[The disclaimer may be found at the start of the story, before the Prologue. It still applies.]
The Burrow, home of the Weasley family, situated just outside the village of Ottery St Catchpole, couldn't have been a bigger contrast with Privet Drive, any more than the Weasleys could have been less like the Dursleys -- and Harry loved both the house and the family who lived in it very dearly for that. He stood looking at the house for what seemed like a long time, delighting in the sight of it and the welcoming air of homeliness that was as much a part of it as its ramshackle construction, before he slowly strolled to the front door.
He grinned as he pressed the doorbell -- another of Mr Weasley's electrical projects, surely -- and wondered if it actually ran on batteries, or had Arthur charmed it to work magically? And if the latter, what did it do as well as, or instead of, ringing the bell? Mr Weasley was an inveterate tinker with Muggle things, but he didn't always understand exactly what they were supposed to do, nor could he resist adding an extra feature or two... dozen. The combination of his enthusiasm and less-than-perfect comprehension of how something worked could lead to amusing -- and/or disastrous -- results.
The doorbell seemed to be one of Arthur's more successful efforts, however; the front door had a large brass knocker on it and, when Harry rang the bell, the face on the knocker looked at him and asked, "What's your name, son?" in a friendly, if gruff, manner.
"Thank you," the knocker said politely and fell silent, but Harry could hear a voice inside the house calling out, "Molly! Arthur! It's Harry Potter at the door!"
A shout of joy -- several, actually -- went up in the house, and over the sound of running footsteps, the knocker said, "They'll be with you in a minute, lad -- oops, here they are now!" Harry barely had time to thank the knocker before the door was flung open and Molly Weasley grabbed him in one of her trademark hugs.
"Oh, Harry! It's so good to see you!" she cried while Harry struggled for air. "We were so surprised to get your message! We weren't expecting you yet; in fact, we weren't sure if Professor Dumbledore would let you come this summer, so we were all really pleased to get his letter -- brought by Fawkes, can you imagine? -- right after yours. And today, of all days..."
"Molly dear, let the boy breathe," came a calmer voice that Harry recognised straight away as that of Arthur Weasley, and his wife finally let Harry go, apologising profusely as he tried to catch his breath.
"That's... all right... Mrs Weasley," he gasped in between huge gulps of air. "I'm... fine... and very glad... to be here. It's... good... to come... home."
Molly gave a small sob as her eyes became bright with unshed tears, and she looked as though she would like to hug Harry again, but a gentle touch from Mr Weasley restrained her.
"And we're glad you think of us that way, Harry," Arthur said quietly, reaching out to shake him by the hand. "We've always considered you as one of the family, you know that."
"Yeah, I know," Harry agreed, blushing a little, "and you're the only family I have now, because I'm never going back to the Dursleys, that's for sure!"
Arthur looked concerned and Molly furious at what they thought was yet another example of his relatives' callousness, but Harry held up a hand before Molly could compose a Howler of unparalleled volume and vituperation.
"It's not what you think: they didn't throw me out; I left them! I'm not under age any more, and I wasn't going to put up with them any longer. Safe or not, it wasn't worth living with them for one minute more -- even if they'd let me, once they knew I was a legal adult.
"So... um... it looks like I need somewhere to stay..." he said mock-pathetically, making an attempt at silly puppy-dog eyes. Arthur laughed and Molly beamed, but Harry was saved from another hug and the possibility of death by asphyxiation by the arrival of another Weasley -- Ron.
"Harry! Great to see you, mate!" his friend yelled, grabbing his arm. "Come on in! You're up in my room as usual, so let's take your trunk up and then we can have some breakfast..." The last word was said with definite emphasis and a pointed look at Mrs Weasley, who herself appeared torn between indignation at Ron's interruption (and the implied accusation of not looking after her family) and horror at the thought that she might be neglecting her guest.
For an instant, Harry didn't move, frozen in something like shock. But then, after a moment so short that none of the Weasleys noticed what had happened, he blinked, laughed, smiled at Molly to show that he, for one, didn't think badly of her, and took out his wand to cast another Locomotor trunk spell before allowing himself to be dragged off by Ron, his trunk docilely following him up the stairs.
As they stomped up to the top floor of the Burrow, Ron grinned at Harry and nudged him.
