Note: No, I am not a college student from Pennsylvania with no money and an interest in music, who enjoys emulating John Cleese to weird out people he doesn't know. I am, in fact, a woman in my late thirties from the UK, who owns a castle and has created the most brilliant book series ever written. That's why I'm posting this here. Yeah.
"Hey, Harry! I'm heading back to the castle. You coming?"
Above the Quidditch pitch, Harry looked around from his Firebolt and saw Ron flying towards him. He considered for a moment, then shook his head.
"You go ahead. I want to stay out here a bit longer."
It was a beautiful evening late in May of their sixth year. The sun shone red on the horizon, and a cool breeze swept through Harry's hair. Ron grinned at him.
"Well, don't be too late. Or else I might have to give you a detention, you know," he smirked, indicating his Prefect badge.
"More like Hermione would give him detention, don't you think?" spoke up Ginny, smiling slightly as she pulled up next to Harry on her broom. "And then you could put her in detention, too." Ron looked flabbergasted.
"Give her a detention?" he sputtered, appearing shocked at the very idea. "What, for putting homework over Quidditch? I mean, I know she's mental about that stuff--"
"For abusing her authority," said Ginny, "in punishing Harry too harshly."
Harry snorted at this. It was true that he should have been in the common room revising for his exams, which were due to start in a few weeks. He was worried about Potions in particular, as Snape's NEWT-level class was far more difficult than any year previous. Snape himself had achieved an all-time level of vindictive unfairness, as he had been supremely annoyed that Harry had managed to place into the class, and it was only through extremely persistent and meticulous work that Harry had been able to keep up at all.
With the workload so overwhelming, he and Ron had decided to take the evening off completely, opting to play Quidditch instead, and Ginny had joined them. Hermione, of course, had elected to remain in the library.
"Yeah right," said Ron, shaking his head. "We really did need a night off. Honestly, you'd think we're throwing away our futures, just having fun for once . . ."
He trailed off, shrugging. "Well, I'm off. We've got a prefect meeting in half an hour. Hermione would probably curse me if I missed it," he said. "See you later, mate."
"Later," called Harry, as Ron descended to the ground and began to walk back towards the castle. Harry watched him go for a moment, then turned his broom in midair to face Ginny, who was still hovering next to him, her hair swaying gently in the wind. "How late do you want to stay out?" he asked.
"Not too late," Ginny replied with a small sigh. "I really should look at my Transfiguration notes before I go to bed, at least. What with the OWLs coming up, and all." Harry nodded, remembering all too clearly the craze that had been OWL revision.
They spent the next ten minutes playing with the Quaffle, flying about the pitch and tossing it around. Ginny seemed to enjoy throwing him exceptionally difficult passes, and he was having to work very hard to catch it each time.
"What was that?" demanded Harry, glaring at her as he returned from an especially steep dive after the Quaffle, which she had apparently hurled as far from him as she possibly could.
"Just making sure our star Seeker stays on his toes," said Ginny with a grin.
"Oh yeah? We'll see how you do catching the Snitch against me," Harry shot back, struggling to hide his own smile.
He was baiting her, not really expecting her to take him up on it, as they both knew who was the better Seeker, but to his surprise Ginny merely raised an eyebrow and said, "You're on. But you'd better give it your damnedest, because I know I will be!"
Harry laughed at that, and flew down to retrieve the Golden Snitch from the crate of Quidditch balls on the ground. He marvelled at how unfazed she was by his challenge. But then, nothing seemed to faze her anymore, he mused, as he returned the Quaffle to its place. Ginny had become quite a strong and capable girl--no, a strong young woman, he corrected himself--in the time he had known her. He thought suddenly of how she had been when he had first seen her at the Burrow, back before his second year, and was amazed by how much she had changed since then.
But then, I barely knew her, he thought, and she never talked in front of me. Maybe she hasn't really changed at all. Harry found himself wishing she had talked in front of him earlier, for he had never really known what a fun person she was to be around until this year.
Then he remembered why it was that she had never talked in front of him, and his insides gave a sudden jolt.
Her voice interrupted his thoughts. "Are we going to do this, or are you going to sit there staring all day?" she asked, a note of amusement in her voice.
