Having a Ball
Having a Ball by Brian64
Summary: Why is Nearly Headless Nick having such a bad day, and why does the new headmaster want to meet with him? But more importantly, who is Harry taking to the ball? Completely AU fifth year that ignores OoTP, and implies a few other minor changes as well. Not very shippy.
Disclaimer: Is there anyone on the planet (or at least, anyone reading this story) that doesn't know Harry Potter and associated characters were created by JK Rowling? Well anything you recognise in this story belongs to her, and anything you don't... probably belongs to her as well. I'm just playing in her world and have no intentions of making any profit from this story or messing with her copyrights (and neither should you!)
Chapter One: Nick's day
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington was not having a particularly good day. His annual attempt to join the headless hunt had once again been unsuccessful, and yet again he was left to ponder his predicament.
Why was it that a headsman - presumably a trained and qualified professional - would bother to take forty-five strokes with a blunt axe and then, with only a shred of skin remaining, decide to give up and call it a day? Surely sheer stubbornness alone should have compelled the fool to strike again and finish the beheading properly? But alas, the man had simply hung up his axe and left the task unfinished.
What really got under his ruff though was that he'd just learned Hogwarts was planning to hold a Halloween ball. Balls were generally amusing, he supposed, but since this one would coincide with his five hundred and something deathday, there seemed little point in even thinking about holding a party to celebrate it.
Most of the ghosts would no doubt be tasked by the new headmaster to patrol the broom cupboards, empty classrooms and various other trysting places around the castle, as they had at nearly every other ball. Well, back when they used to hold balls that is, before all that silly nonsense began with He-Who-Must-Be-Hyphenated.
The new headmaster was something of a surprise, and truth be told he couldn't find any fault with him. When Madam Bones had been fired at the end of last year for loudly condemning Fudge's action over the Diggory boy's death, Albus had quickly hired her to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. Of course that led to a fuming Fudge taking his revenge by removing Albus from the school, but Bones stayed.
With these thoughts on his mind he failed to pay attention to his altitude and where he was drifting. Before long he had slid straight through one of the students, who shivered at the contact.
"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry, how terribly rude of me! I wasn't looking where I was going you see. Please do forgive me?" he asked.
"That's okay, Sir Nicholas," the boy replied, "I wasn't watching where I was going either, so we're even."
"Well indeed, I suppose..." he looked at the boy's robes, and sighed. Why did it have to be someone from his own house? "Hmmm, so tell me young Gryffindor, what has you so preoccupied then?"
"Oh, you can call me Harry, Sir Nicholas. We haven't really talked since your last Deathday party have we?"
"Good Lord! Hardly recognised you. So you'd be...what, a sixth year now?" he judged.
"Ahhh, very good. The time simply flies past doesn't it?"
"Yes it does, the ball will be here before..." He broke off, and Sir Nicholas, having been skilfully diverted from his earlier question, now guessed what was on the boy's mind. There were some benefits to having observed students for five hundred years after all.
"You haven't asked her yet then?" Nick asked gently.
"Wha... What?" Harry stuttered confused, and now wondering if he'd just been the victim of an Obliviate charm. How else had the conversation gone from there to here so quickly?
"A lucky guess. You'd be surprised how many students I've seen wandering the halls in much the same situation as yourself over the centuries."
"I suppose so. But hang on, there must have been something on your mind as well, or you'd have avoided running into me?"
Nick looked over at the student, amused. He'd been preoccupied the first time he'd been diverted, but now that he was paying attention he wasn't about to be side-stepped again quite so easily.
"How about we take a stroll up to the library and have a little chat, shall we? I think a little conversation will be good for both of us."
Sir Nicholas was a little bewildered as he floated through the castle later that day. His talk with the young Gryffindor had left him completely stunned. Nick had opened up the conversation to try and set the lad at ease by talking about his latest rejection to join the headless hunt. But instead of responding to that with some sympathy as expected, he'd changed the topic entirely.
Somehow Harry had brought the conversation around to how the basilisk had affected him when the chamber of secrets had been opened three years earlier, and he wanted to know why.
"Well, I am a ghost you know, so I couldn't exactly die again, now could I?" Nick had told him.
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful Sir Nicholas, but that's hardly the point now is it? Given your... situation, the basilisk shouldn't have had any effect on you at all, should it? But since it did, how did you recover? I mean the mandrake restorative potion revived the others but... errrr..." He tapered off, and Nick understood that he was trying to avoid giving him any offence.
