"C'mon, Ginny! You don't want to be late for the surprise, do you?" Neville ran up breathlessly to where Ginny was sitting in a big cushy armchair.
Ginny tried to shrug away Neville’s persistent tugging on her sleeve. “I don’t want to go to Hogsmeade today.” She glared at Neville to stop his protests. “Even if the professors are having some sort of a surprise.” It was Valentine’s Day. Normally, Ginny wouldn’t mind that much, but she hadn’t heard from Harry since before Christmas. He had sent her Christmas present at the beginning of December, not knowing when he’d get a chance to send it closer on towards the 25th. They weren’t together, of course, but that didn’t mean she loved him any less. Or worried any less. She particularly didn’t feel like going into Hogsmeade today and seeing dozens of other happy couples enjoying themselves in the village this weekend.
Neville cleared his throat nervously. “Well, actually, Ginny,” he hesitated, “It’s not the professors who have the surprise. It’s…well, it’s me,” he hurried on. “I thought you’d be more likely to come if I said it was someone other than me.” He held up a hand to forestall Ginny. “And no, I’m not asking you out again. I know your affections are engaged…elsewhere. But trust me, you want to come.”
Ginny smiled at him, and got up from her chair. “Oh, all right. If you say it will be all right, Neville.”
Neville grinned in relief. “Good!” He started to drag her toward the portrait hole, but changed his mind suddenly. “Ginny, when was the last time you combed your hair?”
About half an hour—and several outfits—later, Ginny found herself strolling through Hogsmeade on Neville’s arm. She had just begun to have a sinking suspicion that this was Neville’s way of trying to ask her out again when they stopped off at the twin’s shop.
“Why are we going in here?” she asked surprised.
Neville blushed. “Oh, I need to pick something up for Seamus. He’s not feeling well, and asked me to run an errand for him.”
“Oh, well, if it’s to be quick, do you mind if I wait outside? I’d rather not have to see my brothers.” She grimaced. “They do so love torturing their younger sister.”
Neville turned a deeper scarlet, mumbling something.
“I’m sorry, Neville, I didn’t quite catch that.” He leaned over, and whispered something in her ear.
Ginny laughed, then patted Neville kindly. “You’re not the only one afraid of them. Of course I’ll go in with you.”
They pushed open the door, and walked inside. “Gred? Forge?” Ginny called out, wandering through the shop.
Her eyes caught a flash of something, and she blinked, twice. Is that…the thought was only half formed when George appeared suddenly from behind a display rack, followed quickly by Fred.
“Oy, little sis. What can we help you with?” George asked jovially.
Ginny stared at them, suspiciously. They were never this nice. “Well, Neville came in here, looking for something. I just came with him. Neville, what is it you were looking for? Neville?” Ginny looked around, but Neville seemed to have disappeared. Her eyes narrowed.
Fred smiled toothsomely at her. “Well, sis, since he seems to have disappeared, is there anything we can help you with?” he asked innocently.
“Actually, yes,” Ginny responded. “I thought I caught a glimpse of Ron and Hermione in the back of your store just now. What’s going on?”
“What are you talking about?” Fred said, putting on a confused look. He looked at his brother. “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
“No idea, brother mine,” George responded. “She sounds delirious.”
“I’m not delirious, I thought…no, I know I saw Ron and Hermione!” she protested.
“Definitely delirious,” Fred said.
“She looks stressed.”
“Like she’s not getting enough sleep.”
“Thinking about a boy with dark hair and glasses, no doubt,” George said mournfully.
“Ginny, love, you look like you could use some more sleep,” Fred declared.
“I have been a little tired lately,” Ginny admitted reluctantly.
Fred brightened. “Good, now just relax.”
“Wait, what?” Ginny asked confusion setting in. She didn’t have time to think before the world went black.
-- -- -- --
Ginny woke up to the sound of birds chirping around her. Birds? Where am I? The last thing she remembered was being in the Twins’ shop. What kind of trick was this? Had Neville been in on it?
She blinked her eyes open, her hands already reaching into her pockets for her wand. With a start, she realized that her feet were not touching the ground. She was sitting on the limb of a tall oak tree, probably fifteen or twenty feet up. The tree commanded a very nice view of the castle, and when Ginny tried to turn around, craning her neck, she found that she was in the backyard of the Shrieking Shack. Of course, blocked from view and if I scream, people will think it’s just the house.