Harry flushed, realising that he had been staring at her with the Snitch clutched in his hand for some time. Mentally shaking himself, he mounted his broom and flew back up to her, casting her an appraising eye. "We're doing it--if you're sure you're up to facing the star Seeker," he said with a cheeky grin. Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Careful, Harry, or your broom won't be able to move with that fat head on it," she said coolly. Harry felt a stab of worry--surely she didn't think him arrogant?
Then she smiled, and immediately his fears were disarmed. He held up the Snitch. "We'll give it a ten-second head start, then," he said, and Ginny nodded. He released the Snitch, counted aloud to ten, and then they were off.
Harry had half-expected her to follow him, in hope of deflecting him from the Snitch once it had been spotted, but Ginny did no such thing. Instead she tore off in the opposite direction, circling the goalposts before soaring away to sweep the middle of the pitch. Clearly she was intent on finding it entirely on her own. Several times she darted by him with a grin, and Harry felt his heart beat faster. He wondered if she were trying deliberately to distract him.
After a few minutes of fruitless searching, a sudden movement caught Harry's eye--he turned and to see Ginny diving at high speed in a nearly vertical plunge towards the ground, her brilliant red hair trailing behind her as she went. She had seen the Snitch! Quickly he leaned low on his Firebolt and sped down after her, his fringe flattened back over his head.
He could just see a tiny shimmer of gold just over the ground. Ginny was closing in on the Snitch . . . he urged his Firebolt onward--he was pulling even with her . . . the wind was rushing through his hair . . . the Snitch was right in front of his face . . . he reached out to grab it . . .
From out of nowhere, a hand reached in front of his face, and his own hand was knocked away. "What the . . ." he started, swerving wildly to avoid a collision, nearly unseated from his broom. He turned his head to see Ginny alongside him--and she was firmly grasping the struggling Snitch.
Harry stared at her in shock. Ginny smirked at him. "If you want the Snitch, Harry, you'll have to come and get it!" she called cheerfully over her shoulder, as she zoomed away across the pitch at high speed.
For a moment he could do nothing but stare after her, completely floored by her audacity. Then a grin spread over his face. Well, two can play at this game, he thought. With his Firebolt's superior speed and manoeuvrability, he ought to be able catch her in seconds . . . He leaned forward and sped after her.
She saw him coming, of course, and must have known she couldn't match him. But a moment later he was surprised to see that she was leaving the Quidditch pitch entirely--and heading directly for the Forbidden Forest. Harry hesitated, then flew after her. What was she doing? Was she really willing to risk a detention, and possibly worse, just for the sake of their competition?
Suddenly he realised that she was no longer in his sight. Where had she disappeared to? Harry inhaled sharply, shivering with a rising sense of alarm and worry. It would be getting dark soon; it wasn't safe in the forest, they had to be getting back to the castle. There was no sign of Ginny. Where was she?
There--he spotted her, weaving through the trees to his right. The look of challenge on her face drove all thoughts of worry from his mind, and he tore after her in pursuit. Ginny cut her altitude, dodging quickly between the large branches nearer the ground. The Firebolt's speed was becoming a disadvantage in the confined space of the forest--there was almost no manoeuvring room at all. Thought she'd play tricky, did she? Well, he could do that . . . he'd surprise her . . .
Harry angled his broom down and away from her to skim along the forest floor. Ginny slowed, looking around to see where he had gone. As her eyes found his, he aimed the Firebolt right towards her and sped upwards. They were going to collide--
Wide-eyed, Ginny tried to move out of the way, but Harry changed course to follow her with lightning speed. He was right next to her . . . he reached out to grab her, his arm encircling her waist . . . but he had overextended himself . . . she shrieked in surprise and tried to pull away--and the two of them went plummeting from their brooms to the forest floor below.
It was not a long drop, fortunately, or they might have broken their necks. But even so, they hit the ground with a thud and went rolling, both of them laughing aloud at the sheer absurdity of it all--and coming painfully to a halt against the trunk of a large tree. Harry soon became aware that he was lying directly on top of Ginny, her hand clutched in his; he could feel the Snitch beating its wings uselessly against their grips. Harry found himself looking into her eyes. She was breathing rather heavily, and there was a small cut on the side of her face.
