Harry sighed as he watched Ginny laugh with Steven. As usual, they were going to walk to Quidditch practice together, and he was feeling quite impatient.
All right, there were another five minutes until they had agreed to meet. Even so, he wanted to get out there. Ron had already left long ago; he had been made captain that year, and was on the field long before anyone else to prepare for practice.
Flipping through a Quidditch magazine, he tried to ignore them, but couldn't help his eyes being drawn to watch covertly. Ginny had begun going out with him a few months ago. Harry was glad that she seemed to be happy, but Steven seemed awfully… well, annoying. He wasn't a bad bloke, if it came down to it, but he was somewhat of a braggart, and had a particularly irritating, braying laugh.
Harry couldn't help but think she could do a lot better. Not that Ginny needed his approval for her boyfriends, but… he just wasn't good enough for her, and that was that.
Not to mention that Harry didn't see her much these days. If he was really honest with himself, he missed talking to her. They had spent a lot of time together over the summer, which had helped him more than he believed she realized. Between Ginny going out with Steven, and himself going out with Nadine, they hadn't had much time to talk outside of Quidditch practice.
As Harry gave another impatient glance at the clock, Ginny gave Steven a quick peck on the cheek, then grabbed her broom as she ran over to Harry.
"Hi, Harry!" she said brightly. "Can't wait to get out there."
"Yeah. Ron's supposed to show everyone the 'secret' strategy book today," Harry said, smiling as they exited the portrait hole.
"You deserve a reward for showing me that," Ginny said, giggling.
"Well, I had to share it with you, didn't I? But don't tell Ron, he wanted it to be a big shock," Harry replied, laughing.
"He's certainly spending a lot of his time devising new strategies," Ginny said. "I'm not certain when he squeezes in homework. Hermione sees to that, I suppose. He better think of something good for Valentine's Day with all the time he's spending on Quidditch."
Harry chuckled. "I should prod him so he doesn't get into trouble. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't realize it was two weeks away."
"How about you? Any special plans with Nadine?" Ginny asked, grinning. "A little rendezvous at Madam Puddifoot's, perhaps?"
Harry gave her a sour look, but then smiled. "Let's not bring that up. I think I'll keep Valentine's Day nice and simple this year. I'll think of something. Do you have plans with Steven?"
"He hasn't mentioned anything yet," Ginny replied. "I might have to do a little prodding myself. We'll probably go to the feast. Truthfully, I'd be happy with a few chocolates."
"You two seem to be spending a lot of time together. I'm glad you're happy," Harry said.
"Yes, he's fun. And you and Nadine seem to be spending a fair amount of time together," Ginny said, looking at Harry carefully.
"I really like her; she's a lot of fun as well."
The trip to the Quidditch pitch was all too short for Harry as they entered their respective changing rooms.
Ginny walked down a corridor, her stomach rumbling for some lunch. It had been a long morning, and she had missed breakfast. Entering the Great Hall, she met Harry and Nadine, who had apparently just finished their own lunch.
"Hi, Ginny," Harry said, stopping to chat.
"Hello, Harry, Nadine," Ginny replied. Nadine seemed a bit put out at stopping.
As Harry told her a funny incident with Snape, Ginny noticed with a twinge of irritation that Nadine was hanging on Harry's arm, as usual. Her hand seemed to tighten a bit as she forced a smile to her face.
Bloody hell, he's not going to float away if you happen to let go of his arm for a few seconds, Ginny thought, then forced down her feelings. Nadine was Harry's girlfriend, so she should make more of an effort to like her, at least for Harry's sake.
Still, it was hard not to notice the glares that Nadine served up whenever any girl spoke to Harry, Ginny included. It seemed to Ginny that she was a bit too possessive of him, not to mention insecure of his friendship with her.
They finished their conversation, Harry giving her a cheerful goodbye, while Nadine appeared cheerful at moving along.
Ginny continued walking to the Gryffindor table, reflecting on Harry's relationship with Nadine. If she were to really give her honest opinion, she suspected Nadine was attracted to Harry's fame. She had transferred from Beauxbatons and didn't waste any time practically fawning over him. Even Harry wasn't oblivious enough not to notice that. Ginny had to grudgingly admit that Nadine was quite pretty, with long blonde hair.
