Homework was not the only thing on Harry Potter's mind as he sat in the common room rather late one night, every so often glancing at the portrait hole. It was a cold winter night in late January, and a large fire was burning warmly in the fireplace. Ron and Hermione had been working on their homework with him earlier, but they had gone up to bed, along with most of the other Gryffindors. Harry had made the excuse that he wanted to get caught up on a large project for Transfiguration, but he was really waiting for a certain someone.
Finally, the portrait hole opened and an exhausted Ginny Weasley walked through. She brightened as she saw Harry sitting by the fire and plopped herself down next to him.
"The OWL exams are going to kill me this year, I know it," she said tiredly.
Harry grinned at her. "Down in the library?"
"Yeah. Snape is really cracking the whip. He says he was 'disappointed' in the results last year, and is trying to make up for it this year. So, really, it's all your fault!" she said accusingly.
"Not my fault," he said haughtily. "I got an 'O' on my Potions exam." Harry snickered. "You should have seen Snape, though, on the first day of Advanced Potions. He kept looking over at me like he couldn't believe I was there and didn't want to believe it."
Ginny laughed and then sighed. "Well, I don't know if he'll be making faces at me next year," she said glumly.
"You'll do fantastic. Are you hungry? I noticed that you didn't come to dinner," he said.
"Starving. I haven't eaten since lunch. Are you thinking…?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
Harry patted his robes. "Got them right here," he said, grinning.
Ginny eyed him mischievously. "Well then, Mr. Potter, I would say that a little excursion is in order."
They slipped quietly out the portrait hole, the Fat Lady giving them a suspicious look. "Now, you two come back soon… it's almost curfew!" she said warningly.
"Um, we'll be right back," Harry said, a bit guiltily, as Ginny giggled at his fib.
Moving to a dark corner of the corridor out of site, Harry pulled out his invisibility cloak and put over their heads. He then activated the Marauder's Map.
"The coast looks clear," he whispered to Ginny, who grinned back at him. Harry cleared the map and they began walking toward the kitchens.
Although he felt sorry for Ginny that she had to miss dinner, he was also secretly happy that it gave him an excuse to sneak down and get something to eat with her. They had been spending a lot of time together since Ron and Hermione had started going out. At first Harry had felt very left out, but Ginny would seem to show up whenever he was feeling particularly depressed and cheer him up.
They crept along the corridor, with Harry in the lead and Ginny following closely. She was lightly touching his shoulders so as to maintain the same distance. The motion of their walking caused her fingers to slide across his back, sending shivers down his spine. It was agonizing and wonderful at the same time.
The agony had been slowly building over the course of his sixth year, as he spent more and more time with her. It seemed so strange to him that there was ever a time that he didn't notice her, yet he couldn't deny that for a long, long time he had completely overlooked her. Was it too late? She never acted like she had done in her first few years. As far as Harry could tell, Hermione was right. She had given up on him. The thought sent a twisting feeling through his stomach.
The one thing he thought he had going for him was that he didn't think she was seeing anyone else seriously. She seemed to be friendly with a lot of boys, which secretly irked Harry no end. But he hadn't seen any outward signs of affection with anyone special.
Harry had come to appreciate her strength in the past year. He had been an emotional wreck over the summer and earlier in the school year. Ron and Hermione were very helpful, but he found it difficult to talk to them about certain things. They had a tendency to worry and pity him. The looks they gave him after he admitted the prophecy had been particularly dreadful.
Ginny was different. She just listened to him and admitted some of her own pain in dealing with Tom Riddle. What amazed Harry was that she had moved past it so successfully. She had said that it was years since her last nightmare, yet Harry still had them several times a week. He had come to depend on her to help him through his own internal battles. It was very helpful to know that someone his own age had gone through similar battles and come out of it still strong.
Harry heard a noise and abruptly stopped, listening for anyone coming. He was very distracted by Ginny, who was standing closely behind him. He could feel her breath on his neck, and it was driving him mad. It was all he could do not to turn around and kiss her right there in the corridor.
The truth was that he simply didn't know what to do. He wanted to admit his feelings, but wasn't sure if they would be returned. He was fairly certain that Ginny didn't suspect anything, and that was the way he wanted to keep it for now until he figured out the best way to tell her. He didn't want to ruin what they already had. She had become very important to him, and he would do anything not to spoil that.
They heard the noise again, and then suddenly Harry spotted Filch and Mrs. Norris heading their way.
"Come on!" Harry whispered. "We'd better hide somewhere, or Mrs. Norris will give us away."