"You caught me," she whispered, gazing up at him, her brown eyes shining with a light he had not seen before. Her hair was dishevelled and tangled with leaves, and her face was smudged with dirt, yet Harry thought he had ever seen anything more beautiful. His breath caught in his throat.
"Yeah," he said softly, his voice sounding odd in his ears. He continued to stare at her, increasingly aware of her breath fluttering lightly on his face, of her heart beating rapidly against his, of the way her lips were parted . . . a low murmur escaped him . . . his head was slowly lowering towards hers . . .
"So, you just making yourself comfortable, then?" she asked. Her tone was teasing, but her voice was breathless and tinged with something else Harry could not identify. He started at her words.
"Oh, err, sorry," he mumbled, suddenly realising how awkward their position was. Slowly, and somewhat clumsily, he pushed himself up and off her, moving to sit with his back against the tree they had crashed into. Ginny groaned softly, getting unsteadily to her feet and perching tentatively on a tree root by his side.
"So, erm," said Harry uncomfortably, not really knowing what to say. He could not recall ever feeling so awkward around her before--not like this.
"Harry, I . . ." she trailed off, not meeting his gaze. A faint blush had appeared on her cheeks. Harry cleared his throat.
"Ginny, I shouldn't have--" he began, but she cut him off.
"It's all right, Harry," she said quietly, looking at him with a faint smile. "It's my fault, really, I wasn't thinking about what I was doing." Her smile widened slightly, and she put her hand in his; she was still holding the Snitch.
Harry smiled back at her. "So who won, then?" he asked, and Ginny laughed.
"I guess we'll call it a tie," she answered. "Since we both got it."
"What is it with you and catching the Snitch from under people's noses, anyway?" he asked. "I mean, you did it twice last year--"
Ginny giggled. "I guess I just see things that other people don't."
Harry stared at her in bewilderment. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, you can't see things too well when they're under your nose, can you?"
He chuckled at this. "I guess not." Under your nose . . .
* * *
A silence descended over them, punctuated by the call of an animal somewhere in the forest. Ginny moved to sit closer to him. "Well, I'm exhausted from all this flying. I guess we can wait a bit to head back. It's not like Ron will miss us, anyway. Not when he's got Hermione to occupy him." She shook her head.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"The way those two argue sometimes, it drives me mad. I almost wish they'd just snog and be done with it. Then maybe they'd shut up for a while."
Harry was shocked. "What?!" he burst out. Hermione and Ron, snogging? The idea was ludicrous. They were his best friends!
"Harry, don't tell me you've never seen the way they look at each other these days. In between the arguments, that is," she added, rolling her eyes.
"No, I guess I never noticed," he said vaguely. Now that she mentioned it--his friends had seemed increasingly comfortable around each other all year, with Ron backing off some of the teasing about homework and Viktor Krum, and Hermione rarely calling him pathetic or insensitive. Their arguments had become less frequent, but all the more intense when they did occur. It was extremely odd, and more than a little disturbing, to think of his best friends in that context--but he supposed it made sense, in a way.
"So are they the topic for all the Gryffindor girl gossip?" Harry asked.
Ginny snorted. "Not really. Not that I would know--I'm not big on gossip. That's more people like Lavender Brown's domain."
"You've probably heard more than I have. I mean, well, you know more girls than I do," he finished, a bit awkwardly.
"Oh, so you want me to give you the low-down on all the gossip I've heard?" she asked with a wicked smile. "All the cute blokes, and all that?"
"Erm . . ."
"Well," she said brightly, ignoring his less-than-enthusiastic response, "lots of girls fancy Dean Thomas. Only he doesn't know it," she giggled. "Because they're all younger than he is, and they don't actually talk to him."
"Dean?" Harry gulped. He thought he recalled her mentioning something about him on the train home last year, but as far as he knew it had never come up again.
A briefly raised eyebrow was the only sign that Ginny had noticed his discomfort. "And then there's Neville," she went on, not losing stride. "Luna told me she has a bit of a thing for him. But he doesn't have a clue--imagine what he'd do if he found out." Harry laughed slightly in spite of himself, for Neville's reaction would certainly be entertaining. Luna was a bit, well . . . out there.
