Chapter Eighteen: Thicker than Water
Ginny went down to the common room the next morning to find a crowd jostling around the notice board. She joined Colin and Demelza, who were standing just outside the group of –Ginny noticed now- six years. They were taking turns to write their names at the bottom of a notice that was posted. Getting on the tip of her toes Ginny could read it:
If you are seventeen years of age, or will turn seventeen on or before the 31st August next, you are eligible for a twelve-week course of Apparition Lessons from a Ministry of Magic Apparition instructor. Please sign below if you would like to participate. Cost: 12 Galleons.
“Apparition,” said Colin. “I can’t wait until next year when we’ll be able to take the test.”
“No point in starting worrying about it just now,” said Ginny, motioning her friends toward the portrait hole. However, they were still close enough to the group of six years to hear a shrilling “Guess who, Won-Won?” and they turned around in time to see Lavender standing behind Ron, with her hands over his eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ginny said, stunned.
Colin and Demelza laughed and pulled Ginny out of the common room.
“Won-Won?” Ginny said when they were already making their way to the Great Hall.
“That’s the way she calls him,” said Demelza, laughing. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear her before.”
“I heard her squeal something yesterday, but I didn’t quite catch what she said,” Ginny groaned. “Do you have any idea how much fun I could have had over the holidays if only I had heard her before?”
“What do you mean?” asked Colin.
“I could have told Fred and George and they would have teased him mercilessly,” she said wistfully.
They were still laughing when they got to the Great Hall. Ginny didn’t see much of he boyfriend that day because the five Gryffindor six-year boys spent most of the day huddled up, talking –Ginny could imagine- about Apparition.
After dinner Ginny joined Hermione at the library. She was really not planning to get any work done, but she just wanted to get out of the common room. After all the moments they had shared over the holidays, it was hard for Ginny to be in the same room with Harry when it felt as though they were miles apart. She reminded herself –for the thousandth time- they didn’t hang out at school, and the only reason they spend time together at Hogwarts was because of Quidditch. It was something she would have to get used to.
“How are your parents?” Hermione asked suddenly.
“They’re fine,” Ginny shrugged. “Scared to death that something may happen to any of us, I guess.”
“Harry told me Percy showed up,” Hermione said tentatively.
“The prat,” Ginny said, feeling her temper rising. “He did show up. Not because he wanted to see his family. The only reason he went home was to give Scrimgeour a chance to corner Harry.”
“Yes, he told me,” Hermione muttered. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“Don’t be. At least Fred, George and I had a chance to show him how unwelcome he was,” she grinned.
During the next weeks, Apparition was the only topic of conversation between the six years, but among the fifth years no one talked about anything other than OWLs. The exams were less than four months away and all the teachers were getting particularly vicious.
In general, all the classes this year turned out to be more complicated than the previous years, and all the teachers were simply obsessed with OWLs. Ginny was completely overwhelmed by the amount of work. In Transfiguration, for example, the lessons themselves had become more demanding than ever before, and also Professor McGonagall showed less tolerance –not that tolerance had ever been her most characteristic feature. There were times when Ginny barely understood what she was explaining to them. Things were even worst in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Snape had finally crossed the line between strict and sadistic, and everyone felt frustrated. Even Charms, which had always been Ginny’s favorite class, was not fun anymore. Ginny was so swamped in homework that she spent most of her time in the library.
That day Ginny and Luna walked into the library and went to join Hermione, who was almost buried under a mountain of books. She greeted them politely, but Ginny could tell she was not happy having company. Luna left them to get some books and Ginny leaned over toward Hermione.
“We can sit elsewhere if you prefer to work alone,” she told her friend.
“Oh don’t!” Hermione sighed. There was frustration on her voice and in the gesture with which she closed the book she was reading and shoved it aside. “I don’t think I’m going to get any new information here.”
Ginny cocked her head to read the name on the cover. “Magick Moste Evile? Intense,” Ginny said. “This one looks like a book that should belong in the restricted section.”
“It does,” Hermione said, annoyed.
“What do you expect to find in such book?”
“Not a blasted thing, for the looks of it,” Hermione snapped. “I’ll be right back.”
She took the book to Madam Pince and soon came back and shoved it in her book bag.