"You're right, Harry, I couldn't drink the potion, but Madam Pomfrey was kind enough to turn a dose into a fine mist that had the desired effect and restored me."
"Alright then, so this proves beyond any doubt that you can be affected by magic. So tell me Sir Nicholas, shouldn't there be a way to modify a spell to errr... well, you know, a variation on a cutting or severing curse... to make you eligible to join the hunt?"
Nick had been stunned. He was fully aware of the old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees, but really! He'd lived, or rather, existed with the problem for so long, and it had never once occurred to him that there might be a way to become truly headless. Yet minutes after learning of the problem, a 15 year old student had gone straight to the root cause of his ineligibility.
It wasn't until Harry had started trying to stammer an apology for his rudeness that Nick realised he still hadn't responded to what he'd been asked.
"My dear, dear boy. Please. Once again I am embarrassed beyond words. Your idea is simply inspired and I confess myself completely undone that I have never considered the possibility myself."
"Well, ummm, maybe Professor Bones might be able to suggest something that might help? Perhaps you should ask her?"
"An excellent suggestion young Harry, I believe I shall!"
And with that he had floated off on his new mission, completely oblivious to the smile on the face of the student behind him.
Chapter Two: The DADA professor
Nick floated through the door of the near-empty Defence classroom, towards the woman marking assignments.
"Ahh, Sir Nicholas, you've heard then?"
Nick sighed. "Please, Professor, as Head of Gryffindor house I would like you to call me Nick."
Professor Amelia Bones merely looked at him expectantly.
Nick thought for a moment, there had been a question asked. "As it happens, I'm unsure what it is that I'm supposed to have heard."
"Headmaster Ryan has been looking for you, and asked if you would visit with him-along with the other house ghosts-at 10 this evening."
"I see. I have been expecting the request since the Ball was announced. I believe I know what the headmaster wishes, and of course will be happy to meet with him and assist him as required."
"Thanks Sir Nicholas, I'll let the headmaster know at dinner then. Now, obviously there is something you wanted to see me about. Is one of our students in trouble?"
"What? Oh no. Nothing like that. I have something of a more personal nature to discuss."
The professor raised an eyebrow and cleared the pile of papers she'd been grading from her desk. "Indeed? Continue."
Nick summarised the discussion he'd had earlier, and waited for the response.
"And you say a 15 year old student came up with this idea? A modified severing charm?"
"Yes, young Harry Potter, 5th year. We were talking in the library and... oh sweet Merlin!"
Amelia stood instantly at the shout, drawing her wand in reflex, and looked around warily. "Explain. Now!" she commanded.
"I apologise, Professor, please, relax. I've just realised something, something dreadful that I've done." He tried to calm himself and continued. "You would know professor that a gentleman of breeding, as I considered myself, takes care to ensure his behaviour is well-mannered?"
Amelia holstered her wand and sat down again. "I have always found you to be so Sir Nicholas. What's this about?"
"Indeed, I had thought so too, so it might surprise you to learn that I have been so distracted with my own problems that I have not only embarrassed myself twice in respect to young Harry, but have just realised how rudely I departed his company before coming here." He shook his head. "So that's three times.. No, four! Oh dear Merlin! I forgot I was supposed to be asking him about his own problem! Oh, this is intolerable!"
"Settle down Sir Nicholas, I'm sure it isn't all that bad."
"Not that bad? How could it possibly be worse? It was just such a casual regard for others that caused me to be executed in the first place!"
"I'm sorry to hear that; however, I'm afraid I really must insist you control yourself now. This isn't productive, and we have some work to do."
"You're right, of course, I must go and apologise, though how I can face him now..."
"Later. First I would like to see what effect, if any, a standard severing hex has on your neck. Having never had reason to cast a spell on a ghost before I'm unsure what to expect. Lets see what happens with a regular spell before we start making extra work for ourselves, shall we? Please stand over there in front of that target, and extend your head as far from your body as possible, please."
The ghost drifted over to the target areas and did as requested.
Amelia's wand appeared to flash as a non-verbal spell shot towards the small flap of translucent skin that was causing Nick so much grief.
"Hmmm, let's try a couple of others." Again Amelia's wand flashed as various spells were cast.
