A/N: Special Thanks to Happydog for his mad beta skills.
Disclamer: I do not own Harry Potter or anything within his world, and I profit nothing by this but my own delight and amusement.
Harry sat out by the lake and stared gloomily at the figure jogging steadily closer. Her hair was bright red against the dull landscape of fading summer. He forced his stare back to the lake and pretended that he was just another lumpy rock on the shoreline. Maybe she hadn't seen him. Maybe she would leave him alone this time.
Soon, she was close enough that he could hear her huffing, even breaths, and the sound of her trainers scrunching compact earth, mud, grass, twigs, and every other variant in the terrain beneath them. Harry hoped that she would jog past and let him be, but instead she flopped onto the grass beside him. For a long while, she just lay there and puffed small clouds of fog into the air.
"Bloody Hell!" she gasped eventually. "I didn't think I could make it without stopping."
Harry didn't comment. He hoped that she'd get the hint and go away.
"Ginny," he began, then stopped, remembering what had happened the last time he was pointedly rude with her: she had ended up following him to the Ministry. He rubbed his nose and set his glasses askew. "Look. I'd like to be alone right now."
Ginny struggled into a sitting position while pulling twigs and grass from her hair and looking at him as though he was some sulking child. Ashamed, Harry looked away and readjusted his glasses.
"I'll leave you alone," she said coolly, "but you have to listen first. I'm here to help you."
"No one can help me with this," he muttered.
Ginny crawled over until she was next to him and sat with her knees up, mirroring his posture. "There you go again," she said, nudging him. Harry hated the amusement in her voice. "You're rather fond of being an idiot, aren't you? I thought we settled this over the summer. So are you going to listen, or are you going to let Umbridge rain Dungbombs on your sixth year?"
"I have a lifetime ban, Ginny, and it'll be years before the new Minister reviews Umbridge's decrees. They have loads more important things to review."
Ginny shrugged. "True."
Harry glared at her. "So what can you possibly do to help?" He grew angry at the calm expression on her face. She was watching the lake, and did not hurry to answer him. "Merlin, Ginny! Look, so you were able to help me talk to Sirius, but there's nothing you can do this time! Quidditch doesn't matter anyway." Harry grabbed a stone and hurled it into the lake; it sunk with barely a splash. "I was already going to have a miserable year." He hadn't meant to say that last bit; it embarrassed him. To cover the silence and his discomfort, Harry sunk another stone and watched the ripples spread.
"Ready to listen, now?" she asked in that cool, even tone.
He shrugged, still watching the ripples. "Yeah, all right."
Ginny loosed a long breath. "Honestly, I don't know why I'd offer, now, if you're determined to be miserable anyway. Forget that I said anything, I'll leave you alone."
She got up, carelessly knocking against him and scattering pebbles down the short hillside. She scrunched away. He heard her stop when she met the trail.
Harry resisted as long as he could, but eventually had to look back at her. She was watching him and looked as though she might cry.
In all of the years that Harry had known her, the only time he'd ever seen Ginny cry was after he'd rescued her from the Chamber. She hadn't even cried the night that her dad lay wounded at St. Mungo's, or when Bellatrix had threatened to kill her, or when her ankle had been cursed into pieces. She didn't cry now, but she looked close enough to it.
It was a bit odd, really.
Harry felt like cauldron slime.
"I'm sorry, Ginny," he said. He gave her an apologetic smile. "How 'bout I stop being a prat and let you explain?"
Ginny blinked rapidly, nodding and looking anywhere but at him. Harry politely looked away while she wiped her face and sat.
"Sorry," she said. "It's just...well, this wasn't an easy decision to make. I don't want you to think I'm not willing--I am. You'll understand once I explain..."
Harry turned slightly so that he was facing her. "It's okay. What was your idea?"
Ginny fidgeted with her robes for a bit. When she looked up, her gaze was the same, thoughtful gaze that he remembered from the spring. "You know that the team wants me to stay on as seeker while you're banned." He nodded, trying not to appear glum. "And," she said slowly, "it very well might be years before they review your case, so there's no chance of Dumbledore getting around the ban. I agree with you on that."
Harry swallowed. "Right." It seemed so silly to be upset about a game he hadn't really played for several years.
