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 fl