Harry started leading them back the other way just as the cat gave a loud, "Meow!"
"What is it?" said Filch. "Do you hear something? Students out of bed, perhaps?" His eyes narrowed, looking down the dim corridor.
Harry and Ginny walked quickly but silently down the corridor. The turned a corner, and Harry spotted a broom cupboard. He opened it up, and they slipped inside. It was quite small, but they managed to squeeze in and close the door just as Filch and Mrs. Norris came around the corner.
Ginny was pressed up against Harry, and he was desperately trying to keep his hands away from anywhere unsafe and embarrassing. They waited silently, as they heard Filch and Mrs. Norris walk slowly past. Having Ginny so close was killing him. He surreptitiously took a deep breath; her hair smelled good.
Finally the corridor seemed to be clear. With a mixture of relief and disappointment, Harry opened the door of the cupboard, and they made their way to the kitchens. Opening up the entrance, they walked in, seeing several house-elves milling about.
Suddenly an elf streaked toward Harry at full speed, almost launching himself in the air.
"Oomph!" Harry shouted, staggering backward as Dobby gave him a bone-crushing embrace.
"Good evening, Harry Potter, sir!" said Dobby joyously.
"Hello, Dobby," Harry said, a painful smile on his face.
"Hi, Dobby," Ginny greeted as well, her hand over her mouth to suppress her giggles.
Dobby finally released him. "Dobby will fix Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley a snack right away! You both wait over at a table," he said, gesturing toward a table that several house elves were busily scrubbing down.
"Thanks…" Harry called after him, but Dobby had already disappeared.
Not long after, Dobby brought them quite a spread of food. Ginny dug into her plate ravenously, while Harry nibbled at a custard cream. He watched her eat, feeling contemplative. Ginny looked over and smiled at him, and Harry felt a warm feeling come over him.
Something about the night seemed to push Harry to a decision. Perhaps it was that he was feeling reflective in reviewing his relationship with her, or maybe it was sharing a late night adventure. But he had to admit to himself that he had strong feelings for her – and it was time to let her know.
* * *
Harry flew about the snow-covered Quidditch Pitch, just practicing dives and feints by himself. Flying always calmed his thoughts, and his thoughts had been quite busy lately. Impulsively, he took off toward the castle at a high rate of speed, enjoying the cool morning air on his face. The sky was overcast, and it appeared a storm was heading in.
It had been a week since his decision to tell Ginny his feelings, but he was no closer to actually doing the deed. Either there were too many people around, or the time just didn't feel right. Feeling frustrated, he decided to fly to clear his head.
He pointed the broom straight up and flew high above the castle, where he could see the entire grounds. Not too many students were out this morning, since it was Saturday and many people were sleeping in. He started circling the castle, weaving among the turrets.
Flying past one of the highest turrets, Harry saw a flash of something odd about it. Puzzled, he turned around and flew back. There was an odd seam on the side, so he brought his broom alongside for a closer inspection. It was a door with a small handle. He looked around cautiously, as if someone might be lurking about, but then chuckled to himself. He yanked on the door, expecting it to be locked, but it opened easily, revealing a bright light from the interior.
He peered into the strange room, and to his shock, he could see right through the other side. Pulling his head out, the turret seemed solid, but inside, the walls were transparent.
He tucked his head and arms and flew into the room. He looked about in astonishment, knocking on the walls to make sure they were actually solid. Standing on the inside, it seemed like he was standing on an open platform, but the air was still, so he knew he was still in a room. Wow, this is a great place, he thought. I wonder if anyone else knows about this.
He sat down on the floor and looked out over the view. He could see snow covered hills behind Hogwarts Lake, and the forbidden forest seemed to stretch forever. He idly wondered if Grawp was still in there making mayhem.
His thoughts returned to Ginny. This would be a perfect place, he thought. No one could possibly interrupt them up here. Somehow being as far away from everyone as possible gave Harry a little more confidence.
But how could he get her up here? Then it came to him – Valentine's Day was coming up in a week. That would be a perfect time. Ugh, I need to get her a gift, he thought anxiously. Somehow he needed to get to Hogsmeade and buy something. Something special; something that will help show her how I feel, he thought.
Feeling emboldened, he mounted his Firebolt and headed back to the Quidditch pitch.
* * *
Harry entered his dormitory to fetch his invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map. If he was going to do something next Saturday, then he needed to get to Hogsmeade as soon as possible. His only option was to sneak through the tunnel.