Acknowledgements: Thanks to Ahmie, beta reader extraordinaire, for splitting my paragraphs into bite-size pieces. Thanks also to my many alpha readers (AKA literary crash test dummies), Dawn especially, for many helpful and encouraging comments.
The baby bunny at the center of this plot was actually drawn from a scene in Babylon 5, but as bunnies do, it grew into something huge with great nasty teeth. If you know B5 very well, I'd be interested to see if you can recognize the original inspiration. If you don't, please read and review anyway, and then go buy or rent B5 and start watching it.
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling and her publishers own all the good bits. This is why she's the richest woman in Britain and I'm not. Err, well, that and the fact I'm not in Britain. Nor am I a woman. I'll just shut up now and let you read, shall I?
Chapter One: A Walk at Dusk
Harry shivered and wrapped himself in his cloak as he stepped out of the Three Broomsticks. The setting sun painted the sky with dramatic reds and oranges, but it did little to warm the chilly November wind that whistled through Hogsmeade. The rolling hills beyond the edge of the village were aflame with russet and brown, washed in the sunset glow.
Harry was musing about how well the sunset colors matched a certain someone's hair when his reverie was interrupted by a soft voice and a small warm hand fitting into his. He turned to find the owner of that hair looking up at him, smiling shyly. Harry smiled back and fell into step with her as they started down the street back to Hogwarts.
It was a near-miracle, in more ways than one, that had brought Harry to the village at all. When Professor McGonagall had announced the first Hogsmeade weekend of the term a couple weeks ago, Harry had shrugged and all but forgot about it. Death Eaters had attacked several wizarding families in the preceding year, and many others had simply vanished; even Hogwarts' students had not been immune. As Voldemort's chief irritant and most wanted target, Harry assumed he would not be allowed to leave the safety of the Hogwarts grounds, so he had not even asked for permission to go.
He had resigned himself to a quiet day of revising for his N.E.W.T.s when a blushing, stammering Ginny Weasley had found him in a quiet corner of the common room and asked him to go to Hogsmeade with her.
Harry had gradually become aware, over the last year or more, that Ginny was growing up into a fascinating and beautiful young woman. Apparently his classmates were noticing as well, to judge from the looks he saw cast in Ginny's direction when she walked through the common room. Harry had wanted to approach her, but with each new attack or disappearance, he felt a deep gloom wrap itself more tightly around him, holding him back. When Ginny took the first step, however, Harry was secretly delighted, and he met Ginny's ecstatic smile with one of his own.
Harry had warned Ginny that he probably would not be allowed to leave the school grounds. Much to Harry's surprise, however, Dumbledore and McGonagall gave Harry their guarded permission for him to go.
McGonagall had frowned at him severely over her glasses. "I understand that you in particular are under a great deal of stress, Mr. Potter, and badly in need of some diversion. I will therefore allow you to accompany Miss Weasley, but only against my better judgment. Please stay close to your fellow students at all times, and by no means go off on your own."
Dumbledore had merely smiled, his eyes twinkling with some secret amusement, and urged Harry to be careful and return before dark.
The night before their Hogsmeade trip, Hermione surprised Harry by dragging herself out of Ron's lap and walking Harry over to a corner of the common room. "Harry, take your belt off for me, will you?"
"I'm sorry, I can't have heard you right. I thought you said -"
"I said, take off your belt for me."
Harry goggled at her.
"Well, I'm not going to take it off of you, and you don't want me pointing my wand there while you're still wearing it. I'm going to make you a Portkey for tomorrow, just in case."
Harry blushed and handed over his belt, and Hermione muttered a few incantations over the buckle. "There, squeeze your belt buckle with both hands to activate it, and it should bring you back to right here. I think. I've never made one before…"
The next day dawned cool and crisp under a deep blue sky, but Harry barely noticed anything except Ginny as the time flew by. They spent at least two hours in Zonko's, laughing over some of the newest joke items and plotting dire mischief against Fred and George. Honeydukes had never smelled so wonderful to Harry, and when on impulse he bought Ginny a huge multicolored chocolate rose, she blushed deep red but hugged Harry's arm against her chest. On the walk up the street to the Three Broomsticks, Harry reached out and took Ginny's hand. She smiled up at him, brown eyes looking deep into green, and squeezed his hand gently.
A few hours later, after dinner, several butterbeers, and a great deal of talking and laughing, Harry looked around and realized with a start that he and Ginny were the only students left in the pub. Wishing the day could go on forever, he mumbled something about needing to get back to Hogwarts.
Ginny nodded and motioned toward the ladies' room. "Go on outside, Harry. I'll meet you out there directly."
So now he and Ginny were walking hand in hand down the dusky path back to Hogwarts' main gate. Ginny was talking animatedly about some childhood incident involving Charlie, Percy, and a llama. Harry was alternating between laughing at her story and being amazed that he was finally holding Ginny Weasley's hand. It felt so right somehow, so comfortable, and Harry could not imagine why he had waited so long.
With such an attractive distraction beside him, Harry was paying understandably little attention to the world around him. He was shocked, therefore, when a voice behind him rang out "Stupefy!" and Ginny sprawled face first on the road, unconscious before she hit the ground. As Harry spun around, he heard another muttered curse, and his legs went rigid and immovable. Three cloaked and hooded figures emerged from the trees at the side of the road.
Harry raised his wand to fight, but one of the figures lifted its wand and called out "Expelliarmus!" in a contemptuous tone. Harry's wand flew out of his hand and clattered to the ground next to Ginny. Then ropes flew from the attacker's wand and bound Harry's arms tightly to his side. He struggled helplessly and bit at his captors' gloved hands to no avail as they grabbed him by the ropes and roughly dragged him off. "Ginny!" he screamed, almost forgetting his own peril in his fear for the small red-haired figure lying so still on the ground. "Ginny!"