Woo! Ready, chums? This is the (very short) last chapter...of part I, that is. I hope you've all enjoyed the ride (those of you who've stuck around, at least). You can go around reccing this story on various websites, if you want. Or you can sit back, sip your chardonnay, and laugh softly about poor starving artist FFF. (Only joking, I hate art!)
Chapter Forty: Man of Extraordinary Talents
Soon the forest was behind them. The sky was bright blue, and Potter now flew them over a golden field, skimming low to appear as if he'd landed to anyone who was watching. They flew this way for a while, Ginny's feet grazing the tall honey-colored grass. She felt almost serene, in spite of everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. This place was like something out of a dream, the ideal summer. The sky and the grass, she thought, don't usually look this good.
After a time, Potter looped around back towards the forest, flying higher over the tall grass. They landed beneath the outermost fringe of trees on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, the sun now nearing its setting. The two tumbled off the broomstick, landing in the grassy field, exhausted and exhilarated, taking great gulps of air.
Ginny lay on her back, staring at the drifting wisps of cloud. "Now what?"
"Shut up," Potter said breathlessly.
"It's all our faults," Fred said miserably. "We shouldn't have given her the map…we should've pulled a Percy and, and been good role models or something…"
The three Weasleys were sitting hunched over in the Great Hall, ignoring the hubbub around them. If Ron himself hadn't been teeter-tottering on the edge, he would have marveled to see his older brothers so out of character.
"Ginny didn't kill that girl," Ron said savagely. "So it isn't anyone's fault, 'cause it is all a big scam."
George just shook his head. "Still…if she hadn't had the map, if she hadn't been wandering around at night, none of it would ever…" The twins exchanged forlorn glances and fell silent again.
Ron, however, was neither sad nor in pain. He was boiling mad. This all had something to do with that stupid Slytherin, Harry Potter, he was sure of it. A boy who could talk to snakes, who rubbed elbows with the worst sorts of people in the castle…the topic of Ginny's rescuer—kidnapper, Ron corrected—hadn't been brought up by the twins yet, but Ron knew Potter had a hand in this. And Susan Bones, his best friend of five years now, was dead. He'd watched her aunt come to gather the dead girl's body, shaking with sobs. This sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen—not here, not at Hogwarts.
Soon his own mum and dad would arrive at the castle, the former probably caught between sobs and screams. What would they say, about him, about Fred and George? "Couldn't even keep your little sister safe…right under your nose…terrible brother!"
Ron shuddered, then heard running footsteps stop beside him.
Once more, Hermione's arms were around him. "R-Ron, this is horrible…she's really gone…"
He stroked her bushy hair, and, unsure of whether she was talking about Ginny or Susan, said, "I know."
Hermione tugged him up. "I'll see you later," he muttered to the twins before joining her as she walked him back to his common room.
"What do you think will happen to her?" Hermione was asking aloud in a worried tone. "Do you think she'll be safe with that Potter boy? I don't trust him, really I don't, he had a book that would talk to him, and now they're both all alone in that forest…"
Ron broke out of his angry stupor. "What?!" he cried. "Forest? The Forbidden Forest?"
Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth. Ron grasped her shoulders. "You saw?" he demanded. "You saw where they landed?"
For answer, Hermione said tearfully, "You mustn't go chasing after them, please, it's so dangerous—"
Ron spun away and sprinted to his dormitory, lugging out his crummy old broomstick. He sped back out and past Hermione, who ran after him as fast as she could. "Weasley, wait!" she snapped furiously, clutching his wrist. "You can't go there alone," she insisted, but he continued racing towards the front doors. "Ten points from Hufflepuff! Twenty!" He was out the door and clambering atop his Cleansweep. "Thirty points!" she shrieked.
He turned and gave her an exasperated look. "Enough already, Granger, are you coming or not?"
She goggled at him. "But—I—we should leave it to the authorities…"
In half a moment, she'd thrown caution to the wind and climbed on behind him. "Hang on," Ron said as he shot off into the air.
"I'm only doing this because you lack brains," she said scathingly in his ear, partly resigned and partly shocked.
They disappeared into the sky, flying towards the forest, but not in time to escape the detection of a pale-blond boy who emerged from the castle, armed with his own broomstick and watching them with narrowed eyes.
"Potter, you great idiot. Well," he drawled with a dramatic sigh to himself astride his Firebolt, "I s'pose it's up to Draco Malfoy, man of extraordinary talents, to save the day once agai—"
He was cut off with a jerk as the Firebolt, impatient with its master, took off, bucking and jumbling his extraordinarily talented self through the air as the sun dipped beneath the rim of the world.
END OF PART I