“What in bloody hell is going on here?” she said out loud. She tried to move down the limb to the trunk, in an attempt to discover whether she could climb down, when she realized that she couldn’t move from her spot. Increasingly frantic, she kept trying to move, but to no avail. Panting, she gave up, and looked around again. For the first time, she noticed a slip of parchment nailed to the limb, just inside her reach. She tore it from its fastening.
We hope you’ll forgive us for this minor inconvenience. We promise it will be worth your while. Oh, someone else has your wand at the moment, so don’t bother trying to escape. We’ve stuck you to this tree with a Sticking Charm.
Gred and Forge.
Letting out a string of coarse anglosaxonisms that would have done her brother Ron proud, she fumed about her position. What the hell are they playing at, sticking me up in this tree like this? “worth my while?” What the hell does that mean? She swore again.
Someone laughed at her, making her hair stand up on end. She knew that laugh. Almost better than her own.
“It’s good to see you haven’t changed much.”
Not daring to breathe, Ginny looked down to the ground.
She might not have changed, but he had, and none for the better. He was thinner; she could see that even from here. His hair was longer, stringy and matted, but it looked as if he had tried to tame it somehow. His skin was dark, deeply tanned from days in the open. He looked tired. But the eyes were the same, those wonderful green eyes, and that wide, open grin that he’d never given to anyone but her.
“Harry?” she breathed, uncertainly, as if he were an apparition that would disappear if she acknowledged it.
“Hi Gin,” he said. He gave a little shrug. “Sorry I left you hanging so long, but do you know how hard it is to find a picnic basket this time of year?” He held up the basket.
“Harry…what…what are you doing here?” she said.
The last time they’d seen each other had been Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Harry hadn’t been able to avoid dancing with her, just once.
“You’re leaving tomorrow aren’t you? All three of you?” she had asked.
“Ginny, I…” Harry stammered. “You understand why I can’t tell you anything right?”
“Harry, you can’t protect me. I’m already a target,” she protested.
“Ginny, I know. What I meant was that I can’t tell you because if you were captured, you wouldn’t know anything to tell.” Harry looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“Oh.” Ginny realized he was right, and felt bad for making him spell it out. The comment sounded like Hermione-logic; Harry looked like the very thought of it made him ill.
“Harry…” Ginny cupped his cheek, and he flinched. “Harry, be careful, please. For me?”
Harry smiled at her, weakly, conscious that half the eyes in the garden were on them.
“Of course.” Harry paused. “Ginny?”
“Ginny…” Harry suddenly looked a little nervous, and he looked at his shoes. “Ginny…I…”
“Just promise me you’ll be safe, and not do anything silly. Promise me that…when this is over…”
“Harry?” she asked, when he trailed off.
“Just be safe, please. For me.”
There had been no great declaration of love, he hadn’t proposed, and he hadn’t specifically said “wait for me”, but what was left unsaid had given her enough hope to hang onto through the dark months.
And now, here he was. On Valentines Day no less.
“Mind if I join you?” Harry asked, startling her out of her reverie.
“I don’t see how I can object,” Ginny said, finding herself smiling at him, and water pooling at the corner of her eyes.
Harry grabbed an ancient looking broom that Ginny recognized as Fred’s and looped around the tree, before parking himself and climbing on the limb next to her. He lowered the broom with his wand, and then used Wingardium Leviosa to bring the basket up.
“You came,” she said, wrapping her arms around him, and holding him tightly, and she couldn’t hold back her tears of joy anymore. She felt how painfully thin he was, and the tears only increased. What is this costing him? “You came.”
“Hey, what’s this Miss Gin?” Harry said, using a pet name he had used when they’d been together last year. “Tears? Am I scary?”
“I’m so happy to see you,” she said. “Why did you come? I didn’t think I’d see you until it was over.”
Harry paused, laying his chin on top of her head and kissing her hair as he’d done so many times before. “Because I missed you,” he said, but Ginny felt the imperceptible hesitation before he answered. She was about to call him on it when he rolled on. “Now, you look like you need lunch.”