"And then," said Ginny in a conspiratorial whisper, pausing dramatically, "there's Professor Snape."
"WHAT?!" Harry ejaculated, staring at her in utmost shock. "Snape? That's . . ." he trailed off.
"Horrible? I know," she laughed. "Katie Bell told me she had a dream about snogging him in detention last year. Just imagine," she said, adopting a lovesick voice, "'O Professor, that greasy hair is so sexy. Won't you let me run my fingers through it, Professor?'" She broke off in a peal of laughter, then added, "I bet he's even got grease on his--"
"Ginny!" Harry burst out, snorting in laughter himself. "I didn't need to hear that. I'll never be able to look at him the same way again."
Ginny grinned. "Sorry," she said, not sounding sorry at all. "You asked."
She ignored this. "I doubt even the giant squid would want to kiss him in real life," she said with a shudder.
Harry shook his head at this, but then he paused. The giant squid . . .
He looked away. Suddenly it didn't seem so funny anymore.
"Harry?" said Ginny uncertainly, a few moments later. "What's wrong?" When he did not reply, she went on, "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable--"
"It's not that," he cut her off.
"What is it, then?" She was regarding him intently, a guarded look on her face.
"It's nothing," Harry told her brusquely, his irritation rising. Couldn't she see he didn't want to talk about it--
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Rubbish," she said, her voice suddenly forceful. "Don't give me that. I'm only asking if I can help. But if you're going to be rude--" She made to get up from her seat next to him.
Harry let out a breath, holding up a hand to silence her. "I'm sorry," he said, and Ginny slowly sat back down, waiting for him to continue. "I didn't mean to be rude. It's just that . . ." He trailed off, frowning, wondering how much he should tell her.
"What?" asked Ginny quietly, looking at him with concern, all trace of anger gone from her face. Harry took a deep breath.
"Last year, during Occlumency lessons, I . . . found out some things," he began. "Things about Snape. He--he had a rough time of it when he was younger. My father--I've always known they hated each other, but until last year I didn't know just how much of it was my dad's fault. He and Sirius, they . . . pushed him around a lot. Just because they could. I mean, Snape was a berk back then, too, but . . ." He swallowed uncomfortably. It was difficult to talk about this.
"Is that why Snape doesn't like you?" said Ginny, her eyes widening in comprehension. "Because he hated your dad for . . . pushing him around?" Harry nodded.
Ginny was silent for a moment. "Well, I didn't know any of that. I guess it's easier to understand why he turned out how he did. But still, you can't deny he's ridiculous to hold a grudge against you for something that happened before you were even born."
"I know," sighed Harry. "I mean, they really gave him a hard time, and I know what it's like to be humiliated--but he's still the most horrible git I've ever met. Dunno how I'd have ever gotten through Potions this year if I didn't know Occlumency."
"It's weird, to find out that Sirius did that sort of thing as a kid," said Ginny pensively. "I knew he and Snape didn't like each other, but I never knew why." She paused a moment, then went on, "And it must have been hard for you, to find that out about your dad--"
"Yeah," said Harry, heavily. "But I guess . . . I don't know. Sirius always said how much I'm like my dad--that used to make me feel proud, but now . . . I don't know . . ."
"But Sirius told me they were just being immature, normal really, for their age." He sighed again, glancing away from her. "I guess I can kind of see what he meant--I mean, I wasn't very mature last year, was I--"
"No," said Ginny with a smile, laying a hand on his arm. "But you're still a good person. And you always have been," she added, and somehow he couldn't help but smile back. "So there's no reason why your dad and Sirius weren't good people too. They grew up, eventually."
"That's what he and Professor Lupin told me," said Harry, nodding thoughtfully. "I guess I didn't really understand--at least, not as well. I was really upset, then."
Ginny gave him a shrewd glance. "Was that when you wanted to talk to him so badly last year?" she asked, and he nodded. Suddenly he remembered.
"You helped me with that, last year. You told Fred and George that I needed help. I don't think I ever thanked you for that."