Boys, Ginny thought, rolling her eyes. If Harry would look past the physical, he would see that she was wrong for him. If only he could see how she acted when he wasn't around. Nadine took great delight in telling anyone who would listen that Harry said this or Harry did that.
To be fair, Harry did seem quite happy when he was with her, obviously enjoying the attention. And Merlin knew Harry could use a little normality in his life, a little innocent romance to distract him from prophecies about his own death.
Still, Ginny suspected that Nadine was a bit too flighty to really give Harry the support he would need when the next inevitable confrontation came. Nadine would never understand him, would never know what he needed. She just wasn't good enough for him, and that was that.
A week later, Harry dreamed… he was digging through his trunk; he had to find the Valentine chocolates he'd got for Nadine, but couldn't find them anywhere…
"Harry, I certainly hope you have plans for Valentine's Day," Nadine said behind him, making him flinch.
He turned, and she stood before him with crossed arms and a stern expression. Harry was about to explain that Dobby had his supply of chocolate in the Room of Requirement, when Hermione appeared, rolling her eyes at him.
"Really, Harry, you are truly hopeless." She handed him a heart-shaped box, which Harry quickly took.
As he handed it to Nadine, she suddenly turned into Ginny, who raised an eyebrow at him and laughed. "Why, Harry. Valentine chocolates? Surely not for me?"
Steven came up behind her, putting his arms around her waist. Harry felt a stab of jealousy, but then flinched again as he realized Nadine was to his side looking at him.
"Why are you giving HER chocolates?" she asked accusingly.
Harry wanted to explain to Nadine that he didn't want to give Ginny the chocolates, that he meant to give them to her, but his mouth wouldn't work. Finding a bouquet of flowers in his hands, he pushed them at her clumsily.
"Ow! It's poking me!" Nadine snapped, slapping the bouquet away…
A strange shift suddenly occurred…
Harry moved through a dark place, it felt cold, wet, dank… he seemed to travel for miles, finally exiting out of a toilet in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. He paused, surveying the room, thinking that it had been long, so long, since he'd been there…
But he had business to attend to.
Moving through the Hogwarts' corridors, he felt the familiarity… It was a foreign, dangerous place, yet oddly comforting at the same time. He marked various passages as he went. That stairway went down to the Slytherin dungeons; that other passageway led to the pathetic Hufflepuffs.
Ah, that's what I want, yesss… he thought, coming to the Gryffindor portrait hole. Harry passed through the sleeping Fat Lady's picture like a ghost, and then glided through the dark common room, torches dimly lighting the space. Pausing at the stairs to the boy's dormitory, he was tempted to pay a different visit than his plans called for, but no… it was not time yet. Patience, patience was necessary…
Instead, he moved to the girls' stairway, rising up the stone steps. Harry reached the landing; he could feel her here. Feel… an essence of himself…
He moved through a closed door, as though the wood were made of air. Quickly moving to a particular bed, he felt a thrill of excitement as he looked down at the small figure in the bed, sleeping peacefully.
Harry leaned down toward the head, closer, closer, then finally passed through the fiery red hair. A glimpse of a dream came through… a boy with black hair… being kissed… but then it was gone. The mind became blank, floating in ethereal softness… a pillow of suggestiveness.
'Rise,' Harry commanded silently, still within the girl's head. Her eyes opened, and Harry could see the room bathed in moonlight. The girl sat upright in bed, eyes fixed in front of her. 'Stand.'
The girl turned and placed her feet on the cold stone; Harry could feel how cold it was. She stood up, facing the window where the three-quarter moon shined through the glass.
'Leave this room,' Harry whispered in her mind. The girl began to walk, but stopped suddenly. Annoyance filled Harry's head; this was not according to plan. 'Go! Now!'
'No!' the girl screamed in her mind, fighting him. She turned toward her dressing table; her wand was lying on it… Harry could see her face in the mirror – Ginny's face. She reached toward her wand…
Harry concentrated all his power. 'Stop.' The girl froze; her mind slammed into blankness. He felt even more annoyance; the girl was still fighting him for control. It shouldn't require this much effort.
