lucky I’m letting you go anywhere with her.”
“She’s with me,” said Harry defiantly. “So it is my concern.”
Ginny felt a swooping sensation in her stomach that made her feel warm all over. Harry’s words echoed in her head like a vow. She’s with me.
To Ginny’s surprise, Aberforth slammed his hands on the bar and leaned forward, glowering in Harry’s direction. Ginny had never seen him so angry and felt powerless to intervene.
“Then step up and show your face, coward,” he snarled. “You come to my bar with this little lady as drunk as a hinkypunk, and you think I’m just going to let you go home with her? Do you think I was born yesterday?”
Ginny clumsily collapsed onto a stool, nearly tipping over from shock. Was Aberforth trying to protect her honor? All this time she’d thought he was an eccentric old man who didn’t care about anyone but himself. She was both oddly touched by his sentiment and irritated by his obstruction.
“That’s rich coming from the man who gladly enables her illegal gambling,” spat Harry. “She can make her own decisions. Butt out.”
“Tha’s enough!” shouted Ginny, still slurring a bit. She picked up the bottle and turned it so she could see the peeling yellow label.
“Mother Mage’s Sobering Solution,” she read. “It’s ok, Har–uh, I mean, er...you there.”
Ginny cringed again. She’d nearly given Harry away. Harry gave her a reassuring squeeze on the arm, and without another thought, she tipped the contents of the bottle down her throat. It tasted like sea water–salty and grimey.
Her stomach contracted painfully, and she suddenly felt cold and clammy all over. She gripped the edge of the bar and doubled over, feeling as if she might vomit.
Her head began to ache as her fuzzy recollection of the night came back to her with piercing clarity. As the lucky potion had started to wear off, she’d found it harder to suppress her complicated feelings for Harry. She’d impulsively downed several glasses of Firewhisky in a misguided attempt to overcome her sudden awkwardness and then…
Ginny’s stomach turned over as she remembered her flirtatious banter with Harry. She’d nearly thrown herself at him. So much for concealing her feelings...
The pain in her head intensified and the light in the bar suddenly felt blinding. She leaned an elbow on the bar and buried her face in her hand.
“Ugghhh,” she groaned, feeling completely mortified.
“It gives you a nasty hangover,” said Aberforth gruffly. His voice pierced her like knives to the head. “But at least now you’re of sound mind now. Do you still want to leave with this wanker?”
“Yes,” she said, irritated. “And he’s not a wanker!”
Without another word, Aberforth disappeared into his office behind the bar. Ginny motioned to Harry, who she presumed was still behind her, and followed Aberforth.
Aberforth’s office hadn’t changed a bit in the last few months. It was still dark and dingy with the faint smell of goats. The portrait of the beautiful young woman hung on the wall behind his dilapidated desk.
Ginny felt a rush of warmth toward Aberforth as slid the portrait to the side, revealing the entrance to the tunnel back to Hogwarts. Ginny groped behind her until she felt Harry’s hand, and together they ran into the tunnel, grateful to have made it out of Hogsmeade safely.