Ginny smiled slightly and looked him in the eye. "You don't need to thank me, Harry," she said softly. "I'll always be ready to help you."
For a few seconds she held his gaze, her eyes full of warmth and understanding. Then, moving to sit even closer, she gently laid her head on his shoulder, her long hair spilling onto his robes. Harry hesitated, then slowly put his arm around her. Ginny did not protest, and Harry relaxed, a feeling of peace and contentment running through him.
A comfortable silence fell. Around them it was quickly growing darker, but Harry barely noticed, for his thoughts were occupied entirely with the beautiful girl sitting next to him.
Harry was not certain exactly how to describe his feelings for Ginny, having never experienced anything of the sort before, but he knew that it was something very special. Due to the work and schedule conflicts of their respective OWL- and NEWT-level classes, and Harry's extra lessons with Dumbledore, they had not had much time alone together, which made moments like this all the more precious to him. Ginny had become an important part of his life, and he always looked forward to spending time with her.
But he had never broached the subject with her directly--despite their closeness, a lingering doubt now plagued his thoughts. Ginny used to fancy Harry, but she gave up on him months ago, Hermione had said the year before. Not that she doesn't like you, of course. He had not been paying much attention at the time, but now the words came back to him with crystal clarity. What did that mean, exactly?
It means she gave up on me, he thought dryly. I never paid her much attention and she got frustrated. He grimaced, remembering all too clearly Ron's attempt at matchmaking before the Yule Ball. Of course she would have given up on him after that mess! He'd been making such a fuss over Cho, it must have been clear to Ginny that he, Harry, would never reciprocate her feelings . . . so she'd done the sensible thing and focused her attention elsewhere. And then, ironically enough, he had started paying attention to her, when she apparently no longer viewed him as a romantic interest. Bloody brilliant timing I've got, he thought.
Beside him, Ginny stirred slightly as a breeze caught her hair; Harry could feel it tickling his face. He took a deep breath, taking in her scent on the air. He thought he heard her give a soft sigh.
Did his timing really matter? Harry knew that Ginny was not indifferent to him. They had shared so much with each other, much more than many friends did. Indeed, he considered her more than just a friend . . .
As he recalled lying on top of her after they had fallen from their brooms, Harry was startled to realise just how much he was attracted to her. Ginny was so beautiful, so vibrant and appealing in the shadows of the forest . . . he had been about to kiss her . . . And he thought she had felt his presence, too. Her heart had been hammering against his, her voice low and breathless, her skin flushed with anticipation--she had definitely felt something. It was an exciting thought . . . and a frightening one.
Harry shifted slightly in discomfort, unconsciously hugging her closer. He tried to relax as Ginny made a small noise in her throat; she felt pleasantly warm against him. Had it merely been their proximity that caused her to respond to him earlier? Or was there more to it than that?
And if she did still have feelings for him--what then? Harry had to admit to himself he had little idea what a real romance was supposed to involve. He thought of all the couples he had seen in Hogsmeade, recalled his own woefully inept efforts with Cho--was it really worth that sort of hassle? Did Hogsmeade dates and valentines even matter? Harry silently cursed the expectations and rituals of the dating world; he didn't need that sort of thing to be happy with Ginny. The two of them could laugh and have fun no matter what they were doing, whether it was working in the library, playing Quidditch, having a drink in the Three Broomsticks, or even just sitting here in the forest. Wasn't that what really mattered? Harry thought it was; and yet, he thought he wanted more than that. He tried to imagine being able to hold her hand any time, to kiss her, to know absolutely that she wanted him as much as he wanted her . . . It was a concept at once exhilarating and terrifying. Would it be worth the risk to tell her how he felt? Was anything worth the risk, with Voldemort around, and the threat of death always looming over them?
"Harry!" A loud voice cut through the silence. Harry jumped, startled, and looked around for the source of the interruption. It was not hard to find.
"What do yeh think yer doin' out here?" boomed Hagrid, towering over them as he approached. Fang came trotting along beside him, making a beeline for Harry and licking his face affectionately. Harry tried to push him off. "An' you too, Ginny! The forest's not a safe place for yeh to be! What would yeh've done if a ruddy centaur'd found yeh here?"