"But nothing is impossible, remember?"
Harry wondered why he trusted her belief in the impossible.
"Harry, what if you were to take my place on the team?"
Harry stared for a moment, and then laughed. She looked earnest, but she clearly had to be joking.
"What? You just said that Dumbledore can't reinstate me. What do you mean?" He stopped as he realized what she was saying. "Ginny." He swallowed. "I hope you aren't thinking that I should wear a red wig and pad my uniform. I think the glasses would give it away. I don't think I could find the snitch without them." He grinned weakly.
Ginny raised a brow, but there was a hint of amusement in her eyes, as well as a slight nervous hesitation. "I was thinking more on the lines of Polyjuice, actually."
Harry gaped at her. He couldn't help it. Polyjuice? His heart raced a bit, but it wasn't just the idea of using Polyjuice that affected him. Was Ginny really willing to let him take her place on the team?
A slight smile touched Ginny's lips; some of the hesitation and nervousness left her eyes. "But we can't tell Hermione--she wouldn't approve. And we can't tell Ron. He'd find some way to be a git about it. In fact, it's probably best if we didn't let anyone else knowâ€"if we decide to go through with it."
Harry blinked, coming out of his daze. "But how will we brew it? Where? And Polyjuice doesn't last very long...what do we do about longer matches? What about practices--or do you mean me only to play in the games? What about?--" he suddenly blushed, suddenly thinking about being a girl. This wouldn't be like wearing Crabbe skin; this would mean a bit more than breaking a few school rules. Would this work right, or would he end up like Hermione did when she drank the cat hair? Harry felt his blush deepen. He didn't quite fancy the idea of having breasts.
Ginny's cheeks were a little flushed, but he thought it might be from the cold, or her run.
"I have ideas about some of that," she said slowly. "We have plenty of time to plan more thoroughly before the season starts, but if you want to do this, we should start brewing the batches of Polyjuice fairly soon." She spread her hands on her knees. "It was the only thing I could think of other than storming the ministry with the DA and forcing the issue. Somehow, that didn't seem like a good idea."
"Polyjuice, eh?" Harry looked at her and shook his head. He couldn't help the grin that came. Over the past year, he'd slowly discovered that Ginny Weasley wasn't exactly the person that he'd thought she was, but this risky idea seemed wilder than anything else that she'd stunned him with: wilder than Quidditch, Bogey hexes, and stubbornness combined.
Ginny's brow quirked. "What?"
Harry shrugged. He nodded toward her trainers. "I was just wondering when you had started running."
Ginny stretched out her legs and pointed her toes. "This morning. Dean's been talking about it for ages--something about that Muggle sport he likes--but, honestly, I started for a different reason than Dean." She looked over at him and smiled mischievously. "Reckon I'll be faster than Hermione if she finds out what we're doing?"
When Harry mentioned that, last time, they'd brewed the potion in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Ginny gave him a cool look that clearly dismissed that option. They ended up brewing it in a collapsed secret passageway that was fairly near a bathroom. Ginny summoned light and created a makeshift space where they could hide the cauldron and necessary ingredients from any chance discoveries of the passage. Ginny had already acquired the boomslang skin that summer.
It was cold in the passageway, and damp. Harry couldn't help staring at the pile of mossy rubble and wondering what lay down the corridor.
"Hold this," Ginny said.
"I hope you're good at potions," Harry said, watching their cauldron with skepticism. He'd ordered a spare cauldron for their conspiracy, and had told a suspicious Hermione that he only wanted to be prepared, just in case his disintegrated. He claimed that he didn't want to fall behind as he had the previous year, a claim that seemed to pacify their bushy-haired friend.
Ginny shrugged. The blue light rendered her skin pale, and her bright hair a dark purple.
"Good enough," she said. Her eyes were so dark that he could see no light reflected in them.
"It tastes awful, you know," Harry said, remembering.
Ginny extended her hand, a pale blue sliver, and Harry gave her the next ingredient. "Poor Harry," she said, but she didn't look very sympathetic when she tilted her face toward the light. Actually, she had a very familiar look on her face; Harry thought it might be the same expression that she'd had back when Ron had made an arse of himself in front of Fleur.
