It was one of those beautiful days when the sky was a deep sapphire blue, cloudless and dazzling, stretching as far as the eye could see. A gentle breeze, fragrant with the smell of new earth and the tiniest hint of wildflowers, wafted through the Forbidden Forest, stirring the leaves in the trees, making it seem like the forest was alive with gentle whispers. A single bird from deep within the woods trilled out an exquisite melody celebrating the beauty of the day, completing the idyllic panorama.
It was the kind of day that, by and large, made a person happy to simply be alive.
Unfortunately, Ginny Weasley was not one of those persons.
In fact, none of the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team were feeling particularly ecstatic at the moment either.
With the possible exception of their very chipper Captain, Harry Potter.
Ginny was hot, tired, achy and becoming more miserable with every passing second.
Really, she thought irritably, as she felt a stitch in her side start making its presence known, haven’t we had enough of this torture already? I mean, really!
Ginny pushed her long red hair out of her eyes as she completed another lap around the Quidditch pitch. She stared balefully at the back of Harry’s messy black head, imagining that she could, by force of her stare, transmit the message to their very dedicated Captain that his Gryffindor team was on the verge of complete exhaustion.
Harry had called for a practice early this Saturday morning, muttering vaguely about new training techniques that would help them slaughter Slytherin in the next match. Ginny wearily reflected that she should have known what was in store for them when she had seen Harry in deep conversation with Dean Thomas.
Sitting beside Harry during dinner last evening in the Great Hall, Ginny had listened in as the two boys discussed the exercise programs of Dean’s favourite West Ham football team. She remembered that she had actually been pleased to see Harry enthusiastically scribbling on a piece of parchment while Dean expounded on the virtues of pre-game callisthenics. Harry had been quite worked up, and Ginny had been fascinated by the way his green eyes sparkled behind his wire-framed glasses.
So, bright and early, with the sun just barely breaking through the horizon, Harry had met up with the rest of the Gryffindor team in the changing rooms, with a manic gleam in his eye and a wide smile on his bespectacled face that Ginny privately thought was far too attractive at such an unholy hour of the day.
“All right, team?” Harry barked, in what Ginny assumed was his best “I’m-channeling-Oliver-Wood-right-now” voice. She watched, half-asleep, as Harry stood in front of the room, clad in a white shirt that had the Gryffindor lion emblazoned in the front and the word “Captain” in red letters in the back and dark blue tracksuit bottoms. She lazily made a mental note to nick the shirt as soon as possible. It would go nicely with her red pyjamas.
If Harry was waiting for a zealous response from his team, he was to be sorely disappointed. He was instead greeted by several yawns and a rather loud, prolonged snore which came from Ron Weasley, who was slumped over on a bench by the lockers, his mouth hanging open and saliva pooling on his favourite fluorescent orange shirt which said “This one’s a Keeper!” in bright yellow letters. The twins had given it for him for his birthday. Despite the fact that it clashed spectacularly with his hair, Ron wore it as often as he could. The only other shirt that he wore more frequently was his Chudley Cannons shirt, which was even more violently orange and featured the personalized autograph of their current Keeper, Oliver Wood, who had been traded from Puddlemere United.
Ginny looked at her brother with a mixture of amusement and disgust. If only Hermione could see him now. I wonder if she’d still be attracted to him, drool and all. She snorted when Ron gave a particularly thunderous snore, one that could have easily passed for the rumble of the Hogwarts Express going at full speed.
Obviously, Harry’s best mate was not what you would call a morning person. Neither was Ginny for that matter. In fact, the only person who could have made her get up at cockcrow without immediately being on the receiving end of a nasty Bat-Bogey Hex was Harry Potter.
“I said, ALL RIGHT, TEAM?” Harry now bellowed, his voice reverberating in the room, startling Ron into falling off the bench with an ear-splitting, spectacular crash. This had the effect of waking up everyone else. Ron rubbed his eyes sleepily and grimaced.
“Bloody hell, Harry. There’s no bloody need to shout,” Ron complained as he picked himself off the floor and leaned back on the seat. He scowled menacingly. “It’s five bloody o’clock in the morning on a bleeding Saturday. I’m still supposed to be sleeping in my nice, warm, comfortable bed. Only Hermione gets up this early in order to study, and that’s bloody unnatural enough by itself.”