"Er, sorry Hagrid," said Harry quickly. "We didn't mean to be here, we just--"
"All right, all right, hold yer thestrals! I'm not givin' yeh detention or nothin'. But yeh'd better get straight back ter the castle, it's after yer curfew."
Harry looked at his watch and was startled to realise that it was well after ten o'clock; he'd lost track of how much time they'd spent in the forest. He and Ginny reluctantly got to their feet, and, after retrieving their brooms with the Summoning Charm, followed Hagrid to the edge of the forest and to the castle.
"I don' fancy yer chances with that idiot Filch at this hour," said Hagrid, shaking his head as they came to the Entrance Hall, "so I'll be takin' yeh back ter the common room."
"Thanks, Hagrid," said Harry, sighing inwardly. He would probably not get to be alone with Ginny again until after exams, as they both had massive amounts of revising ahead of them. And then he would have only another week until he had to go back to the Dursleys--unless he could talk to her without interruption in the common room.
* * *
They were fortunate in that they did not encounter Filch on the way there, as Harry would not have put it past the increasingly spiteful caretaker to try to give them detention, even with Hagrid there to cover for them. But no sooner had they set foot in the common room than they were accosted by Hermione, who seemed particularly distressed that they had been out so late.
"Where have you been, playing Quidditch all this time?" she demanded. "I'm surprised Filch didn't give you detention--goodness knows you'd deserve it. It's not safe to be out so late. Ginny you have your OWLs to think of--"
"Hermione," said Ron, quietly interrupting Hermione's breakneck telling-off speech, "Give it a rest. They're back, and they're all right. It's not like they went wandering around in the forest or anything."
Ginny and Harry exchanged uncomfortable looks at this. Hermione was watching them, a shrewd expression on her face.
"Have you been in the forest?" she asked, eying Ginny's dishevelled and leaf-ridden hair. "What were you doing in there?"
"Just a short detour to chase after a Snitch that got away," said Ginny smoothly. She wasn't quite lying, Harry reflected, but stretching the truth considerably.
Hermione huffed in displeasure. Fortunately, however, she did not pursue the subject further.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to do any work tonight," said Ginny with a yawn. "Too tired. Think I'll head up to bed."
"Er, all right then," said Harry. "Have a good sleep. I'll see you later."
"Good night," said Ginny, smiling. She walked up the stairs to the girls' dormitories and out of sight; Harry watched her go.
Harry didn't think he'd be able to do any work tonight either, but not only because he was tired. He took a seat next to Ron, who looked at him curiously and asked, "What's going on with you and my sister, anyway?"
"What?" said Harry, startled. Hermione looked up from her Arithmancy chart to listen in. "Er, nothing, really. We just--"
"Find it romantic to go flying through the forest late at night?" interrupted Ron with a grin.
"Romantic?" cut in Hermione. "But Harry doesn't--" she paused, a rather keen look in her eye. "Do you?"
Harry grimaced in chagrin. Am I really so obvious? he wondered.
Deciding he didn't want to be questioned, Harry stood and said abruptly, "I'm going to bed, see you tomorrow," and walked swiftly to the stairs, trying to ignore the looks of disappointment on their faces. A part of him knew he should not have been short with his friends, but he didn't really want to discuss that sort of thing with them. He didn't need their advice! There weren't any details to give them, anyway. Nothing had happened . . . Unless you count lying on top of her and nearly kissing her, he thought.
He could hear Neville snoring faintly as he entered his dormitory. Feeling exhausted but somehow restless, Harry changed and got into bed, his mind still on Ginny and their evening together.
It was moments like they had shared tonight, moments with just the two of them alone, that he had come to cherish in the past few months. When he was with Ginny, he felt . . . complete, somehow, in a way he had never before imagined. She gave him a sense of normality, allowed him to feel that he was not a 'marked man', not someone who was doomed to be murderer or victim, but instead a normal sixteen year old, who felt hope, desire, anger, and despair just like everyone else. She had helped him to feel less isolated from the rest of the world, helped him to relate some of his innermost thoughts and feelings, which until recently he would never have dreamed of sharing with anyone.