"It really does taste awful!" he protested, grinning.
They spent time together on the pitch as well, ostensibly for Harry to help Ginny train, but really, he was learning how she flew: her quirks and mannerisms. She did this thing with her feet when she shifted directions, and her dives for the snitch were a bit different as well, partly to compensate for her old broom, and partly because she had studied the moves of different Quidditch seekers than Harry had.
She flew beside him and shouted something about how cold it was. Her cheeks and nose were bright red from the biting wind, and her hair had come loose from its ponytail; it streamed behind her in a messy tangle. She smiled at him.
Clearly, Ginny loved Quidditch. Harry felt guilty for taking her spot on the team. He wondered if it was worth it. She gave another whooping, laughing cry as she soared downwards, and Harry was reminded of watching her and Ron practice on the pitch. He had wanted to play with them, not take either of their places.
If Ron had offered his place as Keeper, Harry knew that he would not have taken it, even if Ron were Seeker.
Not for the first time, Harry thought it might be wrong to continue their plan, but he was enjoying his time spent with Ginny, so he delayed saying anything. Better time with Ginny than with a potions scroll or time with Ron and Hermione. His two closest friends had gradually treated him normally as summer progressed, but had regressed to wariness after the announcement about Umbridge's decrees. It was a bit annoying, the way that his friends shushed each other from certain topics; it was especially annoying now that he was willing to talk.
"Thanks Harry," Ginny said as they walked back to the castle. She looked an absolute wreck, but didn't seem to care. "That was fun."
"Yeah," he answered vaguely.
"I came up with an idea for continuous polyjuice supply," she said when they met later that week. "I asked George to get me one, and it's just arrived." She tossed a deflated water bladder on top of their school things. They were in the collapsed passageway, tending the potion. "You strap the bladder onto your chest. There's tubing on there so that you can drink without using your hands. I remembered about it when we practiced last; I saw a few of the professional players wearing them at a match Bill took me to a few summers back. They're for those matches that last days and days."
"Brilliant," Harry enthused, but he didn't feel very enthusiastic. As the days advanced, he decided that it definitely wasn't worth it to take Ginny's place, but he had stalled saying anything because of the time, effort, andâ€"Harry cringedâ€"the Galleons that Ginny had invested in their project. Now, here was a drinking bladder that Harry had contemplated many times at the Quidditch Supply store, but had never purchased. He knew how much Fred and George had spent on it.
That night, Harry dreamed that he met a windswept Ginny in the Room of Requirement. He tried giving her his Firebolt, but she became angry with him. "You're only giving me your broom so that you can use it in the match!" she said, and then turned into Hermione who frowned at him and said, "Really, Harry. Not everything is about Quidditch! You'd better tell her." But it was about Quidditch, just not the way that Ginny thought. He tried to explain, but everything that he said made Hermione angrier. She kept saying that he was thicker than Ron.
Harry woke up disgruntled.
Ron walked with him down to breakfast. "What's going on with you and my sister, mate?"
"I'm just helping her with Quidditch."
"Right," Ron said.
Harry was amused, despite his grumpiness. Trust Ron to make something out of nothing. "She's going with Dean, remember?"
They had reached the Great Hall. Ron smiled cheerfully. "No she isn't, mate." He clapped Harry on the shoulder. "And don't worry. I'm not mad."
"But ... "
"Hey, Ginny," Ron said before walking away.
"What is Ron not mad about?"
"Nothing, actually," Harry said, still confused as to what had just happened.
Ginny shrugged and they entered the Great Hall together.
"Wait," Harry said. He gave Ginny a furtive look. "Does Ron know about what we're doing?"
Ginny frowned. "No. Why?"
Harry frowned. "I don't know. Nothing. He said he's not mad, though."
Ginny looked murderous. "Dead, more like," she muttered, and grabbed Harry's arm. "Come on. Just act normal. Ron doesn't know anything."
Ginny's smile returned before they had quite reached their friends. Whatever Ron had been talking about seemed to be between brother and sister; Harry put it from his mind and instead watched Ginny laughing and joking as they ate.
His grumpiness returned.
She was happy, but not nearly as happy as she was while flying. He slathered butter onto another piece of toast.
