'Just as friends,' Jimmy had been repeating this phrase all week, but never as frequently as he had today, just mere hours before he was due to put on his Dress Robes and go on a date with Ginny Weasley. 'What idiot invented that phrase, anyway? What does that even mean?'
'I think it means you're not allowed to take off her dress,' Ritchie said, who had enjoyed watching his friend torture himself all week with these words.
'Why not?' Jimmy barked impatiently, 'I've already seen her with her dress off. Technically.'
They had just finished their last lesson for the day, Double Potions, and after managing to avoid poisoning themselves, they emerged into the crowded Entrance Hall and began fighting their way through the sea of students, heading for the Great Hall. They managed to find their usual spot at the back of the hall on the Gryffindor table and so sat down to eat dinner.
'I don't think I can eat any of this,' Jimmy said sourly as he looked up and down the table full of all sorts of plates of food, 'I'd just throw it all up.'
'They might have appetisers at this party you're going to,' Ritchie told him, and as he was feeling quite hungry he reached out and grabbed everything that looked appealing to him within reach.
'Maybe,' Jimmy sighed and looked up and down the table again.
Ginny was not there, nor had she been at lunch or breakfast (at least when they had been there) - in fact, Ginny had not sat with them or been at another meal since the morning Jimmy had offered to go to the party with her (again, at least during the time they were there). If it weren't for the fact that he had seen her come through the portrait hole last night, give a little wave in their direction, then disappear up to the girls dormitory, then he would have seriously debated that she was still at Hogwarts.
'I'm sure she's just really busy,' Ritchie had reassured him after Jimmy had pointed this out, 'she's doing OWLs remember? She must have ten times as much homework as we do and probably can't afford to sit and help us struggle to remember planet movements anymore - I'm actually surprised she helped at all for those few weeks that she did, it was really nice of her.'
Jimmy hated it when his friend made sense, and so once Ritchie had finished eating, they made their way up to Gryffindor tower, and Jimmy stopped expecting to see Ginny around every corner. They did go past Harry Potter though, looking quite dishevelled and odd with a single bright-yellow eyebrow that was obviously from a Transfiguration accident. They quickly understood why he had doubled-back past them though, for along the seventh-floor corridor stood a wall of girls, conveniently standing under a branch of mistletoe and waiting for Harry to approach them.
Jimmy and Ritchie had no such fear, for as they approached, noses curled, eyes rolled and the sea of girls parted, allowing them both to walk through and access the portrait of the Fat Lady freely.
'That Romilda Vane is pretty determined,' Jimmy said to Ritchie after they'd dumped their school bags upstairs and were sitting in some chairs by the windows, watching her hover around the portrait hole with a branch of her own mistletoe, waiting for Harry to come through it.
'She scares me,' Ritchie muttered, looking quite disturbed as the portrait hole opened and Romilda quickly ducked behind a group of confused looking first-years.
But it was not Harry Potter who climbed through the portrait hole, but in fact Ginny Weasley.
Jimmy suddenly sat bolt upright as Ginny spotted them and made a beam line for them, Romilda looked very disappointed and returned her attention back to the portrait hole.
'Hi,' Ginny said brightly; she didn't sit down, she rearranged the position of her backpack over her shoulder and brushed aside her long main of silky red hair, 'I've been looking for you two, you weren't down at dinner-'
'You weren't down at dinner,' Jimmy corrected her immediately, making her raise an eyebrow.
'I was so,' she ensured him with a half-smile, 'albeit a little late. I just wanted to tell you to meet me down here at eight o'clock, alright?'
Jimmy nodded. 'Eight o'clock. Got it.'
'I'm going to go get ready,' she waved to them both and skipped away up the girls staircase.
'Shouldn't you go get ready too?' Ritchie asked him curiously.
'Nah, I got time,' Jimmy said, and they both looked over at the clock in the corner that just chimed seven. 'So what are you going to be doing tonight?'
'I don't know, maybe do homework?' he said sadly.
But just as he had said that, there was a tapping at the window beside them, and they both looked around to see a large barn owl covered in snow, carrying two packages.
'Excellent!' Ritchie said, moving forward to let the owl into the common room, it hooted dolefully as a "thank you" and stuck out its leg.
It was the mail order for the two packets of Chocolate Frogs Ritchie had ordered - he had been looking up expectantly every morning that week at breakfast, when the owls arrived with the daily post, hoping that his order would arrive before Christmas and he began to think it would not. Now that it had, he was quite ecstatic, so much so that he shook a little as he pulled them free from the owl.
'Well I guess that answers my question,' Jimmy said, as they owl flew back out the window and he turned his gaze back on Romilda Vane.
Just at that moment, Harry entered the common room with Ron Weasley behind him, and Romilda took the opportunity to strike. She jumped in front of him, threw the mistletoe up in the air, closed her eyes and leaned in to kiss Harry. But he was ready for it, and with his Seeker reflexes side-stepped out of the way and Romilda swung at fresh air - Harry though tripped on a chair leg and ended up eating the carpet, Ron roared with laughter in response.
An hour later, the clock that Jimmy and Ritchie sat next to, struck eight o'clock, and Jimmy now stood nervously against it, wearing his sleek-black dress robes with a white shirt underneath and white bow tie. He had been standing there fussing over his collar, which despite Ritchie telling him it was perfectly fine, kept fiddling with it. Ritchie had already opened one of the boxes of chocolate frogs, and was pacing himself, whislt he read a rather heavy book about Quidditch in foreign countries.