"Good to be able to use magic legally, eh? What was the first thing you did as an adult? I was at Hogwarts, remember, so it didn't make much difference to me until I came home. You won't believe this, but the first thing I did when I got here was to clean my room! Used a load of Shrinking and Summoning Charms to get rid of all the old junk cluttering up my wardrobe; d'you know, there was stuff in there from when Bill was a little boy?"
Harry laughed, and couldn't resist the opportunity to tease his friend: "Clean your room? Hermione's rubbing off on you, mate; you'll be reading Hogwarts: A History next!" He quickly ducked to avoid a half-hearted punch, but Ron wasn't really mad; in fact, he was blushing slightly, the way he often did when Hermione was mentioned.
After far too long, in the opinion of almost everyone who knew them well, Ron and Hermione had finally admitted their mutual fondness for one another and become an acknowledged couple. They'd been together for quite a while now, but Ron still acted as though he couldn't believe his good fortune (so did Hermione, but she was less obvious about it). Harry was at the head of the list of people who were pleased for his friends (and relieved that things had finally worked out for them), but it didn't stop him from teasing them both -- in self-defence, if nothing else, because they were rubbing off on one another, even to the point of planning the occasional practical joke together. The combination of Ron's sense of humour and Hermione's intelligence could be formidable, to say the least. Fred and George were proud of them, Prefects or not.
"I did use magic to clean up this morning," Harry went on, returning to Ron's question, "but the first thing I did was to cast a Silencing Charm, and then pack! I also Transfigured some of Dudley's rotten old hand-me-downs into what I'm wearing. Shame it won't last, but I thought I'd at least look decent when I walked out on the Dursleys -- and, of course, it only made them angrier. I guess I'll have to go shopping for some new stuff."
"Well, I hope you can find something like what you've got on," came a new voice from inside a doorway the boys were passing, "You look great."
"Ginny! Hi," said a delighted Harry, stopping to poke his head into the youngest Weasley's bedroom to say hello. And by "poke his head" is meant precisely that: Harry had never gone into Ginny's bedroom, and had no intention of doing so without an express invitation -- and probably not even then without a very good reason, especially if there was another Weasley within, say, a hundred miles. He intended to catch hold of the doorframe to support himself as he partly leaned in for just long enough to see Ginny and greet her quickly before continuing on his way upstairs...
It didn't work that way. Harry caught sight of Ginny standing over by her window, smiling happily at him... and missed the doorframe altogether. He fell into the room with a startled cry and a loud thud as he hit the floor.
"Harry!" both Weasleys yelped, and it was a moot point as to which one was louder. Ginny, however, won the race to get to Harry's fallen form, dropping to her knees beside him while Ron dodged the hovering trunk.
"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked urgently. "Are you hurt? Is it your scar? What happened?"
Harry groaned softly and rolled over slowly to face her, but said nothing more. He couldn't. He was looking at Ginny.
He had fallen over in the first place through sheer surprise at seeing her, and he felt much the same way at that moment. Oh, my God... This is Ginny? He couldn't believe what he was seeing... he wasn't even sure what it was that he could see, but it-- she was... incredible... spellbinding -- possibly literally.
His eyes watered after a couple of seconds and he blinked, and in that instant, Ron appeared next to him, yelling something incomprehensible (or so it seemed to Harry), and then awareness of the world came crashing back in and he realised that he was sitting on the floor of Ginny's room, staring rather rudely at her while both she and her brother were anxiously trying to find out if he was all right. Trouble was, he wasn't quite sure himself.
"Oh... sorry," he muttered eventually, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it; it worked, too, until he looked up and saw Ginny again... Another shake and he managed to reconnect mind and body enough to start to get up -- but he made sure not to look in her direction this time.
"Sorry about that," he repeated. "This was meant to be a flying visit, but I forgot my broom is still in the trunk..." That got a laugh from Ron and a weak chuckle from Ginny, so Harry said, "I'll see you later, Ginny. I think I need to lie down for a bit."
"All right, Harry," Ginny replied, concern evident in her voice.
Harry found that he couldn't be indifferent to that, so he took a deep breath, steeled himself to deal with the sight of her and turned around to say, "I'm okay, Gin -- really. It's... just been an eventful morning, what with leaving the Dursleys for good and everything, and now I manage to fall flat on my face..." He grinned, carefully looking over her shoulder rather than straight at her. "I think I need to catch up with myself. Don't worry; I'll be fine in a bit. I'll see you later, okay?"