Strangely, their shared confidence had stemmed in part from the one thing that isolated them both from everyone: their experiences with Lord Voldemort.
For some time after Sirius' death, Harry had been in no shape to confide in anyone. Early in the school year he would talk to Ginny sometimes, for reasons he didn't understand at first, after Quidditch practice or in the common room when no one else was around. He found that he liked talking with her, discovering slowly that she was a good listener and that they could be comfortable alone with each other. Eventually, when his feelings of loneliness got to be too much, he had begun to seek her out.
Unable to completely block out his painful feelings with Occlumency, Harry had first brought up Sirius directly with her late in November. Ginny, knowing how difficult it was for him to talk about, had simply listened, never pressuring him, giving him the chance to let loose his sorrow, his rage, his despair. Having kept it all inside him for months, he soon found himself telling her other things too, secrets he'd sworn never to repeat to anyone. Ginny had been shocked to learn that Harry had been possessed by Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic. He'd told her of the pain of being used, far worse than the Cruciatus Curse, and how he'd wished for death, so he could be free, to be with Sirius once more. He'd told her of the blind rage that had led him to attempt an Unforgivable Curse on Bellatrix Lestrange, and the inevitable guilt that had slowly torn him apart in the following months. And he had told her of the Prophecy, of the inescapable future awaiting him, of his despair that he had no idea how he was supposed to be the saviour of the entire wizarding world.
Ginny had taken all of this rather well, considering. She'd told him in no uncertain terms that she thought no less of him than before, that she cared greatly for him, and that he was still the same Harry to her that he had always been. Then she'd told him a few secrets of her own.
Looking back, Harry could not understand why he had not seen it earlier--Ginny too had been faced with a terrible evil at a young age. Lonely and misunderstood, she'd poured out her heart and her soul into Tom Riddle's diary, and endured his torment and abuse for months. Her body and her mind had become totally and frightfully his, and she'd been forced to do terrible things against her will, but she had resisted, had fought Riddle with all her strength to the bitter end, even as she knew she was going to die. Though her possession had been different in nature, she understood what it was to be duped, to be used, the self-hatred and shame of having caused horrible things to happen. She had told Harry of how Riddle could still haunt her at night, mocking her weakness and ignorance, telling her that her soul belonged to him; how for a short time she had wished to have died in the Chamber of Secrets rather than live with the guilt. And she'd told him how much harder it was for her to trust people, to let anyone know her as she truly was, and how frightened she'd been that Harry would forever look down on her for her part in what happened.
Harry was starting to understand just how similar his and Ginny's past experiences were, and to see just how much they had to share with each other. In Ginny he found acceptance, warmth, and caring, such as he had never known before. And even as she had helped him to open up, and to contend with his own feelings, Harry felt he had done the same for her. The thought that he'd been able to help Ginny to confide in him was a source of immense satisfaction. He had even taught her some of the basics of Occlumency, which Dumbledore had been teaching him with great success, in order to help her cope with the lingering voice of Tom Riddle that haunted her dreams. Doing so had improved his own skills, and helped him to see that clearing one's mind was not such a violent concept as he'd imagined--that it was not so much about creating a wall or shield around the mind, but of quieting those parts of the mind that gave rise to unwanted thoughts.
Again he found himself recalling how beautiful Ginny had been tonight, and how peaceful he'd felt as they sat together in the forest. They had grown so close that he could not even conceive of not having her as a friend, though just months before he'd only really thought of her as Ron's sister . . . Never in all his life could he recall being as happy, or longing to be with someone so badly as he did now. Harry cursed the upcoming exams, wishing they could have more time before he had to go back to the Dursleys. Then he remembered there was a Hogsmeade visit the last weekend of term. He could have all day with her then, they could do anything they liked . . . though Ginny would probably curse him into the next century if he even suggested taking her to Madam Puddifoot's . . . Harry snorted aloud at the thought.
"What are you laughing at?" he heard Ron ask. Harry was startled; he had not heard Ron enter the room. He stuck his head out through the curtains of his four-poster.
"Er, just imagining force-feeding Snape some Puking Pastilles," Harry invented hastily. "That stupid essay on human blood use is going to kill me." He winced slightly in memory.