“Well, I needed to get your attention, didn’t I?” Harry replied in a much softer voice. He rubbed his hands together and looked around at the now wide-awake faces of his teammates. Ginny smiled at him and rolled her eyes at her brother. Harry grinned back at her. Ron closed his eyes again.
“Okay! Now listen, I got this new idea from Dean about how we can improve our stamina for the upcoming game with Slytherin.” He looked critically at Ritchie Coote and Jimmy Peakes, who suddenly hid their wide yawns behind their Beaters’ bats when they realized that Harry was staring at them. “Some of you—you know who you are—seem to have let yourself go in the fitness department. Eating fourth helpings of pudding will do that to you, I reckon.”
The two boys shuffled their feet uneasily and tried to unobtrusively suck in their stomachs.
“So, we need to start a fresh exercise regimen to whip you into shape! Everybody! Out on to the field!” Harry whirled around without waiting for an answer and marched resolutely onto the pitch.
Moaning and groaning, the rest of the team followed him slowly, their feet dragging. Ginny lagged behind to poke Ron in the ribs until her brother arose from his nap, grumbling and muttering a few choice oaths as he did so.
“Harry’s gone round the twist, he has,” Ron chuntered, shaking his head in disbelief. “What’s the point in these stupid bloody Muggle exercises? We never had to do them before, and we’ve won loads of matches against Slytherin and that ruddy Malfoy.” He gave an enormous yawn that threatened to dislocate his jaw.
“Oh, I’m sure Harry knows what he’s doing,” Ginny said loyally. “He just wants us to win, that’s all. I’m sure we’ll be back in the air in no time.”
But by the time they had gone through stretching exercises, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and other manoeuvres, the sun was already high in the azure sky, and there were no signs that they were going to be finished anytime soon. Harry had hollered, badgered and threatened them while they huffed and puffed through their new training drills, and then had given orders to run around the pitch, seemingly unmindful to the mutinous glares and muttered complaints that were sent his way.
With ten laps still to go and the sun now beating mercilessly on her head, Ginny now wholeheartedly agreed with Ron’s observation that Harry had indeed gone slightly, if not totally, mad. Her legs felt like jelly, and the stitch in her side was getting progressively worse.
She looked back at Coote and Peakes, whose tongues were hanging out of their mouths, panting like large dogs, as they lumbered around the field, lagging way behind everyone else. Ron was beet red, and beads of perspiration were standing out on his forehead, his red hair plastered onto his brow. The other Chasers, Demelza Robins and Katie Bell, were breathing raggedly, their eyes glassy and unfocused. Ginny swore softly and decided to put an end to her—and everyone else’s—misery.
“Harry!” she called out. He did not seem to hear her and continued jogging in front of them.
Harry’s head swivelled in her direction, and he slowed his pace so that Ginny could catch up with him. “Yeah, Ginny?” he asked, his legs continuing to move rhythmically. Ginny noticed sourly that he did not seem to be out of breath at all. In fact, he looked like he had just been out for a leisurely stroll around the grounds.
“Harry, we need a break. The team’s about to pass out, in case you haven’t noticed.” Ginny jerked her thumb behind her. Harry’s eyes widened when he saw the exhausted expressions on the other Gryffindors.
“Merlin, I didn’t realize…” Harry's face became worried, and he stopped running. “Okay, you lot, we’re finished for now!” He watched as the others immediately collapsed in a wheezing heap onto the ground, with Ron giving a loud theatrical moan as he buckled down and lay spread-eagled and motionless on the grass.
“Erm, all right. Fifteen minute break!” Harry shouted through cupped hands. Ron acknowledged the directive by leisurely sticking his hand into the air and giving his Quidditch captain a very rude hand gesture, which earned a chuckle from Harry. “You’re a pansy, Weasley!” he called out mockingly at his friend.
“Piss off, Potter!” was the muffled reply as Ron continued to lie face down on the earth.
Ginny came to a halt along an openly laughing Harry and clutched at her side. “Fifteen minutes! You—are—a—slave—driver, Harry,” she managed to puff out. She slowly straightened up and wiped the sweat off her brow. She reached up to lift her mass of hair from her neck and fanned herself with her other hand. She wished she had thought of plaiting it or at least pulling it into a ponytail.
