A cool wind rustled through Harry's black hair. The first vestiges of autumn were approaching and the scent of the air warmed him beyond any of Madam Pomphrey's potions. Leaves whisked past, tumbling along the grass outside the Quidditch pitch and then swirling down towards the lake where they invariably were swallowed up in its frigid waters.
He pushed his fringe up and out of his face and walked purposefully onto the pitch. It was the first practice of the season for Gryffindor. He was more than ready to get back in the air again after having been banned most of last year and locked away at the Dursley's for the summer. It was time to be back where he belonged and his heart was beating wildly with anticipation.
"Ho there, Harry!" called a familiar voice from the bright sky above. Katie Bell was circling above the pitch, Quaffle in hand, tossing it back and forth with the new third year Chaser, Bennett Mead, and Ginny Weasley.
"Hey, Katie," answered Harry with a wave. "How's the team looking so far, captain?"
She threw the large red ball to Bennett. "Run some drills with Ginny!" she yelled over her shoulder and maneuvered her broom down next to Harry. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us." Katie motioned to the two new beaters who were only a small improvement over Sloper and Kirke. "Losing Fred and George will hurt us the most. Bennett's coming along, Ginny's fabulous. By the way, have you seen her play?"
Harry nodded his head as his eyes tracked her broom in the sky. She was running a drill with Bennett, who was hard pressed to keep up with the petite redhead. A Bludger whisked past her as she dodged low. Bennett swerved the opposite way and had to fly faster to catch her up, but by the time he did, she had thrown the Quaffle at an undefended hoop.
A smile formed on his lips as she flew a wide arcing sweep of the stadium, wind blowing her loose ponytail behind her like a banner. "What about Ron?"
"Ever since we won last year, he's been unstoppable." Katie shifted her weight on her broom and pointed at the goals he was defending from three enchanted balls. "His determination is unbelievable. If he's set on something, there's simply no turning him off of it."
Harry snorted, remembering how intimidating Slytherin had been the year before. He mounted his own broom and with a glance back at Katie said, "Well, I haven't caught a Snitch in almost a year, so I'm anxious to get going."
He shot into the air and soaked in the familiar feeling of flight, remembering quickly how to command his Firebolt's motion. Flying around the pitch a couple of times to get acclimated, he ran a series of steep dives and flew off towards Katie again to get a practice Snitch. After catching it several times, he finally felt like he was back to his old self in the air, able to turn as sharply as he ever could and actually beat his best goal-to-goal time.
The sun was just going down on the horizon and Harry turned his broom to the ground for the last time when a red blur whizzed in front of him and swept towards the nearest hoop. The blur slowed and came back around towards his now hovering broomstick.
"Heya, Harry! Sorry about that." Ginny flew up beside him, large grin splitting her soft face. "I didn't even notice you flying there."
"Don't worry about it," said Harry casually. "I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going either."
Her eyes were bright and cheerful, holding within them a hint of mischief. Harry stared at them, wondering why he had never noticed how alive they seemed.
"Harry? You all right?" she said, waving a hand in front of his face.
"Huh? Oh...yeah, I'm fine, just a little tired." Harry shook his head as if to clear it and motioned down to the pitch. "Better get in before Ron eats all the food."
She laughed and his heart felt instantly lighter. "Race you!" she said as she bolted towards the ground. Harry chuckled to himself and shot off after her.
Ron, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny skulked along the corridor towards the Astronomy tower where the Marauder's Map showed two dots labeled "Mrs. Norris" and "Argus Filch". It was close to five in the morning and the four of them were on a mission to keep the pranking spirit alive at Hogwarts. Since the twins smashing departure last year, they had been under a lot of pressure to set a good example. Exactly what that meant was the subject of intense debate amongst the four of them.
Hermione resisted and fought with Ron about the importance of keeping the rules as prefects. Ginny, who didn't have the hang-ups associated with a badge, argued that they had a responsibility to lighten the atmosphere, and that it was just as important to enjoy life as it was to get good grades. Coming from the smartest witch in fifth year, Hermione could only offer a final protest of "As long as we don't get detention..." before they were decided.
The plan was for them to divide and conquer. Ron and Hermione would stun Mrs. Norris and place her frozen form on a pedestal outside the Great Hall, while Harry and Ginny would distract the caretaker by either attacking him directly or simply luring him away from his cat.
"I still don't like this," whispered Hermione. "We can't afford to get caught."
"Shush," replied Harry. "They're moving towards us now." He pointed his lit wand at the map and motioned for Ron to look with him.
"You take the cloak with Hermione and get Mrs. Norris from behind." He turned to Ginny whose face was huddled close to his. "We'll get Filch's attention and run for the library. There's no one down there this time of night and it's the furthest spot from the Great Hall."
Ron nodded his head and said, "Should give us plenty of time to make a sculpture out of our favorite feline and place her where everyone will see."