"All right," she agreed, sounding somewhat reassured. The boys went out and Ginny went to close the door, but stopped suddenly, rolled her eyes in disgust with herself for nearly forgetting, and raced out to call up the stairs, "Happy Birthday, Harry!"
Harry stopped dead, halfway up the flight leading to Ron's bedroom. For a few moments, he stood completely still, as though stunned -- which was not that far from the truth -- before turning and replying quietly, "Thanks, Ginny..."
Harry and Ron climbed up to the familiar small room just below the attic, where Harry lowered his trunk to the floor and flopped gratefully onto his bed. Ron watched him, frowning slightly.
"Are you really all right, Harry? You weren't just saying that to make Ginny happy, were you?"
"Of course I'm all right, you git," Harry replied disgustedly after a moment. "All I did was lose my balance. I'm not even bruised, so let's not go overboard about it, okay? Look, you go down and have breakfast. I've had mine; I took great pleasure in cooking myself a really good one this morning -- and I only made it for one!" He grinned at that and Ron returned it. Knowing all too well about the Dursleys' ill-treatment of his friend, the redheaded boy was enjoying the thought of them receiving their comeuppance almost as much as Harry had; he'd get the details later, and was looking forward to hearing them.
"Save me some pumpkin juice and I'll be down in a few minutes," Harry went on. "You up for a little Quidditch later on?"
Ron's grin widened; Harry couldn't be too badly hurt if he wanted to play Quidditch.
"You bet!" He opened the door and left the room. "See you downstairs."
Harry listened to the clomps of his friend's footsteps as he descended to the kitchen; Ginny was the only Weasley sibling who didn't sound like a herd of elephants on the Burrow's stairs -- although, in Fred and George's case, the elephants had always appeared to have a penchant for tap-dancing.
Ginny... Harry closed his eyes and let every muscle he could control go limp. What on Earth was happening to him? Or had it happened to her -- and to Ron, for that matter, though the effect on him was nothing like as powerful as it was on his sister. Was it his glasses? No, that couldn't be right; okay, he could see much better now -- so much so that he didn't need to wear the glasses at all, and had altered the lenses to what was effectively plain glass -- but that happened before he came to the Burrow, and it certainly didn't explain why Ron and Ginny looked so... different.
It was the strangest sensation, looking at either of them -- but especially Ginny. He could see them really clearly, even more so than everything else, every minute detail distinct, unmistakeable and unique. They stood out somehow, sort of dominating his field of vision -- but that was only the outside! What truly staggered him was the way in which he seemed able to see inside them -- not inside their bodies, but to glimpse their minds and souls, to know them as people, as his friends, in a way that he'd never conceived was possible to know anyone or anything.
And what fantastic people they were! Ron was his best mate, but how could he possibly have imagined what he was truly like? And why on Earth, if he was like that, did the bloke ever worry about... anything, really? His intelligence, his courage, his loyalty and so much more were all so incredible that it was hard to believe that this was Ron that he was seeing; but it was, and Harry came to the humbling conclusion that he'd never really known his friend -- not properly... It certainly explained Ron's skill at chess and why Hermione was always nagging him to study; he had so much potential, but was content to leave much of it unrealised because his priorities were in other directions.
And Ginny... Words failed him. No wonder he'd fallen over himself like an idiot... he was an idiot! This girl-- this young woman -- had cared for him in a way that no-one else had for years, if ever, and he had barely deigned to notice her! What a bloody moron he was; if he'd had half a brain, he'd have nurtured those feelings until they blossomed into something that was so wonderful that... that...
He gave up; there just wasn't anything adequate to compare it to. Nor was there anything or anyone to whom he could compare Ginny as a person -- and as a woman. She was gorgeous, in every way, and there was so much more to her than that, too. How could he not have noticed -- or was it that he simply hadn't bothered to look?
Probably... he thought ruefully, ...or maybe not. He may have been a blind fool as far as Ginny was concerned, but he'd thought he knew Ron fairly well... so there had to be more to this new perception of both of them than spending a lot of time with his friend while ignoring said friend's little sister.