“Sorry about before,” she told Ginny. “I’m just a bit disappointed. This is the first time this library fails me.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Oh! It’s nothing important, really,” Hermione said dismissively, although her frustration told Ginny otherwise. “I was just doing some research for Defense Against the Arts.”
Ginny gave her friend a shrewd look. She could tell Hermione was lying and it hurt.
“Hermione, I understand that sometimes you can’t tell me stuff,” about Harry or even about the Order, Ginny thought, “but you don’t have to lie to me. Just say you can’t tell me. I promise I won’t throw a tantrum.”
Hermione looked completely ashamed. “I’m sorry, Ginny.”
“Don’t be,” Ginny said firmly. “Just don’t do it again.” She gave Hermione a little smile and turned to face Luna, who was back carrying a couple of books. “Did you get what you need?”
“I think these books will be appropriate,” Luna said.
“Then let’s go.” Ginny stood up. “See you later, Hermione.”
“I think I did a good job on the first class,” Dean assured her. “Not like Neville, who fell flat on his back,” Dean chuckled. “And did I tell you about Ernie Macmillan?” He had indeed told her about Ernie, countless times. Ginny nodded, but Dean went on just the same. “He did a kind of pirouetting leap into his hoop and it was so funny,” he was roaring with laughter now. “He was sure he had Apparated until he realized everyone was laughing at him.”
“Must have been hilarious,” Ginny said halfheartedly.
“Did you know Harry had Apparated before?”
This was something new and Ginny’s head snapped up from her homework.
“Yes. He told us someone took him last summer. Side-Along-Apparition, you know?”
Ginny thought it had probably been Dumbledore the night he delivered Harry to the Burrow, but she was not about to mention that to Dean. Harry had obviously left that little detail out on purpose.
“I didn’t know,” she said truthfully and concentrated again on her homework.
By the end of the next week Ginny was as sick and tired of Apparition as she was of the horrible classes, the mountains of homework and the evenings in the library.
“I’m in desperate need of a Quidditch practice,” she grumbled as she passed the pages of her Potions book with unnecessary force.
“When’s the next one?” Colin asked from behind a Transfiguration book.
“Tomorrow night,” said Ginny. “Didn’t Demelza tell you?”
“We barely have time to talk anymore,” he sighed. “All of this is pointless, anyway,” he added gloomily. “I’m never gonna be able to catch up with all this work.”
“We are going to get through this, Colin,” said Ginny reassuringly. “Just a few more months and the OWLs will be over. After that we’ll have the summer to relax and a whole year before we have to start worrying about NEWTs.”
Ginny was happy when the next day she walked into the Quidditch pitch with Demelza. They went to the changing rooms to put on their Quidditch gear on and were already on the air when the rest of the team showed up. After practice, when she was about to leave, Harry walked up to her.
“You were great tonight,” he said, delighted. “Keep playing like that and we’ll destroy Hufflepuff.”
“A girl does what she can, Captain,” Ginny said, smirking, in order to disguise how awkward she felt being praised by Harry.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he went on. “Have you received an invitation for any Slughorn party?”
“No,” Ginny answered. He had asked her the same question a couple of weeks ago. He seemed determined to avoid having to go to one of Slughorn’s get-togethers. “But I’ll keep an ear out and let you know if I hear something so you can schedule a Quidditch practice and get us out of it.”
“Actually, I do want you to tell me if you hear something, but because I don’t want to miss the next one.”
“Really?” Ginny asked, surprised. He had avoided the Slug Club like the plague. What had changed? “Oh! I know,” she teased. “You had so much fun at the Christmas party that now you can’t get enough of the Slug Club.”
“Exactly,” Harry chuckled.
“Who would have thought?” she said. “Harry Potter: social butterfly.” They both laughed.
As March got closer, the weather became windy as well as wet, and to general indignation, one day a sign went up on all common-room notice boards informing the students that the next trip into Hogsmeade had been cancelled.
“Oh!” Ginny told Colin. “I expect Ronniekins won’t be happy about it. It was on his birthday.”
“I suppose no one will be happy,” grumbled Colin. “I had plans with Demelza. How about you?”
“I was really not fussed about it,” Ginny shrugged. “It would have been nice to get out of the castle for a while, but I didn’t have such a great time on the last trip.”
“I just don’t understand why they would cancel it,” Colin said, stomping his foot in frustration.