Harry grinned down at her. “Well, we do still need to practice our flying drills, Ginny. You know that.”
She groaned and started to walk to relieve the ache in her legs. She had only taken a few steps forward before she cried out in pain. Her right leg had seized up, and she reached out for support by grabbing Harry’s shoulder.
“Ginny, what’s wrong?” Harry asked worriedly, placing an arm around her and helping her sit on the grass. “Your leg’s cramped up, hasn’t it?”
She nodded through gritted teeth. She tried to flex her leg but stopped and hissed with pain when a fresh cramp hit her.
“Here, let me.” Harry took hold of her leg with one hand and her foot with the other. He gently pushed and pulled on her foot, until Ginny felt the muscle relax. “You probably didn’t do enough stretching,” he reproached her.
“Yes, I did. I guess I wasn’t expecting that you would put us through so much torture,” Ginny said a little sarcastically, even as she became aware that Harry was still holding her leg in his lap. She tried not to show any reaction as the pain she had been experiencing was replaced by an entirely new sensation as Harry’s fingers expertly kneaded her calf. The heat from his hands seemed to be burning a trail from her leg all the way to the pit of her stomach, and she wished that she had worn tracksuit bottoms instead of her ratty old black shorts for this practice session. Maybe she would not be enjoying herself so much if Harry was not touching her bare skin.
Then again, maybe the shorts were a good idea after all.
His hands felt bloody fantastic.
Steady on, Ginny, he’s just being nice and concerned, like every good Captain should be, she told herself, even as she felt a flush creeping over her face at the slightly naughty turn her thoughts had taken. She was thankful that her face was already red from the exercises or else she would be hard put to explain why she was blushing around Harry Potter—something that she had not done in a very long time.
To hide her confusion, she ducked her head, letting her hair fall like a reddish-gold curtain in front of her face. She peered at Harry furtively from under her lashes. He had a look of intense concentration on his face as he gently massaged her leg, his black hair being softly tousled by the slight breeze that had come about. Ginny bit her lip in an effort to keep from moaning out loud at how good Harry’s touch felt.
After several more seconds, Harry pronounced her leg good as new and helped Ginny to her feet. He squeezed her hand gently before letting it go to yell at the others who were still lying around on the grass.
“Oi, you lazy lot! Break’s over! Get a move on and mount your brooms!” Harry commanded. He watched as the others grudgingly pulled themselves off the grass. Demelza and Katie both hauled on Ron’s arms until he reluctantly got to his feet. “Come on, Ron! You need me to light a fire under that fat bum of yours?” Harry taunted, earning him another rude hand gesture from his best friend.
“Ron Weasley!” A shocked voice was heard from the stands, and Ron flushed when he saw Hermione looking disapprovingly at him. It appeared that she had come to watch them practice after breakfast. A maroon umbrella was hovering over her, shading her from the sun’s glare, and a large book was open on her lap.
“Get a grip, Hermione,” Ron muttered as he prepared to mount his broom.
Harry waved to Hermione then turned his attention back to Ginny. “Everything all right now, Ginny?”
“Yeah, thanks a lot,” Ginny said, suddenly shy but determined not to let Harry know how much she had been affected by his expert ministrations. She also lifted a hand in greeting to Hermione, who waved cheerily back.
“Anytime, Ginny. Can’t have my star Chaser injured, can I?” Harry gave her a crooked smile, causing Ginny’s heart to skip a few beats. “But don’t tell Demelza and Katie that. I don’t want to be accused of playing favourites,” he added, bending his head and lowering his voice in a conspiratorial murmur. Ginny was unable to stop herself from shivering as Harry’s breath tickled her ear. He straightened up and gave her a broad wink. “All right, let’s get on our brooms, shall we?”
Despite the paces that Harry had already put them through, the rest of the practice session went smoothly. Once up in the air, Ginny felt her fatigue fade away, and she put in extra effort into her flying. She worked flawlessly with the other Chasers, scoring goal after goal, keeping a tally in her head with each satisfying swoosh the Quaffle made as it zipped through one of the golden hoops. Harry called the practice to an end after another hour, right after Ginny score her twentieth goal past Ron’s excellent Keeping skills.