He decided that he was going to have to look -- really look -- at his friends and try and sort out what he saw, what it meant and how he wanted to deal with all of that. He'd have to be a bit sneaky about it, because just looking at them -- especially Ginny -- seemed to make him freeze in surprise and amazement at what he saw. And it was going to take a lot of self-control -- possibly more than he had -- to restrain himself around Ginny; but he had to; the last thing he wanted to do was make her feel uncomfortable or worse around him, however he might feel in that situation...
He got up and headed for the kitchen. What he wanted, he decided, was a glass of cold pumpkin juice, and then he'd begin his... observations.
Harry was not the only one who was intending to make observations of a friend, though, in this case, he was the one to be observed. Ginny had not been kidding when she said that his Transfigured clothes looked good; and when she had tried to help him after his fall, there was a small part of her that couldn't help admiring the young man in the clothes as well. He'd always been good-looking, with a slim, fit physique, but he seemed to have become even more so since she'd last seen him. His features hadn't altered much, if at all -- he was still as handsome as ever, with that endearingly messy hair that she'd always liked -- but his body...
She shook her head slightly to clear her mind of the memory of Harry on the floor of her room, hoping against hope that she wasn't blushing too noticeably. He'd grown... Not so much in stature, but she didn't remember him being that well-muscled. Even through his shirt, she had been able to tell (and, for one glorious moment, feel) that his chest and arms were... were...
Yummy. The word you're looking for is "yummy."Or attractive. Gorgeous, perhaps? she told herself -- and now she was certain she was blushing, and she hated herself for it. Also for her body's reaction to this new Harry, and for the little part of her, deep inside, that was urging her to stop wasting time thinking about him and grab him as soon as he came into the kitchen.
Stop it! she told herself vehemently. You can't go mooning over Harry like you're still eleven with that silly crush on him. Besides, you gave up boys, remember? And for good reason, too. Stick to the plan!
Ginny had decided, early in her fifth year of school, that she was giving up on the idea of having a boyfriend, at least until she finished at Hogwarts. After the Michael Corner fiasco, she'd made one or two attempts at starting relationships with other boys, but they'd come to nothing. Dean Thomas had been nice enough, but he was really interested in Parvati Patil, and Ginny realised that she had been more interested in having a boyfriend after Michael dumped her than she truly was in Dean himself, so she got together with Hermione and Lavender Brown to set him up with Parvati, and the two had been an established couple ever since. After that, she'd gone on Hogsmeade visits with one or other boy, but they had just been pleasant days spent with friends; there had been no spark, nothing that made any of the boys more special than anyone else, so she'd decided that she could do without the whole messy business of romance while she was at school.
She was busy enough with her studies, playing Quidditch (as a Chaser and reserve Seeker for Gryffindor) and her duties as a Prefect, so she hardly had the time to pine for a mate, so to speak; and she rather suspected that, as she'd read once in a magazine, the kind of young men who were going to be compatible with her were currently also spending their time doing their homework rather than chasing girls. She decided that she'd do the same; there would be time enough for that sort of thing later, if there was time for anything, and if there wasn't... well, she wouldn't really know what she was missing.
So the thought of falling back into her old ways as regards Harry was not a welcome one -- though she did have to admit that he looked very nice. Maybe she could just enjoy the sight of him while he was here, and when they went back to school, she wouldn't see so much of him and she could get on with her education and her life. Yes, that sounded like a sensible solution to her dilemma. Now, all she had to do was check with her mum; that green shirt he'd Transfigured really suited him...
Deep inside her sub-conscious mind, the small part of Ginny that had been urging her to grab Harry metaphorically rubbed its hands in anticipation. Denial was a wonderful thing when properly employed...
By the time he sat down at the kitchen table, Harry was calm enough in himself, and the long, cold glass of pumpkin juice that he'd been looking forward to all morning also helped. It was sharp and refreshing, and it seemed to Harry to put the final seal on his escape from the Dursleys, who only ever had fruit juice of any sort in the house when Dudley was on one of his diets or if they were expecting an "important" visitor who drank certain kinds of cocktails.