“You don’t?” Ginny asked incredulously. “What happened to Katie alone is reason enough to cancel it. Have you been reading the Prophet lately? A lot of horrible things have been happening out there. I suppose Dumbledore feels we’re safer inside the castle.”
“And he’s probably right, but…”
“He is right, Colin,” Ginny cut him off. “No ‘buts.’”
“He and Harry were still sleeping when we left,” he said. “Why?”
“Today is Ron’s birthday,” Ginny said. “I want to give him his present.”
“Oh!” said Dean serving eggs and sausages on his plate. “I have to remember to congratulate him later.”
Ginny saw Hermione walking out of the Great and she got to her feet.
“I’ll see you guys later,” she said. “I’ll go find Ron.” And she hurried after Hermione.
“Hermione!” Ginny called out and Hermione stopped to wait for her.
“Hello! Where are you off to?”
“To the common room,” said Hermione.
“I’ll go with you,” Ginny said and they set off together. “I want to find Ron to give him his birthday present.”
“Oh! That’s right. Today’s his birthday,” Hermione said in an off-handed sort of way that didn’t fool Ginny.
“Hermione, we all know he’s a git,” Ginny started tentatively, “but isn’t it time for you to patch things up?”
“There’s nothing to ‘patch up’ Ginny,” Hermione said fiercely. “We are not friends anymore. We have nothing in common; in fact we never did.”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
“Can we talk about something else?” Hermione asked dryly.
“What do you want to talk about?” Ginny asked.
“Are you getting ready for your OWLs?”
“There’s not such thing as ‘being ready for the Owls,’” Ginny chuckled at the look of indignation on Hermione’s face. “I’m trying to keep up with all the homework, but that’s as good as it gets.”
“I can help you study if you want.”
“I appreciate it, and I’ll probably need help. I’ll let you know.”
They had almost reached the portrait of the Fat Lady when it swung open to let Professor McGonagall out. Ginny looked at her Head of House apprehensively. In all her years at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall had only been to the Gryffindor common room in a handful of occasions, none of them bearing good news.
“Miss Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said and Ginny’s stomach did a somersault. “I was just looking for you.” She then gazed at Hermione. “And it is good that you are also here Miss Granger.”
“Why were you looking for us?” Ginny asked.
“There has been a situation with Mr. Weasley.”
“Dad?” Ginny gasped.
“Oh! No,” Professor McGonagall said. “As far as I am aware, Arthur is fine. I am talking about your brother.”
“Something happened to Ron?” Hermione asked this time.
“Yes. The details are not very clear, but he was poisoned. Please come with me to the Hospital Wing and that way Mr. Potter can explain you what happened.”
“Harry was with him?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” the teacher replied. “Mr. Weasley is being treated by Madam Pomfrey as we speak. Please come with me.”
Ginny and Hermione followed their Head of House, sharing looks of apprehension. What could have happened? How could Ron have been poisoned? Was Harry okay? These questions kept going around inside Ginny’s head. The way to the Hospital Wing never seemed so long before. When they finally arrived, they found Harry alone outside the Hospital Wing’s double doors, trying to see inside.
“Mr. Potter,” said Professor McGonagall and he turned around. His eyes immediately met Ginny’s and they were filled with worry. “Please tell Miss Weasley and Miss Granger what happened. I will go inside to see Mr. Weasley,” said Professor McGonagall.
“Can we see him?” asked Ginny.
“As soon as Madam Pomfrey authorizes it,” she said, before disappearing behind the double doors.
“How’s Ron?” Ginny asked.
“I don’t know,” he said in a tone that sounded like an apology. “Madam Pomfrey and Professor Slughorn are with him, but I haven’t been able to see him.”
“What happened?” Hermione demanded.
“Well,” Harry started, running a hand wearily through his hair –Ginny could tell he was tired. “This morning he was opening his birthday presents when he accidentally took a love potion.”
“Accidentally?” Hermione asked sharply. “How exactly?”
“Remember the box of chocolates?” Harry went on. “It was in my trunk but it accidentally fell on the floor and Ron thought it was one of his presents. He opened it and ate a few of them before he started presenting the symptoms.”
“Wait!” Ginny intervened. “Was this Romilda Vane’s love-potion-spiked box of chocolates?” she asked incredulously and Harry looked at her surprised. He was obviously wondering how she knew about it, but it was too late to take it back.