“Me? I need lunch? Harry, you’re a thin as a rail,” she protested. “I can feel your ribs. Mum would kill you if she saw you like this.”
“Which is why she won’t,” Harry said firmly as he opened the basket. “And it’s not like that’s only one among many reasons why she would kill us.”
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, smiling at him as he handed her a sandwich.
“Well, we can start with Ron and Hermione,” Harry said, arching an eyebrow. “Need I elaborate?”
“Really?” Ginny said, excitedly. “They’re together now.”
“Oh yeah,” Harry said. “They’re…well, don’t tell them I told you, because they’re keeping it from me. I overheard them one night. They’re engaged.”
“Well…I heard them talking one night and they were discussing wedding planning. Hermione’s wearing a fake diamond ring on a chain under her shirt.”
“Why haven’t they told you?” Ginny asked, curious.
“I think the rationale was that if they couldn’t tell their parents, they wouldn’t tell anyone until they could,” Harry explained, around bites of his sandwich. Ginny was a little disturbed by the relish with which he went at it.
“How many sandwiches do we have in there?” Ginny asked.
“Enough. I brought two for each of us,” Harry explained. “And a flask of pumpkin juice.” He held it up.
Ginny reached for it, but couldn’t quite make it.
“Erm, Harry, can you unstick me?” she asked. “If you have my wand, you could just let me do it.”
“Omf, ymf,” Harry said through a mouthful of sandwich. He swallowed, and pulled her wand out of the picnic basket. “Here you go,” he said. “Sorry about the dramatics, but I really wanted to surprise you,” he explained.
Relieved, Ginny took her wand and unstuck herself. Then she climbed into Harry’s lap, and grabbed the pumpkin juice, taking a swing.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Harry said, sardonically, but he was blushing. Ginny looked at him curiously.
“What?” she asked. “It’s not like I haven’t been here before,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess,” Harry stammered.
“What? What is it Harry?” Ginny asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, you’re not…well, you’re notreally…I mean, we aren’t…anymore, are we?” Harry asked timidly.
“Harry,” she said, smiling at him. “Right now, I’m anything you need me to be, for as long as you need it.”
Harry smiled at her, sighing in relief. “So tell me about your life, how’s school going?”
Ginny sensed Harry’s need to talk about anything but what was going on in his life, and began to share with him all the gossip and goings on of the castle. She told him about the Quidditch Cup competition and the surprising strength of the Ravenclaw team. They avoided talk of the professional league, which had suspended play for the season on account of the war. She told him about her classes and the new teachers. In return Harry told her about some of the humorous anecdotes from his adventures: catching Ron and Hermione snogging, being chased by Muggle police through Manchester. Being stuck in a bus stop shelter during a thunderstorm with a man who kept hitting on Ron.
“So finally, Hermione just looks at the guy and says ‘I’d appreciate it if you stopped hitting on my boyfriend.’ He looks at Ron and says, ‘Oh, honey, are you sure you want to play for that team?’ It was all I could do to keep them from hexing him, Muggle or not.”
Ginny was clutching Harry for dear life, fearful that her laughter would shake her right off the tree limb. “Oh, Merlin, that’s too funny!” she exclaimed as she buried her head in his shoulder.
The sun had started to sink into the western horizon, and in spite of herself Ginny knew she needed get back to the school. “Harry, this has been wonderful. It’s been a perfect afternoon, but I have to get back.”
Harry smiled at her. “Not quite yet,” he said.
“Soon, though, Harry,” she said sadly. “They’ll be herding us up to the castle in a little while.”
“Ginny, Ginny, Ginny,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Do you really think I’ve travelled all over Europe with the brightest witch in the world and not learned anything about planning?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, a little bit confused.
“Do you think I’d come all this way, and not plan to squeeze every possible moment out of it? McGonagall knows where you are. When it’s time, you’ll go back to the castle through the passage in the Shrieking Shack,” he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at the building behind them.
“Oh, Harry!” she said, throwing her arms around his neck, and squeezing him hard. He pulled away from her, and gazed into her eyes. She bit her bottom lip and tilted her head. Their lips met in a kiss that was worlds above anything she had felt before.