An image came to him of Ginny on that day by the lake, when they had first talked about brewing Polyjuice. He remembered how she had almost cried. "It's just...well, this wasn't an easy decision to make. I don't want you to think I'm not willing--I am."
Harry slowly became aware that Ginny was laughing and looking at him; everyone else was laughing as well. He knew that Ginny had just said something witty and clever again.
He tried to smile.
He had to tell her soon, but as the days passed, he knew less and less what he was going to say. "Ginny, this doesn't seem right," made it sound like he was Hermione or Percy, and, "Ginny, I would rather watch you," seemed a bit, well, pervy.
"Will you have my Firebolt?"
In class, he doodled snitches onto the O's in his class notes. Whenever the Professor droned into a tangent, he embellished the snitches with intricate feathers or darker shadows. While his mind idled, he returned to the problem of Ginny. She had almost cried. She should be the one out whooping on the Quidditch field, not him.
Harry scowled at his notes. Tonight. He would tell her tonight. He inscribed her initials onto the snitch and tried to focus on the lecture again, but his gaze repeatedly rested on Ginny's initials. He could feel some idea, a sense of familiarity, hovering just out of reach like a snitch; Harry hoped it was a brilliant idea for how to tell Ginny, and he hoped that it would materialize soon.
As they walked down to the Quidditch Pitch later that evening, Harry was dismayed to see the pitch already occupied. It was a nice evening, not quite cold yet, and it seemed that other students had thought it a good night to fly around as well.
"Never mind," Ginny said briskly. "Let's walk. We're less likely to be overheard that way anyway." She struck off toward the lake. Harry froze. Ginny turned and looked back at him. "Harry?"
"Coming. Sorry. Thought I had a pebble in my trainers."
She studied him. Harry wasn't certain why a pebble in his trainers should render her contemplative.
"Are you okay, Harry?" she asked when he drew alongside her. Harry could not read her expression; he considered lying. Ginny watched him, but waited quietly for him to speak.
"Actually," he said, "I'm not." He waited until they were farther from the Pitch before continuing. "I can't go through with this," he said in a rush.
She said nothing. Harry glanced at her, worried, but she didn't seem upset as she continued walking, still staring forward, still thoughtful. It was cold out by the lake as the wind moved across the water and stirred the reeds and their robes. Harry knew that Ginny hadn't understood him, and the very idea of explaining himself further made his heart race.
Then Ginny looked over at him, smiled a little, and patted his arm. Harry stopped walking, overwhelmed though he could not explain why. His throat felt impossibly tight as he briefly closed his eyes and thought, Not again.
Ginny turned to him, concerned. "Harry, I don't know what it is that you think you cannot do, but I know that you can." Her voice was low and soothing; she gave him a small, encouraging smile. "You've faced Voldemort three times, now," she said.
The tightness in his throat grew. Harry stared at the place where her hand rested against his arm.
"Four," he muttered and felt like an idiot. Voldemort was out there, preparing for his annual let's-kill-Harry scheme, while all that Harry could think about was his guilt over taking Ginny's place on the team.
Ginny linked arms with him, startling him from his thoughts.
"Right," she said brightly, dragging him along. "And who is going to win Gryffindor that Quidditch Cup?"
Her enthusiasm was a little hard to resist. She was soâ€¦Harry tried to think of a word. Not small. Compact? Harry looked down at her as she grinned up at him, and he felt a sense of dejavu as they passed through a patch of light cast by a window: he could see the freckles on her nose. Cute?
"Well, Harry? If you say 'Jack Sloper' I may never speak to you again."
"Me," he said, remembering. "I am."
"Too right you are," she said.
His dreams that night were worse, and when he woke, Harry discovered that breakfast was nearly over. Annoyed, he dressed and stumbled bleary-eyed into the Common Room. He was nearly out the portrait hole when he noticed that the lace had come undone on his trainers. He was just sitting down to tie them when the portrait hole opened and Ginny rushed inside. She held a stack of toast wrapped neatly in a napkin, and she was smiling. As usual.
Harry resisted the urge to throw himself into the Common Room fire.
"Harry! I hoped that I would find you here...you'll never guess!"