"Right then," said Ginny brightly. "Let's do this."
They broke away from each other and Ron draped Harry's invisibility cloak over him and Hermione. Harry watched, or rather listened, to his friends bickering silently as they took a hidden passageway that came out behind their target.
As the portrait closed, Ginny cleared her throat and Harry turned to look into her eyes. "What?"
"Nothing," she answered innocently. "You want to check on Filch?"
Harry tore his eyes away from her face and searched for the dot marking his location. "He's three doors down, in the next corridor over from us."
Ginny moved in close to him to see the map. Her hip pressed against his side and produced an oddly warm sensation that radiated throughout his whole body. The scent of vanilla and ginger sent his mind buzzing and he had a hard time concentrating on Mr. Filch's advancing dot.
Harry breathed in lungful of the smell surrounding them and let it out, struggling to not sigh out loud. Ginny gave him a sideways glance and he could detect her smile widening. "So, how do you want to do this?"
"Excuse me?" he asked slightly taken aback, but quickly recovered. "You - you mean about Filch?"
She giggled into her hand and nodded her head. "What did you think I meant?"
"Well... I thought... I mean that you were... and I..." Harry stopped trying to explain himself then, preferring instead to leave the question unanswered. It was probably better that way. "I'll get his attention and you hit him with your Bat-Bogey Hex."
She nodded slightly, considering his plan.
"Then we'll both run for it as soon as Ron and Hermione grab Mrs. Norris, otherwise, they'll both just chase after us when we run for the Library. We only want Filch to follow."
A shuffling noise, followed by the distinctive closing of a door filtered down the curving corridor. "Quick!" whispered Harry, folding the map and shoving it into his pocket. "Get behind that column."
He maneuvered her to the wall underneath a large ornate window. They huddled down by the base of the column and waited. Harry found it very hard to not glance at Ginny, who was grinning freely, every other second. She seemed to be having the same difficulty and when the moment came to finally execute their plan, they had to force themselves out of the hiding spot.
Harry shot out of the corner and skidded to a halt in front of a rather ugly painting of Grizelda Moorpark. Filch's eyes went wide and he immediately yelled, "Potter! What devilry are you up to this early in the morning?"
"Just enjoying this fine portrait, Mr. Filch. Have you ever seen a better looking lady?" The woman in the portrait blushed appreciatively and curtsied at Mr. Filch.
The caretaker turned to look at the portrait when Harry saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. Ginny was taking aim with her wand and was just about to let loose with her hex. Mrs. Norris pounced on Filch and he went careening into a nearby plant, sending it flying into the wall. Ginny's hex hit the painting instead and Grizelda was covered in flying bat bogeys, screaming indignantly at the redheaded girl.
"It's actually an improvement," Harry said sardonically before he turned to see Mrs. Norris bearing down on Ginny. "Run!"
Ginny needed no further prompting and she and Harry sprinted in the opposite direction. His Seeker skills came in handy as they flew down staircase after staircase. Ginny was having a harder time of it and he had to slow down to keep from losing her. Amazingly, Filch was still right behind them, Mrs. Norris at his heels.
"Ah!" screamed Ginny as she tripped on a large rug and crashed onto the floor.
"Ginny!" yelled Harry, nearly tripping himself in an effort to get back to help her up. Arriving at her side, he stooped down to grab her and was prepared to carry her if he had to.
"It's no good Harry, you get out of here and I'll take the blame," she said, holding her knee.
Harry looked at her for a split second and made up his mind. "No, Ginny, I'm not just going to abandon you. Here," he said, holding out a hand. "We'll face it together."
She reached up tentatively and pulled until she was upright again, leaning into him for support. Her left leg was held delicately in the air and they both turned to hear the approach of Mr. Filch.
"You'll pay for that! You attacked me and my poor cat and I'll see you both in detention for a week!" he said, huffing and puffing from his pursuit.
Still holding Ginny close and breathing heavily himself, he wondered what had happened to Ron and Hermione.
Last night's detention had kept Harry up far too late and he had slept in. Three detentions would have been a small price to pay -- had they been able to get Mrs. Norris, but it wasn't to be. Ron and Hermione, he found out later, had been "locked" in a broom closet and were unable to make it in time to get Mrs. Norris. Both Harry and Ginny were more than a bit skeptical at their explanation and knew there was likely more to it than that, but both Ron and Hermione were tight lipped about what had happened while Harry and Ginny were being given detention. The only indication that Ron and Hermione were at least partially honest was the black eye that Ron wore the next morning, apparently a result of his attempts to break down the door and flee from Hermione.
As it was, he would barely be able to grab a bite of toast before Potions began. Rushing into the Great Hall, Harry slipped past a gaggle of second years at the entryway and half-sprinted to the Gryffindor table where Ron and Hermione were just getting up to leave.
"There you are," Ron said through a mouthful of bacon. "I tried to wake you, but you were knackered."