Keeping his concentration rock steady, Harry commanded her once again to leave the room. This time she complied, to his satisfaction. She walked to the door, silently opening it as he willed her to do. Yes, he thought, come to me… come to me and deliver what I need, what will make me even stronger…
She walked out the portrait hole, down the Hogwarts corridor.
'The lake,' Harry commanded. 'Go to the lake.'
Walking out Hogwarts' front entrance, Harry felt the cold wind on her skin, her hair tossed about by the breeze. The bright glow of the moon lit up patches of snow on the ground as they moved down the hill, toward the black water shining in the starlight.
She finally reached the edge of the shore, stopping before it. Harry could feel her trying to assert her will again; he forced it down, forced her back into nothingness.
'Don't fight it…' he whispered in her consciousness. 'It feels so good to float, let me think for you… within your mind is a certain essence of my younger self, I can remove it from you…' Harry could sense her uncertainty and desire for that; that was all he needed. Any doubt at all and her fight was over.
'Walk forward, into the water. Come to us, Ginny…' The seductive voice filling her head, she began walking forward. Her feet touched the icy water, but she still kept going. Water moved higher up her body, her nightdress becoming soaked. Still higher the water crept, over her chest, up to her neck…
Her head submerged, Harry saw shadowy figures around him, hooded figures within bubbles. A bubble appeared over the girl's head, and he felt strong hands gripping her arms…
"No!" Harry screamed. He sat straight up in his bed, his scar burning in agonizing pain. He writhed on the bed, gripping his forehead, trying to regain control of himself. After what seemed like hours, though he knew it was only seconds, the pain faded.
"Harry, mate!" Ron said, appearing at his bedside. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Harry leapt out of bed, looking around wildly. "Get Dumbledore! Now! Ginny, she's been captured… I saw a vision… tell Dumbledore to go to the lake!"
As Ron looked a little uncertain, Harry grabbed his Firebolt and wand. He gave Ron a hard shove, harder than he intended, but at that moment he didn't care. "Get Dumbledore! I don't care what you think this is, just get Dumbledore and tell him to go the lake. They took her below the surface!"
Harry ran to the window past his wide-eyed roommates. He threw open the windows, mounted the broom, and took off into the dark night. He flew at top speed toward the place in his vision; it couldn't be more than a minute since they had taken her. If he hurried…
On the way, he cast a body-bubble charm, similar to the bubblehead charm, but more advanced. Panic filled him at the thought of something happening to her; he had to get her back. He gripped the broom tightly as the lake approached. Harry braced himself as he plunged into the water.
An involuntary shiver ran through his body from the cold, but he blocked out the sensation. "Lumos!" he cast, lighting up the area around him, but the light disappeared into the dark, murky water.
Think! he exhorted himself. Harry realized the light was doing more harm than good, so he extinguished it, hoping to see some light seep through the black. He stopped his broom and floated in the water, squinting into the dark.
A high-pitched laugh sounded quite clearly in the distance, oddly familiar. Harry snapped his head toward the sound, and then he saw it… a very faint glow, almost unnoticeable…
Harry immediately took off in the direction of the glow, heading down farther into the depths of the lake. The light grew brighter as he approached; this had to be the right way. The glow seemed to spread out before him; whatever it was, it was bigger than he had thought. In fact, as he got closer, it was downright huge…
He came over a hidden ridge, and there it was: an enormous translucent dome. Harry stared in awe; it was at least five hundred yards wide and half that tall. He could see various buildings inside, but it was difficult to make out any detail.
Shaking his head, Harry concentrated on the matter at hand. He looked around carefully, and then noticed a number of people at the base of the dome. A blue spot was brightly lit near the hooded figures, and as he watched, they went through one-by-one.
Harry threw the broom into top speed; if that was the door, he suspected it wouldn't be open forever. He raced down to the opening, reaching it just as the last one disappeared. Taking a deep breath, he plunged through the hole.
He came out into a large rocky field and flew past four Death Eaters, who began yelling at him. His heart skipped as he saw Ginny being carried by one of them. Spells began shooting around him as he flew up toward the top of the dome, trying to work out some sort of plan. He pulled out his wand and began shooting spells in return. He had a decided advantage being on the broom, while the Death Eaters were relatively exposed, and was able to stun three of them.