"Well Sir Nicholas, I believe we've established that regular spells have little effect, so I will raise this with the faculty and see if we can't find, or perhaps even create, something more effective."
"Thank you Professor, I do appreciate your efforts. Now if you'll excuse me..."
"Slow down, Sir Nicholas. I'd like you to tell me what's up with one of my... sorry, our Gryffindors."
"Well, unless I'm very much mistaken, I believe there is a young lady he would like to escort to the ball, and my guess is that he has yet to approach her." He sighed ruefully. "I was going to discuss it with him during our last conversation of course, but he was able to deflect me every time I tried. And he succeeded too. I don't suppose the hat got it wrong do you? He'd put many of the Slytherins to shame with his..." He caught the expression on the professor's face and decided he was altogether glad to be already dead.
Nick let out a false cough "Well, in any case... I wasn't able to confirm what was really on his mind."
"I see. Well, I would appreciate it if you would let me know the outcome of your next discussion with him. I've got a niece in Hufflepuff that might take matters into her own hands before long regarding Harry. Anyway, I think we've done all we can for now, but I'll let you know the outcome of the meeting once I've discussed this problem with the others." She paused. "You said Harry suggested a modified spell?"
Nick looked thoughtful "Yes, I don't think he even considered that a regular spell would have any effect."
"Well, that was quite perceptive of him, don't you think? If regular spells had any effect on ghosts, then they would likely have fallen victim to them over the years." Anticipating Nick's next question he continued "However, I've learned never to make assumptions, so we needed to prove that regular spells would not affect you. In any case, I expect it'll take quite some time before we'll have anything new to try. Spell creation is an exact science, and I can only imagine how difficult some of the arithmantic equations are going to be."
"Of course. Well, if that will be all Professor, I'll take my leave now. My thanks for your efforts on my behalf, and of course my apologies for the rudeness I displayed to your student. I shall of course ensure I apologise to him as well."
"Not to worry Sir Nicholas, I'm sure anything more than a quick apology would only embarrass him, so try not to be too extravagant. And for Merlin's sake don't do it in public!"
With a nod to his head of house, Nick drifted off to see if he could find Harry before it got too late.
Chapter 3: Meeting with the Headmaster
Fate it seemed had conspired against Nick, and his efforts to find Harry after dinner had been unsuccessful. Resigned to having to try to track him down the next day, he drifted towards the Headmaster's office for his meeting. He noted that that the Bloody Baron and the Gray Lady had also arrived early, and they were shortly joined by the Fat Friar.
"Thank you all for coming along this evening," Headmaster Ryan began. "I shall not be keeping you long." He steepled his fingers and continued. "It's a curious thing, but while I was reviewing some of my predecessor's old records, I learned some interesting facts. For one thing, it has been far too many years since we've held a Halloween Ball, and while I'm sure there have been good reasons for it in the past, I see no reason why we shouldn't hold them regularly from now on."
Ryan looked across at the four house ghosts. "There is something else that I've just learned from reading the journals, which relates to the Ball and the castle's resident spirits." He paused, looking slightly embarrassed.
"Ah, Headmaster, I believe I may know what you have in mind," Nick said, taking the short silence as an unconscious desire for interruption. "The house ghosts have always taken their roles as chaperones quite seriously, and we would be happy to patrol the castle to help maintain propriety and ensure any personal celebrations are, shall we say, appropriate."
Ryan frowned. "Yes, I've read about that particular task being allocated to you, and as the four coordinating the efforts of all of Hogwarts ghosts I'd like to thank you for your help with past balls. I'd appreciate it if you would pass on my thanks to the others as well. However, that's not why I've asked you here."
He pointed towards a copy of the ball notice that had been posted up in the common rooms and various other locations throughout the school. "I assume you've all read the invitation?"
"Of course, Headmaster," Nick replied.
"And you all noticed the RSVP?" Ryan asked.
"Yes, we have," Nick responded, looking at the other ghosts in the hope that one of them might offer something more helpful. The headmaster was clearly looking for a response, but whatever it was eluded Nick completely.
Ryan sighed. "I had hoped that would have been enough, but perhaps I should have made it more specific. All right, as you can see, it says that everyone is invited to attend, and by everyone I mean that I would like our resident ghosts to attend as well, if they wish to. I personally find it appalling that you have been treated as.. as.. house elves instead of being given the chance to enjoy the ball along with the rest of us. We will be employing security and other staff as required to assist with anything that our volunteers need help with, but I'd like the four of you to try and encourage some RSVP's from the ghosts, okay?"