His spirits soared: he was free! Though Voldemort was out there and tomorrow might contain any and all sorts of unspeakable horrors -- and, perhaps, unimaginable joys -- right now, he was where he wanted to be, with the people who meant the most to him, save only Hermione and Remus Lupin, and with a month of fun and relaxation ahead of him. That was something to be thankful for and to enjoy, and he intended to do just that. And if he could now see that there was more to be thankful for than he had known yesterday, then that was one more reason to be glad.
Right, he thought, let's see just what I can see about my friends... And, feeling more at ease and in control of himself than he had since he first saw Ron that morning, he sat down at the table -- opposite Ron and next to Ginny -- and greeted everyone.
The next half-an-hour or so was somewhat bewildering for Harry, but he didn't think that any of the Weasleys noticed him staring at them -- which, he had to admit, he had become prone to doing. Thankfully, the normal bustle of breakfast at the Burrow, even if there were only four people and himself there at the moment, provided frequent and welcome distractions if he happened to be gazing at someone too intently... because it wasn't just Ron and Ginny whom he could now perceive in this strange new way.
He had been assuring Mrs Weasley for what seemed like the fifteenth time that he really didn't want anything more for breakfast when he blinked in surprise as she went back to the sink with Ginny's dirty dishes. She had smiled in maternal amusement at his fervent promise that he'd had a good breakfast -- he'd cooked it himself and, for once, he hadn't stinted himself because it was the last time he'd ever eat in that house -- and in a flash of insight, Harry had seen her in the same way that he had her children earlier.
It, and she, was impressive. Wow... no wonder she's such a great mother, Harry thought to himself. He hadn't fully comprehended everything he saw, but what he did take in near-instinctively was the inner essence, the core of the woman that was Molly Weasley. Although he suspected that it might take some time and a lot of thinking to appreciate all that he had seen, he knew that his friends -- and he himself, for he couldn't doubt that she saw him as another son -- were incredibly lucky to have this remarkable woman caring for them.
He also realised, and it made him grin inwardly, just why her Howlers were so dreaded by her offspring and anyone else who'd ever received one, or even been in the vicinity when one... detonated. Mrs Weasley was one heck of a Mum all right, but a lot of that was pure Mama Tiger! Let someone do something to hurt one of her kids, or even just threaten to, and out came the fangs and claws; but, being a peace-loving woman as well (possibly because she knew so little of it while her children were at home), her wrath tended to express itself predominantly verbally and in her writing -- and she didn't spare her own family, either!
Mr Weasley had been in his usual hurry to get off to work, and so Harry hadn't been able to catch much more than a glimpse of him, but that was enough to show that Arthur's presence, too, was going to take some getting used to from now on. The elder Weasley resembled his youngest son in many ways, despite their differences in outward appearance and temperament, and that showed. Not only that, but the remarkable intelligence and strong streaks of responsibility and curiosity that shone out of the man rather dazzled Harry, so it was something of a relief when Arthur left for the Ministry.
It was all rather un-nerving, and Harry couldn't help but feel pleased despite himself when, after helping clear up the remaining breakfast crockery and cutlery, Mrs Weasley shooed him out of the kitchen, simultaneously apologising that Ron and Ginny had chores to do and so wouldn't be able to keep him company for an hour or so. He offered to help, but Molly wouldn't hear of it:
"On your birthday? Nonsense, Harry! It's bad enough that Ron and Ginny have work to do, but they do and that's all there is to it. You go and enjoy yourself, and they'll be along as soon as they're finished."
All Harry could do was send his friends a helpless, rueful grin and leave. Not having any real idea of what to do on his own, he wandered slowly back up to his room. He supposed that he could get his broom and spend the time flying by himself...
Harry did collect the broom but, after walking up to the familiar paddock that had seen so many enthusiastic games of Quidditch or had just been the place where he and the others could fly to their heart's content, exulting in the sheer joy of being in the air, he didn't so much as mount it. Instead, he walked out into the centre of the field and sat down, cross-legged, laying down his Firebolt in front of him.
A thought had struck him as he left the Burrow: if his sight had been affected, what about his other senses? He hadn't noticed anything unusual so far, but he hadn't known what would happen when he saw the Weasleys, either. Besides, he remembered reading somewhere that what a person sees makes up an enormous part of the total sensory information that they take in -- far more than all the other senses combined, by a factor of at least 4, if he remembered correctly, so it might be a good idea to close his eyes and find out what else he could sense, and how.