Upon landing, Ginny, Demelza and Katie excitedly discussed different ploys that they could use in the next match. Jimmy and Ritchie managed to put all the balls back in the trunk and, heaving it between them, trudged back at a snail's pace to the changing rooms. Demelza and Katie soon followed them, even as Harry and Ron walked over to Ginny—Harry grinning broadly, his Firebolt slung over his shoulder.
“Hey sis, you weren’t half-bad!” Ron said, thumping her soundly on the back, causing her to stumble forward a little. “How many goals did you make? Six? Ten?”
“Thanks, Ron. You weren’t too awful yourself,” Ginny retorted, punching her brother on the arm playfully. “And for your information, it was more like twenty goals.” She drew herself up proudly.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed with her, making her feel even more confident. “Yeah, it was. Twenty goals. I was counting,” He beamed at her, his eyes shining behind his glasses. “Ginny, you were fantastic,” Harry exclaimed.
Ginny found herself helplessly caught in his bright green gaze and felt her heartbeat speed up once again. Merlin’s pointy purple hat, he's handsome, Ginny thought dazedly, all sweaty and flushed like that. Ooo-er… A sweaty Harry Potter... Mmmm…
Harry smiled widely, and then to Ginny’s utter surprise, he, too, clapped her heartily on the back. “Erm, okay, well done! There’s no way Slytherin can beat us!” he said enthusiastically. He reached out and mussed up her hair before moving to join Ron.
Ginny stood unmoving, her mouth slightly open in shock as Harry and Ron turned towards the direction of the changing rooms, already heatedly discussing how badly they would yet again trounce Slytherin and how to best gloat over Draco Malfoy at the moment of sweet victory.
Ginny saw her brother wave at Hermione as the brown-haired witch came down from the stands to meet them, her umbrella and book under one arm.
What in the name of Godric’s sharp shiny sword just happened? Ginny asked herself when she had managed to close her mouth. Did he really just ruffle my hair like a little girl?
Harry had complimented her, she was sure of that, but he had done it in a way that could only be interpreted as friendly—in the strictest, most platonic definition of friendship. He had thumped her on the back like Ron had. All that was missing was for Harry to call her mate, for Merlin’s sake.
Well, what had she expected, really? Ginny reflected wryly, as she slowly trailed behind Harry and Ron. She had decided to give up her crush on Harry and just try to be good friends with him. The past summer, Harry had come to The Burrow earlier than expected; it had been fantastic. She had been thrilled to find out that they seemed to have pretty much the same interests, and it was with no small amount of delight that she had discovered his wicked sense of humour; his wit was dry and sarcastic—they had had spent numerous nights in helpless laughter as she and Harry had talked easily about anything and everything. Ginny made sure she kept their conversations light and undemanding—she had thought that if he had wanted to open up to her, he would do so in his own time.
In between playing pranks on Ron and Hermione and furious games of Quidditch in the Weasley orchard, Harry seemed to grow more comfortable with her each passing day and had opened up little by little. Harry knew that sometimes, she still had dreams about Tom Riddle, having heard her whimpering in The Burrow on some nights, and this had also helped him realize that she understood some of the things that he was going through. Ginny had been so determined that he would not feel pressured when she was with him and was quick to try and cheer him up whenever he became maudlin. Apparently, she had succeeded all too well.
She was now officially one of Harry Potter's friends.
If she was honest with herself, Ginny knew that a tiny part of her had still been hoping that somehow, Harry would come to see her in a different, more romantic sort of light. Ginny sighed deeply, feeling very melodramatic. So much for that idea.
It’s time, Ginevra, she told herself sadly. Time to get over Harry Potter and move on.
She eyed the black-haired boy walking lithely in front of her, chatting animatedly to his two best friends. She noted that his rangy body had filled out in all the right places over the summer. Gone was the skinny, scrawny little kid that she had first set eyes on in King’s Cross.
Ginny smiled wickedly as she let her gaze travel over Harry’s broad shoulders, before moving downward and lingering on Harry’s bum which was outlined quite delightfully by his tracksuit bottoms. She giggled to herself and decided that she would get over Harry tomorrow.
Right now, she would certainly take her time and enjoy the lovely view first.