Nick stared at the man, frozen in place, and wondered if his headmaster was part basilisk. Attending a ball with the living? The closest he'd ever come to something like that was when he'd invited Harry to attend his 500th deathday party. That hadn't gone very well at all.
"You're...you're inviting us to the ball?" Nick asked. He'd heard the headmaster say essentially just that not a moment earlier, but it seemed so unlikely that he simply had to ask.
Ryan frowned again. "Yes, I am, and as I said earlier, I had hoped the original invitation made that obvious. I admit I found it hard to believe one of my prefects when he suggested I talk to you four and clarify this with you, but it seems he was right to be concerned."
"I... I don't know what to say, Headmaster, except... thank you." Nick looked to the other ghosts, willing them to say something as well, but they seemed content to let him do all the talking and merely nodded their agreement. From what he'd been told, few of the living bothered to talk to them, and it seemed they'd mostly given up trying to open conversations with them. Perhaps this ball would go some way to changing that separation?
"There are still some arrangements to make, and I'm afraid not everything at the ball will suit our non-living guests, from what I've been told. Our ball committee will be in touch with you. Perhaps they can arrange to set up a separate buffet for you in a nearby classroom, for example..."
"Yes of course, delicately put headmaster. I assure you, the opportunity to attend and mingle will be more than enough of a privilege, but we'll be happy to work with the committee if there is anything we can do."
"Well then," said Ryan "I think that covers everything, and I look forward to seeing you at the ball.
"As do I," said Nick, and he and the others started to drift off.
Something occurred to Nick, and he turned back to ask a last question. He suspected he already knew the answer. "Headmaster, you mentioned that a prefect had encouraged you to speak with us?"
Ryan looked directly up at Nick. Given the conversation he'd had earlier with Amelia over dinner, he wasn't surprised at Nick's curiosity. "Yes, it was Harry."
"Ah, yes, I might have known. Thank you Headmaster. Good night."
Ryan watched Nick absorb the information and then leave along with the others. There was clearly something troubling Nick, but it was something he'd leave him to resolve himself.
Chapter 4: Mutual problems.
"Just the person I was trying to find!" Nick exclaimed happily the next day.
Harry turned looked over at Nick and smiled. "Good morning Sir Nicholas, how are you today?"
"I'm very well thank you Harry, although I would like to continue our conversation if you have some time."
"Sure, I've got a free period now, and my next class isn't until after lunch. The library then?" Harry suggested.
"That will do just fine. Shall we?" Nick extended his arm, gesturing for Harry to lead on.
"I must say Harry, I'm quite unsure how I can possibly apologise for my appalling behaviour yesterday," Nick began as they walked through the castle.
Harry chuckled "You must have mistaken me for someone else Sir Nicholas. I have no idea what you believe you are supposed to have done, but I don't feel offended." He interrupted as Nick started to list his many faults. "However, if you just want to give me a quick apology then it's no skin off my neck". He said the last with a grin.
"Well then I apolo... what?" Harry's turn of phrase had just registered and he gaped at him.
Harry started laughing. "Oh, the look on your face Sir Nicholas! Sorry, but you were getting way too serious. Besides, I've been waiting five years to find an excuse to say that to you."
He looked over at Sir Nicholas who was still staring at him. "I guess not too many people bother to try joking with you then?" he asked more soberly.
Nick just shook his head.
Harry sighed. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised, but I am sad to hear it. I should have made more of an effort to talk to you myself, I guess."
"What on earth for, Harry? Between your studies and friends - and now prefect duties, I've noticed you're quite busy already."
"Being busy is no excuse. You know as well as I that there have been a number of times, like that ridiculous 'heir of Slytherin' time and during the Tri-Wizard tournament when most of the school didn't want anything to do with me. I badly needed a friend then and you were very kind to treat me normally. I haven't forgotten what I owe you for that."
Nick made a sound as though clearing his throat. "Well, if it would make you more comfortable Harry, how about we call it even now?"
They reached the library and Harry took a seat at one of the more remote tables.
"Now about the ball..." Nick began
"Yes, good point!" Harry interrupted. "Who are you going to take?"
"Wha...what?" Nick stammered.
Harry rolled his eyes. "It's a ball Sir Nicholas, you're invited aren't you?"