He closed his eyes, placed his hands in his lap and drew himself up, straightening his spine, and let his mind focus on what he could hear, feel, smell and taste. To begin with, he could detect nothing unusual; without the distraction of vision, his senses, especially his hearing, seemed more acute than at other times, but that was always so, and sitting in the middle of an empty paddock in the peace of a summer morning meant that there was very little for them to work with anyway.
Harry felt quite relaxed and stayed still and silent until, eventually, that same peace began to break down: the small sounds of the countryside and the nearby houses and village, at first faint almost to the point of being unheard, began to become clearer; the feel of the sun and the gentle breeze on his arms and face became stronger and more distinct, as did that of his clothing against his skin; that same breeze seemed to gain tantalisingly faint hints of a wide variety of scents which intensified as time passed...
To Harry, apparently calmly resting in a sun-lit field, it felt as though his senses, his mind... his entire consciousness had expanded, flowing out from where he sat like fast-moving ripples on a pond to absorb happenings within their ever-increasing reach. He was inundated by a myriad of sensations -- sounds, smells, touches and textures -- but each was separate, unique in and of itself, and he found that he could concentrate on or disregard it as he wished; it was always there, but he could bring it to the forefront of his attention or retire it to the background. He spent some time doing just that, employing each sense in turn, savouring the smell of wildflowers at the base of the trees around the paddock, then appreciating the swirl of the breeze around his arms, and then listening to a group of gnomes chatter as they once again moved into the Burrow's garden...
Harry chuckled; he'd have to warn Mrs Weasley about the gnomes -- if her own keen sense of the state of her home hadn't already warned her. He chuckled again, remembering that de-gnoming the garden was a much-disliked punishment that Molly was wont to inflict on her children when they committed some offence, and wondered who would be the unlucky victim who would have to deal with this invasion. That thought led his attention to the Burrow, and he focused his hearing on a familiar light voice saying to Mrs Weasley:
"I'm finished, Mum. Is there anything else needs doing?"
Ginny... He heard her mother's answer, a soft reply and what sounded like the back door of the Burrow shutting behind her, and his eyes snapped open -- wide! -- to see her stroll out into the yard and look up towards the paddock and where he was sitting.
Instinctively, or so it must have been, for he had no conscious intentions at that moment, Harry reached out with all his senses towards her... and in an instant, something happened that staggered his mind and perceptions; outwardly, he didn't move a muscle but, in his inner self, he felt a shock more powerful than anything he'd ever known.
Everything, all his senses -- what he could hear, smell, feel, taste and now see -- all that they had told and were telling him about himself, the world around him and, most emphatically and compellingly, about Ginny, coalesced into a single awareness that ran through him like a lightning bolt.
He blinked. And a second time. And then again, but it made no difference. Even with his eyes closed -- and, he was certain, if he stuck his fingers in his ears, put a peg on his nose and climbed inside a sealed box, it would make no difference -- Harry was aware of Ginny. The new way in which he had come to see her was now much more: he could tell, in detail, where she was, what she was doing, how she was feeling, how she looked, what she wore, how her hair was trailing over her shoulders and down her back... In short, he knew almost everything about her that made her her at that moment, other than being able to read her mind, and she was there in his consciousness in a way that made her a basic part of his existence.
He sat for a moment, feeling completely dumbfounded, overwhelmed and even slightly frightened by this new acuity. He tried to push away this awesome knowledge of Ginny and, to his relief, found that he could reduce his sensitivity to her presence. He still knew where she was all the time, but a little experimentation showed that he only received all the information if he wanted it.
He turned his attention to other things -- trees, animals, other people -- and found that he could focus on them almost as sharply as he could Ginny. He could sense Mrs Weasley and Ron in the same way and with similar clarity; he could concentrate his awareness on almost anything that was alive, from the trees around the paddock to the gnomes in the garden to Hedwig, comfortably lazing in the sun in Ron's room, and know them in much the same way as the Weasleys, but in less detail because there was less about them to know.
Ginny, though... There was something about her that stood out, even against the background of his awareness of every other living thing within the range of his senses... And now she had seen him and was strolling towards the paddock with the beginnings of a frown marring the smooth perfection of her forehead.