Unfortunately, the fourth must have decided he needed help and ran toward a nearby building, leaving Ginny on the ground. Harry shot several spells after the hooded figure, but he dodged them all and escaped through a door.
Harry flew quickly down to Ginny. He shook her, calling her name. She was warm to the touch, to his relief. She was alive.
Just as he was about to put her on his shoulder, ten Death Eaters came running out of the building. "Hold it there, Potter," a woman's voice said.
There were too many of them; he couldn't risk shooting spells with Ginny in the line of fire. They slowly moved forward, warily spreading out. One of them finally stepped forward and removed her hood. It was Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Well, baby Potter comes to the rescue once again," she said, laughing.
"They know I'm here," Harry said steadily.
"This dome is now hidden and impossible to find," she replied. "We removed the shroud to enter, but it's quite unplottable now. No one is coming to rescue you. How do you think we've kept this place hidden from Dumbledore this long?"
As Bellatrix gave a long, cold laugh, Harry felt despair run through him. He couldn't deny that this place seemed awfully large to escape notice; it must have powerful concealment charms.
"So, Potter. Exactly how did you plan to escape?" said Bellatrix, with a smirk. "The great hero bulls his way in without any regard for how to get back out."
Harry's eyes scanned the space frantically. There were far too many of them, and with Ginny unconscious, he could hardly duel them while carrying her. Seeing a gleam off the top of the dome, a desperate idea came to him.
Looking Bellatrix in the eye, he slowly pointed his wand up at the dome. Bellatrix looked up as well, then she gave him a shrewd expression in return.
"You're reckless, Potter, but no one is that mad. Will you save your little friend by killing her? In any case, that dome is magically reinforced. If you're thinking of destroying it, it's an idle threat," she said with a laugh.
Idle threat, eh? Harry thought, as his plan crystallized in his head. It was risky – very risky. "Attero Confragum!" Harry shouted. A bright beam of crimson light leapt out of his wand, striking the dome. An enormous gong filled the space and several cracks appeared.
"Are you insane?" Bellatrix shrieked. "You'll kill us all!" She gestured to the Death Eaters around her. "Kill him now! Do not harm the girl!"
The Death Eaters began to advance, though Harry could see a wary expression on their face. Concentrating everything he had, Harry bellowed once again, "Attero Confragum!"
The dome cracked, sending a torrent of water into the complex. Harry waved his wand once again. "Accio Firebolt!" As the broom leapt toward him, he crouched and held Ginny just as the water flooded toward them. "Deflectimenta!"
He could hear the other Death Eaters shouting spells, but it wasn't enough. The water surged around him and Ginny, the spell blocking the water and preventing it from washing them away. Bellatrix was caught in the raging flood of water, getting swept away with the other Death Eaters.
The water abruptly back-flowed into him; Harry could see huge bubbles flowing out the crack in the dome, and the water was rising rapidly. It was time to go.
Putting Ginny over his shoulder, he mounted the Firebolt. Harry cast another bubble over himself and Ginny, and flew up toward the crack. The water was still gushing in; he couldn't leave until the air had totally evacuated. Finally the water reached the crack, stopping the flow, and he was able to fly through the hole he had created. Higher and higher he flew, finally blasting out the top of the lake in a large spray. There was a large group of people on the bank, among them Dumbledore, who gestured for him to land near them.
"Mr. Potter!" Dumbledore called, as Ron and Hermione looked on worriedly. "Are you unharmed?"
"Yes, Professor," Harry said tiredly.
He lay Ginny down on the ground, and Madam Pomfrey immediately ran over to attend to her. Harry gave Dumbledore a quick run-down of events, but couldn't help glancing at Ginny with concern.
"I just don't understand – how did it get there?" Dumbledore said, stroking his beard.
"What?" Ginny mumbled, coming back to consciousness. She sat up suddenly. "Harry!"
"Miss Weasley, you will lie back down!" said Madam Pomfrey sternly.
Apparently with other ideas, Ginny climbed to her feet and ran to Harry, hugging him and crying. "Oh, Harry, I remember everything. He was controlling me, I tried to fight him, I tried…"
Harry patted her back, trying to say whatever soothing things he could think of. Finally she released him, sniffling.