Ron chuckled grimly. "No kidding. The git deserves whatever we send his way for assigning that essay. Even Hermione's having trouble with it."
Harry shook his head at this, feeling suddenly rather contrite. "Um, Ron? Look, about earlier--I'm sorry I walked out on you--"
Ron cut him off. "S'all right mate, don't worry about it. As long as you treat my sister right, that is," he added with a grin a moment later. Harry groaned softly.
"I'm serious, there's nothing going on to tell you about." Not yet, anyway.
Ron looked away from him. Harry thought he seemed uncomfortable.
"Do you want there to be?"
"Erm . . ." Harry faltered. What to say? he wondered.
"It's okay with me if you do," said Ron quietly, glancing back at him, though it was hard to see his face. Harry nodded his thanks.
"Do you mind discussing your love lives some place else?" came Dean's irritated voice from across the room. "I'm trying to sleep here."
"Sorry, mate," said Ron, moving to climb into his own bed.
"Night," said Harry, shutting the curtains. He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes.
* * *
He was flying through the forest on his Firebolt, following something. But what it was, he could not make out. It was moving at high speed, weaving effortlessly through the trees, and it was emitting a brilliant red glow. He thought he could hear a faint music from up ahead, but it was indistinct.
It was getting colder . . . all around him was being swallowed up in blackness . . . he urged his Firebolt onwards, but he was slowing down . . . he was falling from his broom . . . the ground was rushing up to meet him . . .
The red glow was coming back towards him now, growing brighter and brighter. Harry dared to feel hope . . . his descent was slowing . . . He could see something else approaching along the ground, a bright green light . . . it seemed to be hissing at him . . . The green light and the red light met him just as he hit the ground . . . there was a brilliant flash of silvery-white . . .
He stood in a dimly lit room, illuminated only by a brace of candles along one wall. He looked down from his considerable height at the hooded man kneeling before him.
"You are sure of this?" he asked, his voice cold, but not entirely suppressing a growing excitement. Something he had long sought might soon be in reach again . . .
"Yes, My Lord," said the man, averting his eyes from Harry's face. "My son may be slightly biased where Potter is concerned, but his words were quite clear. He cannot abide their presence. Even one may cause him to faint almost immediately."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "Surely the old fool will have told him by now. You have done well to tell me this, Lucius," he said, regarding his long, white fingers with some interest. "We will need to plan our attempt carefully. Your son may be of further use to us . . . Very well, you may go. Send Wormtail to me."
"Yes, Master," the man said. "I am glad to be of service to you." He stood, bowed low before Harry, and departed from the room.
Harry turned away and looked out the room's only window, a faint red glow reflecting on the glass. Finally, after years of waiting and foiled attempts, he had discovered a way. His plan would be foolproof--there would be no one to stop him. He threw back his head and laughed, a high, cold laugh filled with cruelty . . .
Harry awoke with a gasp, a sharp pain flaring along his scar. He held his head in his hands, struggling not to cry aloud at the pain of it. He blinked furiously, trying to run through the Occlumency techniques Dumbledore had taught him. The pain began to subside, though he was drenched in sweat and felt sick to his stomach. He was confused and upset--he had not had a dream like that for many months now. The Occlumency had helped to shut Voldemort out of his mind . . . but he'd forgotten to practice before going to bed today . . . already the dream was fading from memory. He tried to recall what had been said--Voldemort had received some new information, he was planning something new . . . but Harry did not know what. He shook his head; should he tell Dumbledore? No, he thought, it was probably nothing . . . and it was so vague in his mind . . . Soon he was asleep once more.
Note: Now that my identity has been clearly established, I want to say that this, my first attempt at fan fiction, owes much of its inspiration to the discussion on the original "Lucky You" thread at the Sugar Quill. Special thanks go to my good friend St. Margarets, for being awesome in trading ideas and looking this over for me as I write it. Without all her support, encouragement, and suggestions, this story would probably never have been written--or it would be much shorter and crappier! I also thank Helen, from SQ, for doing a superb job of beta-reading.
Constructive feedback would be appreciated. There will be multiple chapters, so be on the lookout.