He "watched" as she approached him warily, concerned for him but not wanting to disturb him. Finally, he turned his head and smiled at her warmly.
She seemed to be taken aback by his notice, and it took her a second or two before she could reply, however tentatively, "Um... hi." She paused for a few moments as they gazed at one another but, having broken the ice, as it were, she felt able, eventually, to ask, "Harry? Are you all right?
"I'm fine. Just sitting here, smelling the daisies -- literally."
"Oh. Um, okay... I didn't want to disturb you... I just wondered... You... you seemed to be staring at-- at everyone at breakfast, and then you came up here with your broom but didn't go flying... I-- I was just..." Her voice trailed off, embarrassment obvious in its tone, and Harry didn't need his new awareness of her, or even to look in her direction, to know that she was blushing.
"Oh..." Harry replied, somewhat embarrassed himself. "You noticed, huh? Sorry about that; I thought I'd been able to hide it."
"Sorry for what? Is everything all right, Harry?"
"Well, apart from the usual, yeah, everything's pretty good." He looked up to meet her soft, worried eyes, and went on in as resolute a voice as he could muster, "Really, Gin, there's no problem. I'm... I'm just finding the world a little different all of a sudden, that's all."
"How?" It was remarkable, he thought, how much feeling she could put into a single syllable. There were a dozen other questions that she wanted to ask, he could tell, but she managed to pack them all into one word. He decided to try to explain, at least partially.
"Sit down?" he asked, waving a hand in front of him. Ginny slowly sat, curling one leg under her and wrapping her arms around the other one, all the while watching him with gentle concern.
"Don't worry, Gin," he said quietly once she was comfortable. "It's just that... well, my life has changed quite a lot from what it was yesterday: I'm now an adult, I've left the Dursleys for good -- which means I don't really have a home any more... that's a fair bit to have to deal with."
He would have gone on, but Ginny broke in: "Harry, you know you'll always have a home here!"
"Yes, I know, Gin... I even told your mum and dad when I arrived this morning that it was good to come home. I meant it, too, but it's still not quite the same; this is your home, yours and Ron's, and I'm just lucky enough to have you both as friends... and that your parents care enough about me to take me in."
He paused and looked at her, watching her blush adorably under his direct gaze -- and again when he smiled at her, suddenly very grateful to the gods, Fate, Providence -- whoever had been kind enough to intertwine his life with those of this girl and her family.
"I really appreciate that; I just hope that nobody ever doubts just how grateful I am. Maybe you could help me find a way to show your family that? Not now, but later on... think about it, would you?"
Ginny, now thoroughly scarlet, murmured something that Harry took for agreement, so he went on, changing the subject a bit to allow her to recover, "And to add to all that, I'm... seeing things... people... in a different way.
"It's kind of odd, to be honest, but it's like I'm seeing everything more clearly -- and I have to say that one of the clearest things of all... is you."
Ginny now looked thunderstruck. "M-me? Harry, why me?"
"Dunno," he said calmly, smiling at her reassuringly. "Maybe it's because you're the first person to wish me a happy birthday in person, on my birthday, since Hagrid when I was eleven?" Maybe because you just might be the most beautiful girl in the world...? He cocked his head to one side, a thought visibly occurring to him. "Actually, you're the only person to wish me a happy birthday at all... Even your mother hasn't, and she told me that I couldn't help with the chores after breakfast because it was my birthday." His eyes narrowed slightly and he fixed Ginny with a suspicious stare. "What's going on?"
Ginny went red again, but there was a smile lurking at the back of it, and Harry could tell that it wouldn't take much to bring it out; but before he could enquire further, it came out of its own accord as Ginny answered him in a manner that could only be described as smug: "Oh, nothing..."
Harry returned the smile, noting with a certain satisfaction that Ginny became slightly breathless and seemed somewhat dazzled as she looked at him. He knew that she was lying, and he could guess why; he also knew that she knew he knew, because no-one could possibly have believed her when she'd replied in that tone of voice, but he was prepared to leave it at that. Obviously, the Weasleys had something planned, and he didn't want to spoil it by poking his nose where it wasn't wanted. Besides, this was a great opportunity to spend some time with Ginny and continue his observations, which now, it seemed, had so much more to reveal than he could ever have expected.
He just hoped that he could manage to bear the incredible joy of observing her.