"Ginny!" a boy's voice yelled. Steven came up and embraced her.
"Harry!" It was Nadine, who ran up in slippers and a nightdress. She embraced Harry as well.
As Harry and Ginny returned each of their embraces, they continued to glance at each other.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Nadine finished sadly. "I know the timing is terrible. But I just can't – do this. I'm not like you – I'm not… brave."
She walked back into the Ravenclaw common room, leaving Harry standing stunned outside, holding his box of Valentine chocolate. Glancing at the box, he dumped it into a nearby rubbish bin as he slowly walked away.
They had been planning on going to the Valentine feast, but Harry definitely didn't feel like going down there now. Ron and Hermione would wonder where he was, but he didn't care about that now. Aimlessly wandering through the hallways, he finally ended up outside the Gryffindor common room.
"Forget something, dear?" the Fat Lady asked.
"Um, yeah. Guess I'll go up and get it," Harry lied. "The password is 'love makes the world go round'."
The portrait swung open, giving Harry entrance to the empty common room. He went up to his dormitory, throwing himself onto his bed and staring at the ceiling. Tossing and turning for several minutes, Harry finally rose from the bed, feeling far too restless to brood in his room. He grabbed a cloak and decided to take a walk outside and get some air.
Exiting the great Hogwarts' doors, it felt good to get out of the suddenly oppressive castle and leave some of his problems behind. The air had a brisk February chill, though the wind was calm. The sky was brightly lit with stars and a full moon. He wandered the empty grounds, noticing a couple here and there walking together, which only seemed to magnify his own situation.
Reaching the Quidditch pitch, he noticed someone sitting alone in the stands who looked vaguely familiar. Moving closer, it almost looked like…
"Ginny!" Harry called.
She looked up with a startled expression. "Harry! What are you doing out here?"
"Erm, walking around, I guess. What about you? Where's Steven?"
As Harry walked up to her, he noticed that she had tears in her eyes, which she surreptitiously tried to swipe away. She hesitated, and then said, "We… broke up."
"I'm really sorry, Ginny," Harry said, as he sat down next to her, looking concerned. "What happened?"
She shrugged, but didn't answer. "Where's Nadine?"
There was a long pause, as Harry felt very reluctant to discuss the matter. Ginny smiled at him reassuringly and said, "I'll tell you if you tell me."
Harry gave her a wan smile in return. "All right," he sighed. He paused, gathering his thoughts, then said, "Valentine's Day is just a rubbish holiday."
Ginny nodded vigorously. "Can't argue with you there."
"Nadine broke up with me, too. Just now."
"She broke up with you?" Ginny said angrily, looking outraged. "That… that little… If anything, you should've…" She stopped, and then bit her lip as though she'd said too much.
Harry chuckled. "I had got the feeling in the past that you didn't like her."
Ginny looked abashed. "She was all right. I did try and like her, Harry. But why did she break up with you? Did she tell you?"
Harry looked down at the ground. "I think… she was afraid. Of being… so close to everything."
"Oh, Harry," Ginny said sympathetically, putting her arm over his shoulder.
"Can't blame her, I suppose. I'm not exactly the safest bloke around."
There was a long silence as Harry just looked at the ground, listening to the sounds of the night coming from the Forbidden Forest, feeling Ginny's hand stroking his back, making him feel a little better. He was oddly grateful that she didn't try and tell him that he really wasn't dangerous. They both knew he was.
"Sometimes I wonder…" Harry started. He paused awkwardly, then continued. "Well, I wonder if anyone will think I'm worth it, you know, being in the middle of everything. I mean, even if I survive Voldemort, I might always be a target for his followers."
"You are definitely worth it, Harry," Ginny said quietly. "You just need to find the right girl."
Harry nodded, not feeling totally convinced. "How about you?" he asked. Ginny gave him a startled expression. "Erm, I mean, what happened with Steven?"
"Oh," Ginny said, lifting her hand off Harry's back. "Yeah. Well, after what happened at the lake, Steven decided I was a little too dangerous, too."
"What!?" Harry said loudly, with similar outrage to what Ginny had given him earlier.