"Thanks anyway, Ron." Harry began to put some toast into a napkin and on impulse, grabbed the last two blueberry muffins on the table and rolled them up separately. "I'll see you two in Potions."
"We'll wait up for you, if you want," Hermione offered.
"No, that's all right, I've got to make a stop by Charms first." Ignoring the quizzical looks on Hermione and Ron's faces, he stuffed the two bundles into his robes and huffed out of the Hall to the Charms corridor, book bag thumping at his hip.
When he arrived outside Flitwick's classroom, he quickly scanned the crowd for a familiar face. The fifth years were just arriving for class, and through the array of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, Harry spied his target. Rushing toward her, he took out the muffins from his robe pocket and grabbed her arm.
"Ginny," he puffed breathlessly. "Here's some breakfast. I know you didn't get a chance to eat anything." She took the bundle in his hand and looked up at him with a curious expression.
"You didn't have to do that, Harry," said Ginny, quickly recovering from her shock as a smile formed on her mouth.
Harry hesitated for just a moment, indulging himself in trying to memorize the shape of her lips, and then said, "Well, I'll see you at lunch then." Without waiting for a reply, he strode off to the dungeons to endure another lesson with the hated Potions Master.
As he was turning the corner, he heard one of Ginny's friends say loudly, "If that's not enough proof he likes you, then you're more pathetic than I thought."
He halted in his tracks, almost crashing into one of the suits of armor that lined the hallway. They think I like Ginny?Well, of course I like her...it's just that she's Ginny, not some girl. I certainly don't like her that way.
Resuming his march back to potions, he puzzled on this for a time until he was in his seat next to Ron. His friend clapped him on the back and said, "Where'd you go?"
Slowly, Harry turned to his friend, still thinking. "Um... just had to drop something off...."
At that moment, Snape burst into the classroom and began barking orders for their lesson. Try as Harry might, he couldn't seem to get his mind off what Ginny's friend had said. I can't like Ginny! She definitely doesn't like me that way anymore and besides, Ron would kill me!
Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper were practicing summoning and banishing between the dormitory stairways. They took turns with each spell, sending books, quills and crumpled bits of parchment flying through the air at each other.
Harry got up from his chair and started to walk over to talk with Neville. He was struggling with their Herbology essay and now was as good a time as any to ask the undisputed king of plants for help.
Just as he was crossing the sofa in front of the fire, Ginny was making her way downstairs, intent on heading for the portrait hole. From the corner of his eye, Harry could see that the summoning and banishing between Andrew and Jack was rapidly escalating into a frenzied bout of dodge, with the flying objects growing larger and larger.
As Ginny and Harry's path intersected, he quickly grabbed her with both arms and tackled her to the floor. A large book bounced heavily off a nearby table and toppled it to the ground.
Lying on top of a very confused Ginny, Harry immediately tried to get up, but found his arms were pinned under her back from his effort to cushion their fall. Instead, he looked into her face and saw that her eyes were wide with shock.
"Are you all right?" he asked with a voice barely above a whisper.
Her eyes resumed their normal size and she said, "Actually, better than fine." She nodded towards the overturned table. "Thanks for saving me, Harry," she finished in a demure tone.
Harry's eyes now widened as he resumed fumbling to extricate himself from the floor and Ginny. A blush began to creep up his neck and cheeks and he felt abnormally hot in the cool air.
"Well... the book... it... could have...." Harry's mouth was very dry and he couldn't seem to form the words properly. He noticed that Ginny now had the beginnings of a smirk on her face and didn't appear to be making any effort to help them get off the floor.
Just as Harry finally managed to free an arm, he was pelted in the head with a wad of parchment. "Hey Potter, do you mind not doing that in the Common Room?" Sloper was sniggering into his hand as Kirke fell off his chair in a fit of laughter.
Harry finally released his hold of Ginny and jumped off the floor with a look of abject terror on his face. Recovering what little sense of dignity he had left, he deftly offered to help Ginny up as well. Ginny however, was still grinning madly up at him and it took several moments before she grabbed his hand and was pulled to a standing position.
"Look, Ginny..." Harry began, "I'm sorry about that, I just didn't want you to get hurt."
"It's all right, Harry. I understand completely." Ginny stared at him for a few seconds, with the same unwavering smile and then turned on her heel and resumed her march to the portrait hole.
As she exited, Kirke recovered from his sniggering and said, "When are you going to ask her out, Potter?"
"What are you talking about? Ask who out?" He knew exactly who they were referring to, but couldn't bring himself to acknowledge it.
"Oh, come on, Harry. We know you fancy Ginny, just admit it and get it over with." They continued to laugh and began picking up the evidence of their mini-war.
Harry's mind was turning. Once again, someone had accused him of liking Ginny Weasley. He didn't know how it was possible, but as he continued to ponder the situation, one thought hit him like a bolt of lightning. He was falling in love with her.