'Stop it,' Ritchie hissed at him, as Jimmy started fiddling with his collar again.
'I can't get it... to stay... flat,' Jimmy hissed, tugging at it over and over again.
'At least you don't have a problem like that with your hair,' Ritchie pointed out, who himself had frizzy hair.
'How am I suppose to impress her if this collar won't stay down?' Jimmy practically barked.
'Maybe it's the person in the dress robes that ultimately impresses her, not the dress robes themselves?'
Both Jimmy and Ritchie looked up in surprise. In amidst his haste to play with his collar, Jimmy had not noticed that Ginny had descended the girls staircase and approached them. She looked... breath taking.
She wore a deep-green dress that was of light material, it had black strips in a v-shape on her chest, shoulders and around her waist - silver opals were pinned along these strips presumably to hold it into place. She had curled her silky red waist-length hair to the point that it suited her, as well as a butterfly clip holding her fringe which had been slightly parted; she also had a necklace he had never seen before, one that simply wrote "Gin" in loopy-writing, and Jimmy wondered if she had always worn that.
'You look beautiful,' Jimmy said, taking a step forward, 'but I missed the whole pretty-looking-girl-comes-down-the-staircase bit.'
Ginny giggled a little but did not reply.
'I love your dress,' Ritchie said slightly awkwardly, not sure exactly what to say.
But she smiled in response.
'Thanks Ritchie-' she spotted the two packages of Chocolate Frogs, 'good lord, you had better not finish those while we're gone.'
'No, I know, I'm done, I think, one more and I'll put them away,' Ritchie mumbled, fumbling with the dozen or so empty packets now at his feet.
'Listen, what I said about impressing you,' Jimmy said to Ginny, as they made their way along the seventh floor corridor a few minutes later, 'I didn't mean- I just meant -'
'It's fine, Jimmy,' she assured him, putting her arm through his and pulling him closer.
'I just, I don't want to make you look like a fool,' Jimmy went on, Ginny's action barely registering with him, 'in front of your friends I mean. They must think you're weird for befriending me-'
'Then let them think that,' Ginny said strongly with a smile, as she guided him through the secret passageway and shortcut to take them down one level and to Slughorn's office.
'You're not worried what they might think?' Jimmy asked her as they paused halfway up the corridor, the sounds of laughter, music and loud conversation carrying toward them. 'What they might say when they see you with me? Even if we are just going as friends-?'
'Jimmy Peakes, you are an odd person sometimes,' Ginny told him truthfully, the smile never leaving her face, 'you are funny, smart, reasonably good looking - and I use reasonably very lightly - you are an excellent Quidditch player and you're best friend is willing to sacrifice himself to a night of eating chocolate alone so that you can accompany someone - you kind of, sort of fancy? - to a party.'
'Wait, you think that I-'
'If there's any reason why any of my friends might talk about us behind my back,' she went on, still smiling sweetly, 'it's because they are jealous. Forget what they may or may not think, let's just go enjoy the party - I missed eating dinner in my haste to find you and I'm famished- I think I smell appetisers...'
Reinvigorated by Ginny's words, and with his own stomach complaining that he had skipped dinner also, he nodded and took her arm again and lead her into the party. The crowded room resembled a large tent, draped with so much red and gold that it would have been forgiven to mistake it for a Gryffindor orientated party - there were not just students and teachers in the room, but famous guests that proved Ginny's point about it being a certain type of club.
Some Jimmy recognised, like a couple of the Weird Sisters, others he did not - without it really bothering him either way, he grabbed a Butterbeer each for them and then followed Ginny across the room after she decided it was best to let Professor Slughorn know that she had at least attended.
'Hello Ginevra, m'lady,' Slughorn said happily, ignoring Jimmy, 'so glad you could make it!'
'Good evening, Professor,' Ginny said politely back, 'this is my friend, Jimmy Peakes. Gryffindor, fourth-year-'
'Peakes... Peakes...' Slughorn repeated, his large belly wobbled as his mind boggled for an answer. 'Ahh yes, you and that Cootes sit at the back of my classes, don't you boy?'
'Who? Oh, yeah, Ritchie-'
'Peakes... hmm... I'm afraid that name doesn't ring much of a bell in the old noggin,' Slughorn said, his belly still wobbling as he tapped the top of his head with one of his large podgy finger, 'but it might just take a few moments too- Oho! You aren't perhaps a distant relation to Glanmore Peakes? Of Scotland Locke?'
'No, sorry,' Jimmy replied fruitlessly.
'Oh well, no matter, no matter,' Slughorn said, but he turned back to Ginny rather quickly, 'do enjoy the party, Miss Weasley, I think you might find some joy in meeting some guests? Why, no better to start with these two who-'
He looked as gestured to his right, but there was nothing but a table full of sandwiches and empty goblets.
'Oh, well, now where have they-' and then Slughorn paused and his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. 'Harry, m'boy!'
Jimmy and Ginny turned to watch Slughorn's large frame move through the sea of people to reach the entrance, where Harry had just appeared through, accompanied by Luna. Jimmy got that feeling back from before, which involved him being out of place at such a prestige party, and highly doubting himself again that he deserved to be standing beside such a beautiful redhead.
But Ginny clicked her tongue impatiently, called Slughorn a "fat, old, power hungry idiot" and picked up another sandwich from the table.
'Come on, Jimmy,' she said sternly, still glaring after Slughorn, 'let's go talk to someone who doesn't care if your last name is Peakes or Potter.'