"Yes I am, as you well know, having made sure the Headmaster personally invited us." Nick accused.
"Of course I did. To him it went without saying that you'd all be going, and he couldn't see what the fuss was all about. I had to talk fast to try and explain that you ghosts probably wouldn't see it that way. So anyway, have you thought of asking Helena?" Harry grinned
"How in the name of Merlin do you know the Gray Lady?" Nick asked, amazed.
Harry shrugged off the question. "I've got a good friend in Ravenclaw," he answered easily. "But there's something else I know about her that you might be interested in." He leaned forward with a conspiratorial whisper. "I've watched her looking at you."
Nick wondered how he was going to respond when it occurred to him that he was once again being diverted. He decided it was time to get back to his original objective, and this might just be the opening he needed.
"Has she really? How extraordinary. Well then Harry, It seems we each have a task before us. We both have ladies in need of escorts to the ball, do we not?"
Harry sighed. He hadn't really expected to distract Nick again and had pulled his last 'ace' in desperation. Nothing for it but to answer Nick now, and hope he didn't die of embarrassment. "I don't know how," he confessed.
"Oh, I don't believe that for an instant," Nick replied. "You've had me dancing to your tune amazingly well since yesterday."
"It's different with you Sir Nicholas, and I have no problems talking with any of the other guys, or even the professors - well, most of the time anyway. But talking to girls..." He gestured helplessly. "I just feel the heat rushing to my face just thinking about talking to them, and it only gets worse the closer I get to them."
"Why is that Harry?"
Harry looked puzzled "What do you mean? I thought it was obvious, I'm shy around girls."
"But why?" Nick asked again.
"I don't understand." Harry replied.
Nick paused for a minute, thinking of the best way to help his young friend. "All right Harry, I'd like you to think of me as one of your professors for a minute, as though your blushing problem is just another topic for discussion in one of your classes. Can you do that?"
"I'm not sure... professor, but I can try" replied Harry
"All right then, we know what the problem is, so let's see if we can identify the likely cause of your reaction. For starters, would you agree that it is unlikely that all girls are releasing massive clouds of pheromones at your approach or casting confundus charms at you personally? Because if you do, then it stands to reason that the reason you are blushing in their presence is almost completely due to your own mental state, not to something they are doing to you. Would you agree?"
Harry thought about it "I think I see what you're getting at. Go on."
"You don't sound too convinced. Tell me, do you have a sister Harry?" Nick asked.
"Not really, but Hermione's as good as." Harry replied.
"And do you blush when talking to her?" Nick asked, already knowing the answer.
"Well no, but she's my best friend isn't she?" Harry responded a little indignantly.
"Of course, but the point I wanted to make to you is that your blush response isn't for all girls, only those that you might consider as potential girlfriends. Wouldn't you say?" Nick pressed.
"I hadn't really thought about it to be honest." Harry admitted "But that does sound reasonable... professor."
Nick smiled. "Good, so now let us try and narrow this down a little further. Can you think of anything that you might like to do with a girlfriend that you wouldn't do with one of your male friends?"
Harry's face immediately turned red, just as Nick had expected. "I see that you can," Nick said, smirking, before taking pity on him. "All right Harry, I don't mean to torture you, so how about I move to the summary and then you can let me know if you think I'm right?"
Harry nodded with some relief.
Nick adopted a no-nonsense tone, as though they were discussing the use of a particular spell or potion. "Well, I believe your problem is that you simply lack confidence in yourself. You blush when embarrassed because you have an unrealistic and unconscious expectation that you are somehow supposed to already know exactly what to say and do in any situation. And of course since you don't already know, you somehow think you'll respond in the worst possible way - leading to embarrassment."
"In other words, you lack confidence in your ability to respond appropriately in any situation that might develop." Nick concluded, and then watched as Harry tried to absorb what he'd just heard, and waited patiently for Harry's response.
He wasn't kept waiting long. "I'm not sure whether you're right or not, but you know, that does make a lot of sense to me, and it's as good a place to start as any. So professor, do you have any suggestions on how I might solve this problem?" Harry asked.
"Honestly Harry, I don't think there is anything you need to do. I think you're already 'solved' as it were, now that you understand what's going on." Nick replied, "All you need to do is remember that you are perfectly capable of thinking on your feet. Everything else will come with practice and experience. You don't expect to cast a new spell perfectly the first time do you?" he asked.