"He didn't put it like that, but that's what it boiled down to."
"Well, that's just a load of rubbish," Harry said vehemently.
"Harry… can I tell you something?" Ginny said, looking very vulnerable.
"Of course you can," he replied.
"You may not realize this, but some people around Hogwarts are a little reluctant to be around me. I mean, everyone knows what happened in my first year. I think some wonder if I might have some Death Eater tendencies, or if my possession might have changed me somehow. I was a little too close to Dark Magic for their comfort." Ginny swallowed, tears coming to her eyes. "Sometimes… sometimes I feel like… damaged goods."
"You are not damaged goods!" Harry said in a shocked voice.
Ginny shrugged. "I know. But sometimes it's hard when you… hear about things that people say."
"I'll just say that I better not hear anyone say that," Harry said dangerously. "They'll regret it dearly."
"I doubt anyone would say it around you," she chuckled. "You're such a good friend, Harry."
"I would never think that about you," Harry said quietly. "You're… fantastic, the way you are." He stopped, finding it difficult to find words.
Ginny gazed back at him, and whispered, "And I would never think you weren't worth whatever danger might be in the future."
Harry swallowed, feeling a chill go down his spine. "This past week… this week I really wanted to talk to someone. I thought I should talk to Nadine; she was my girlfriend and all. But I couldn't… she wouldn't understand. And I realized that I really wanted to talk to, erm… you."
Ginny smiled at him, the first real smile he had seen in a while. "I tried to talk to Steven about what happened, but maybe that was my mistake." She laughed softly. "You and I talked a lot more over the summer. I miss that."
"I do, too," Harry said. "You've always been so supportive of me, Ginny. In fact, I guess I've never thanked you for coming to the Ministry, to help with Sirius."
"I've never told you this, but… you do know that no matter what, I'll be with you at the end, don't you, Harry?" Ginny said, the firm expression on her face telling him that she meant what she said. "Whatever happens, I'll be there."
Harry was tempted to argue with her, an odd desire to protect her coming over him. But he knew it would do no good. And then it occurred to him that she meant it – she would stand with him. Ginny was one girl that he could count on, that understood him, that wouldn't see him as a celebrity, or as someone too dangerous. She would be there to the end.
Feelings surged up within him, ones that seemed to have been building since the summer. They gazed into each other's eyes for a long moment. Her hair was sparkling in the moonlight; he felt like they were the only two people in the world at that moment. They leaned a little closer.
"Any bloke would be incredibly lucky to have you," Harry whispered.
"Any girl would be incredibly lucky to have you," Ginny answered, her voice in an equal whisper.
The distance between them finally closed, their lips touching in a passionate kiss. Their arms reached out to embrace each other, Ginny running her hands through his hair and across his back.
They finally broke away, breathing heavily. Ginny stared at him with wide eyes, looking about how Harry felt at that moment. Wow, he thought.
"Harry Potter, sir!" a voice said loudly, making them both flinch.
"Dobby?" Harry asked incredulously, turning to see huge green eyes staring at him.
"Harry Potter and Harry Potter's new special lady are not at the feast! You must be very hungry, we will get you fixed right up."
As Dobby winked out, Harry and Ginny turned to each other with dropped jaws. Several seconds later, twenty house-elves appeared around them carrying a variety of poles, canvas, chairs and a table. The house-elves worked busily, constructing a tent with a small, intimate table inside.
"Erm, Dobby, you don't have to do this…" Harry said uncertainly, but Dobby waved his hand. More house-elves appeared, loading up the table with food and two Butterbeers, freshly opened.
"Come in and sit down!" Dobby said, pulling them each by the arm. Harry and Ginny finally allowed themselves to be seated at the table, where Harry noticed with embarrassment that a rose had been placed on each plate.
Ginny giggled, picking up her rose and twirling it under her nose. "My, Harry, this is some Valentine's Day you planned. I didn't know you had it in you."
Harry laughed. "Yes, it was my plan all along. Get dumped, find you, and have the whole day come together perfectly." He picked up his Butterbeer and held it up. "To rubbish Valentine's Day holidays."
"To getting dumped," Ginny replied with a grin.
They clinked their bottles and took a long, laughing drink.