“Yes,” he said.
Ginny shot Hermione a I-told-you-this-could-happen look. “I thought you had thrown those away.”
“I meant to, but then I forgot,” Harry said defensively. “I only remembered when Ron started acting weird, talking about Romilda Vane’s hair and stuff.”
Ginny opened her mouth to say what she really thought about Romilda’s “hair and stuff,” but was silenced by Hermione.
“Can we focus on what happened today, please?” she said impatiently. “Go on Harry.”
“When I realized what had happened I took him to Professor Slughorn to get an antidote. As soon as Ron took it he was fine. That’s when Professor Slughorn suggested a toast to Ron’s birthday and got a bottle of oak-matured mead. Ron drank first and a second later he collapsed on the floor jerking.”
“It must have been scary,” Ginny gasped.
“It was, quite,” Harry agreed. “Foam was dribbling from his mouth and his eyes were bulging from their sockets. I didn’t know what to do and Professor Slughorn was just standing there, shocked.”
“What happened then?” Ginny urged him.
“I remembered about the bezoars and got one from Professor Slughorn’s potions kit and thrust it into Ron’s mouth. He then stayed very still… I thought… I thought it was too late. But then Professor Slughorn went to get help and that’s when Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey showed up. I came here with Madam Pomfrey, Professor Slughorn and Ron while Professor McGonagall went to get you. I don’t know anything else.”
Ginny stared at Harry. He had just saved Ron’s life. The same way he had saved her life in the Chamber of Secrets and also her father’s life when Voldemort’s snake bit him. It took all her self-control to restrain her from jumping into his arms. Had he any idea how grateful she was. The Weasleys would never be able to repay the debt they had with Harry Potter.
Ginny gazed at Hermione -she was standing there white-faced, clench-jawed and frightened-looking- and then at Harry again. His eyes were fixed on her. She recognized that look. He clearly felt responsible. What in the world was he thinking? If it wasn’t for him Ron would probably be dead.
“Thank you, Harry,” Ginny said softly.
“You saved Ron’s life. If you hadn’t thought about the bezoar… I don’t even want to think about it…”
“I should have thrown those stupid chocolates away a long time ago. It was my fault.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Ginny said sternly. “You didn’t give him the love potion and you certainly didn’t poison him.” Ginny made a mental note to research the best way of turn Romilda Vane into a toad without getting in trouble. “What I don’t understand actually is how he got poisoned.”
“I’ve been thinking about it myself, and the only explanation is that the poison was in the oak-matured mead.”
“Do you think Slughorn meant to poison Ron?” Ginny asked wide-eyed.
“I can’t think of a reason for him to do that,” Harry said, shaking his head. “He poured mead for all three of us. We could all have very well drunk it without realizing it was poisoned.”
“Someone probably tried to poison Slughorn.”
“That’s a possibility, but he said he had bought that bottle for Dumbledore. As a Christmas present. He just never gave it to him.”
“Then the poison was meant for Dumbledore. Who could have used Slughorn to get to Dumbledore?”
“Many would want to kill Dumbledore, don’t you think?”
Harry and Ginny continued discussing every possible scenario for most of the afternoon while they waited to be allowed into the Hospital Wing to see Ron. Harry had to recount the whole incident again when Dumbledore arrived, then he too went in to see Ron. Around seven o’clock Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arrived, and after seeing Ron they left with Dumbledore to his office. About an hour later, Harry, Ginny and Hermione were finally allowed to go inside. They had been sitting around Ron’s bed for about ten minutes when Fred and George walked into the room and Harry had to retell the story once more.
“… and then I got the bezoar down his throat and his breathing eased up a bit, Slughorn ran for help, McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey turned up, and they brought Ron up here. They reckon he’ll be all right. Madam Pomfrey says he’ll have to stay here a week or so… keep taking essence of rue…”
“Blimey, it was lucky you thought of a bezoar,” said George in a low voice.
“Lucky there was one in the room,” said Harry.
Hermione gave an almost inaudible sniff, and Ginny looked at her. She had been exceptionally quiet all day, and had taken almost no part in Harry and Ginny’s obsessive discussion about how Ron had been poisoned. She almost seemed to have been holding her breath until at last they had been allowed in to see Ron.