When they again broke for air, the sun was nearly gone, and it was Harry’s turn to sigh.
“I bought us an extra hour, maybe a little bit more,” he said. “But we shouldn’t be out after dark. There are still Dementors hanging around Hogsmeade.”
Ginny nodded, resigned. “I know, Harry.” She cupped his cheek with her hand. “Harry, I’ve had the most marvellous time this afternoon. It’s more than I could have wished for. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Ginny.” Harry took a deep breath. “Listen, Ginny…when you asked me why I came, I told you I missed you. That’s the truth, but it’s not the only reason.”
“What is it, Harry?” Ginny prompted, when he trailed off.
He turned away from her to stare off into the twilight. “I realized something out there, Ginny. I realized that…”
“I can’t do this alone,” he said, turning back to look her in the eyes. He took a deep breath again, as if summoning all his courage. “I can’t do it without you.” Ginny’s heart skipped a beat. “I need you, Ginny. And not just as a girlfriend either.” Ginny felt like the wind had been sucked out of her. “Ginny, I might be going out on a limb…” He paused, and then chuckled. “Well, look, we are out on a limb.” Ginny giggled in spite of herself, bleeding off nervous energy. “Ginny, what I’m trying to say is…you’re what keeps me going. The memory of being with you is the only thing keeping me from falling apart completely or going insane. I want to know, no, I need to know, that when this is all over, when Tom is dead and gone, you’ll still be there, waiting for me.” Harry reached for something in his pocket. “Please… I want you to have this; I want you to wear it…regardless of whether or not I come out of this or not, it’s yours.” He pressed something into her palm. When she opened her fingers she found herself looking at an old fashioned signet ring with the Potter family crest on it. “I found it in my vault,” he said searching her face. “And when this is all over, maybe we can make it a double wedding?”
Thoroughly unable to speak, Ginny nodded frantically, and kissed him, hard. She felt him shaking with relief, and felt hot tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. She broke off the kiss, and put her hands on his face. “Now you listen to me, Harry Potter. You’d better come home to me, do you understand?”
Harry nodded. “Yes, Ginny, I will.”
“And you’d better take care of Tom before I turn 17,” she said vehemently, “because if you don’t, I’m coming to find you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. The only thing keeping me in school is that I’m underage, but once I’m 17, there’s nothing you can do, or say, that will keep me at home, away from you.”
Harry’s face darkened, and he opened his mouth to protest, but then thought better of it, closed his mouth, and kissed her on the cheek. “Yes, dear.” He held her tightly as she slipped the ring onto her finger. “It’s a little big,” he said. “But it will have to do until I have time to find something prettier.”
“It’s perfect,” she declared firmly.
“We need to get going,” he said. Harry Summoned Fred’s broom, and together they flew down to the ground and began walking up to the Shrieking Shack. Harry held up a loose board over the back door as they ducked under it and entered the house. Harry left her at the head of the passageway. “Goodbye, Ginny,” he said, kissing her softly.
“Goodbye, Harry,” she said, clutching him to her. She turned and started down the dark corridor.
“Ginny!” Harry called as she was some yards down the tunnel.
“Yes?” she called back to his dim shape in the darkness.
“I love you.”
Ginny could have cried again, and it took all of her self control not to go running back down the tunnel to him. “I love you, too,” she said.
His dim form raised a hand in final salute, and then it was gone. Ginny continued back down the passageway and exited cautiously at the base of the Whomping Willow. Neville was waiting for her.
“I’m sorry about lying to you,” Neville said as she approached.
“That’s all right, Neville,” she said, meaning it. “It was worth it.” Ginny wasn’t sure if she was going to scream for joy, or cry at the thought of Harry leaving again. Neville grinned uncertainly and Ginny impulsively threw her arms around him. “Thank you, Neville. Thank you.”
Neville blushed, and then grabbed her arm. “Come on, Ginny, we need to get inside. Dinner’s waiting.”
She nodded silently, and when they reached the door to the castle, she paused a moment, looking out over the darkened grounds. She put her fingers to her lips, and blew a kiss out into the air. “Be safe, Harry, wherever you are. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
* * *
A/N: Much kudos go to BaF, whose delightful phrase, “coarse anglosaxonisms” is used here.