Harry rubbed his face. Tell her, he repeated to himself. Maybe it was the bad dreams, or maybe his sleep-fogged state, but Harry decided to take his own advice.
"Ginny," he said heavily. The smile faded from her face. Wordlessly, she passed him the napkin of toast and sank beside him onto the couch. The fire before them was bright and cheerful; it was a bit like Ginny, really, but Harry felt cold.
"Do you remember yesterday, when I said that I couldn't go through with this?"
"Yes." She looked concerned. She also looked like she was working very hard not to comment.
"Reckon I should explain what I meant?"
Ginny's eyes widened. She nodded, mute.
"This has nothing to do with bravery, or anything like that...but I'm..."
Harry broke off, unable to continue when faced with her calm, thoughtful gaze. Her eyes were very brown. He was distracted by a memory of how angry she had been in his dream. Her hair had been quite messy, as it often was after they'd been flying, and her cheeks had been pink. Right now she lookedâ€¦wellâ€¦sane. And, he forced himself to admit, very pretty, though she looked even prettier disheveled.
Harry looked away in confusion. He still did not know what he was going to say, but he began, and hoped that the words would come.
"Ginny, I can't take your place on the team. It wouldn't be right."
"Wouldn't be right?" she repeated blankly.
"Well, I wouldn't have taken Ron's place if he had offered - no, that's not why ... I didn't say that right at all." He broke off in panic. "I mean ..." The words refused to come. Harry snuck a glance at her; she looked bemused. Now hot and thoroughly flustered, Harry continued, embarrassed by the heat rising in his cheeks. "I know that you wanted to help me, Ginny, and it's rather sweet, but I don't think I could be happy knowing that you wouldn't really be happy with me taking your place."
Ginny blinked. She looked bewildered. Harry ran a hand through his hair; he had ballsed things up again.
"Harry," she said slowly, watching him. "When I offered to let you take my place, I was sincere."
"I know," he said, groaning inwardly. "I didn't mean..." He forced himself to look at her without turning away. Her eyes, usually warm, were clouded by hurt, but otherwise, she regarded him calmly. "Ginny, I've flown with you a lot over these past few weeks. I've really enjoyed our time together on the Pitchâ€"it's fun because you're fun out there, and I really like being with you. It distracts me from...everything." Harry decided to stop before he went further into already unexplored , too-revealing thoughts. "I can tell how much you enjoy Quidditch," he concluded. "I can't take that from you."
"Oh." She looked dazed.
"Ginny?" Harry asked, panicking again. Did I say too much? Maybe he should have confessed the whole business to Hermione and asked for her advice.
A very slight smile came to Ginny's lips. She closed her eyes, leaned back into the couch, and then, very gradually, leaned her head against his. She laughed a little, which made the hairs on that side of his body stand on end. "Yes, Harry?"
Harry's eyes widened. He felt a peculiar buzzing sensation hum from the place where their foreheads touched on down to his toes. "Er." He looked down at the stack of toast in his hand to avoid looking at Ginny. He was getting hot again. "Are you feeling well?" He was glad that his voice came out sounding somewhat normal.
Ginny sat upright abruptly, smiling. "Yes," she said brightly. "Harry, you're very sweet, did you know? Well, would you like to know my news now?"
"But...I mean, don't you mind? We spent hours and hours...and the Polyjuice is nearly ready..."
Ginny grinned mischievously. "Oh, I'm sure we can put the Polyjuice to use; it won't be wasted. So are you ready for the news?"
Ginny helped herself to one of the pieces of toast. "They've reviewed Umbridge's declaration regarding your Quidditch ban and decided to throw it out." She rose and took a bite of toast. "See you on the Pitch in nine hours, Harry," she said, her words muffled by toast. "You know. First practice and all that..."
She turned to go.
She turned, chewing, clearly pleased with herself. Harry grinned despite his best efforts. "Funny," he said. "You might have stopped me."
She swallowed and smiled. "You are rather fond of being an idiot, aren't you? I don't think I could have stopped you, and I certainly didn't want to. We'll talk about the Polyjuice later. I already have some ideas." Then she leaned down and kissed his cheek leaving behind butter grease, crumbs, and that sense of uncomplicated happiness that Harry had come to associate with Ginny.