"No, of course not," Harry replied.
"Which is why you don't get embarrassed when you miscast a new spell. All you have to do is realise that nobody expects you to have perfect answers or perfect responses all the time, even girlfriends, and just do the best you can. I have complete confidence in you," Nick said, looking directly at him.
"Thanks Sir Nicholas, I appreciate your support," Harry said "You've given me a lot to think about."
"Well I hope you don't spend too much time thinking. In case you'd forgotten there is a ball to be held, and unless you want to risk the possibility of your young lady accepting someone else's invitation, you'd better ask her soon."
"But..." Harry began.
Nick interrupted "There are no buts about it young Gryffindor. Simply harness your courage and just ask her. If she says no, then you're no worse off than you were before, so you really don't have anything to lose."
"I see your point." Harry sighed. "I suppose I've always understood that, but the idea of rejection just seemed so..."
"Painful?" Nick offered. "Look, I could talk about other fish in the sea, but I think you already know that. But do try to keep in mind that even a 'no' reply doesn't mean 'no' forever. It just means that you might need to work at letting her get to know you better before trying again."
Harry nodded, deep in thought.
"Well Harry, I'd say that it's time you headed off to lunch. You do remember our deal don't you?" Nick asked
"What deal?" Harry asked confused.
"We each need to ask our prospective dates to the ball," Nick reminded him "So if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to take my own advice and see if I can find Helena before the Bloody Baron does. Good day to you Harry, and good luck."
"Thanks Sir Nicholas, you too," Harry responded, and watched as his friend drifted away.
He sat thinking about what Nick had said for a while before his stomach reminded him that he was missing lunch. He chuckled and took off for the great hall. The good thing about mealtimes is that you were almost guaranteed to find all of the students there, and there was one in particular that he needed to speak to.
Chapter 5 (Epilogue): Having a Ball
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington was having a particularly good evening, as he glided with his date around the dance floor. Noticing his favourite Gryffindor, he manoeuvred them alongside. "Ah, Mr Potter, Miss Bones, how are you both this evening?" he asked.
"Couldn't be better, Sir Nicholas, I'm having a ball," Harry replied with a wink, before turning to Nick's dance partner. "Miss Ravenclaw, I hope you are enjoying yourself as well?" he asked
"Very much. It has been such a long time... Nick's told me that we have you to thank for it, as well," she said.
Harry's date gave him a questioning look, so Helena answered for him and spoke to her directly. "He was kind enough to ask the headmaster to invite us personally. We had assumed the ball was only intended for the living up until then."
"I see," Susan said thoughtfully, giving Harry an appraising look "So how did a loyal, caring Hufflepuff like you get sorted into Gryffindor?" she teased.
"Really, Miss Bones, you're welcome to borrow my young Gryffindor, but I'd rather you didn't try to steal him away from us completely," Nick said with some amusement.
She laughed along with the others, and they continued dancing as the band played on.
When the band took a break a few songs later, the Headmaster stood and addressed the hall.
"I trust everyone is having a truly splendid evening, but I'd like to take a moment of your time for a brief announcement. Sir Nicholas, would you come up here please?" Ryan asked.
Confused, Nick drifted to the front of the hall accompanied by Helena, who then waited nearby once he reached the headmaster.
The headmaster gestured towards the doors, and everyone turned to see an enormous cake being levitated in by Dobby.
"Happy 503rd deathday Sir Nicholas!" Ryan announced to the hall.
As the crowd applauded and cheered, Nick decided it really was one of the best evenings he'd ever had.
This story was originally written for the inaugural (2007) Halloween Ball fic contest on potterficforum. With a little bit of work though, I've modified it to be a more traditional Harry story. I'm not all that happy with it, but other than Bane, this was my only other story before starting Thoughts of Pudding about 9 months later in July 2008. (September 2009 addendum; 'Nope, still not all that happy with it!')
The original contest guidelines were to keep the story to 5,000 words, something I had difficulty in doing. So, that word limit is mainly to blame for the rather unsatisfying epilogue. Who knows, one day I might use some of this in a longer 'real' Harry/Susan fic.
Before anyone comments on Harry being a prefect, think about it. Albus was the one that decided Harry had too much to be getting on with, and since he's not there, Harry gets the badge he deserved.
Many thanks to Scott from potterficforum for beta editing the original story - any mistakes left are my fault.