“Do Mum and Dad know?” Fred asked Ginny.
“They’ve already seen him, they arrived an hour ago… they’re in Dumbledore’s office now, but they’ll be back soon…”
There was a pause while they all watched Ron mumble a little in his sleep.
“So the poison was in the drink?” said Fred quietly.
“Yes,” said Harry at once. “Slughorn poured it out…”
“Would he have been able to slip something into Ron’s glass without you seeing?”
“Probably,” said Harry, “but why would Slughorn want to poison Ron?”
“No idea,” said Fred, frowning. “You don’t think he could have mixed up the glasses by mistake? Meaning to get you?”
“Why would Slughorn want to poison Harry?” asked Ginny. She had thought about it a few hours ago, but it seemed highly unlikely that Harry had been the target. In fact, it was starting to look more and more like an accident, at least on Slughorn’s part. Ginny was sure he didn’t know the mead was poisoned.
“I dunno,” said Fred, “but there must be loads of people who’d like to poison Harry, mustn’t there? ‘The Chosen One’ and all that?”
“So you think Slughorn’s a Death Eater?” said Ginny, not at all convinced.
“Anything’s possible,” said Fred darkly. “He could be under the Imperius Curse,” said George.
“Or he could be innocent,” said Ginny. “The poison could have been in the bottle, in which case it was probably meant for Slughorn himself.”
“Who’d want to kill Slughorn?”
“Dumbledore reckons Voldemort wanted Slughorn on his side,” said Harry. “Slughorn was in hiding for a year before he came to Hogwarts. And…” He paused and everyone looked at him inquiringly, “…And maybe Voldemort wants him out of the way, maybe he thinks he could be valuable to Dumbledore.”
“But you said Slughorn had been planning to give that bottle to Dumbledore for Christmas,” Ginny reminded him. “So the poisoner could just as easily have been after Dumbledore.”
“Then the poisoner didn’t know Slughorn very well,” said Hermione, speaking for the first time in hours and sounding as though she had a bad head cold. “Anyone who knew Slughorn would have known there was a good chance he’d keep something that tasty for himself.”
“Er-my-nee,” croaked Ron unexpectedly from between them. They all fell silent, watching him anxiously, but after muttering incomprehensibly for a moment he merely started snoring. Everyone’s gaze went from Ron to Hermione. Everyone knew Ron had just said her name, but no one was about to comment about it.
Hagrid arrived next bringing a new conspiracy theory: someone was trying to eliminate the Gryffindor Quidditch players. Ginny had to accept it was plausible, especially because both Katie and Ron had been injured under very shady circumstances, but in both cases, the person injured didn’t seem to be the intended target. They were deep into this discussion when the infirmary doors opened again and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley hurried up the ward. Molly seized hold of Harry and hugged him very tightly.
“Dumbledore’s told us how you saved him with the bezoar,” she sobbed. “Oh, Harry, what can we say? You saved Ginny… you saved Arthur… now you’ve saved Ron…”
“Don’t be… I didn’t…” muttered Harry awkwardly.
“Half our family does seem to owe you their lives, now I stop and think about it,” Mr. Weasley said in a constricted voice. “Well, all I can say is that it was a lucky day for the Weasleys when Ron decided to sit in your compartment on the Hogwarts Express, Harry.”
Ginny was feeling again the overwhelming urge of hugging Harry when Madam Pomfrey reminded them that there were only supposed to be six visitors around Ron’s bed. Harry, Hermione and Hagrid graciously rose and left, leaving Ron with his family. Ginny sat closer to Ron’s bed and grabbed his hand. I was funny, she thought, how she spent so much time and effort trying to make it seem as though she couldn’t stand Ron, when she actually loved him so much. She couldn’t believe he could have died that day. She watched her Mum fuss about, with Ron’s pillows and bed sheet, making sure he was comfortable and all tucked in, while her Dad stepped aside to talk with Madam Pomfrey. Fred and George, who now seemed relieved, knowing that Ron would be alright, had started joking about the situation. Ginny found herself smiling at their remarks. Slowly, she could feel the pressure in her chest subside. She rested her head on the bed next to Ron’s arm, suddenly realizing how exhausted she was, and fell asleep right there at the Hospital Wing.