Ginny was already there, perched on one of the classroom desks and deeply engrossed in a heavy leather-bound tome, which she'd balanced on her knees. Her long red hair had obviously been annoying her again, Harry reflected. It had been rolled into a knot at the back of her head, and what looked like her wand was skewered through it in a vain attempt to keep it off her face. Bits of hair stuck out at all angles in a very Ginnyish fashion and the whole thing looked in perilous danger of collapse at any second. Candlelight shimmered from the sockets on the walls, catching glints of titian and ochre in her hair as she moved to turn the page. She read on, blissfully unaware of her audience.
Harry blinked. "It's just Ginny," he reminded himself. "Ron's little sister." But the change in her was undeniable. She'd become more…something. More confident? More beautiful? He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but it was there, whatever it was. His eyes moved from her hair to studying the concentration on her face, scanning her version of the Weasley freckles which were only just visible in the half-light of the room, waiting, waiting for her to see him and smile. Harry's insides quivered, and his eyes widened as he dismissed the thought before it had even really occurred to him. "Just Ginny," he repeated to himself.
"Hi Ginny," he called, slightly louder than he had intended to. She jumped and her precarious hairstyle collapsed completely, causing torrents of russet red to cascade down her shoulders.
"Harry!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "Sorry, I was miles away. Got a book about the curse from the library and I was reading up on it a bit." She put the volume on the desk, and got to her feet looking at Harry's stunned expression. "What's up? I've not turned my hair blue again have I? I know I shouldn't use my wand instead of a hair grip, but it's just so handy sometimes. I always said I'd stop after I set fire to it a couple of years back, but old habits are hard to break." She shrugged and gave an apologetic half smile. "Sorry, I'm rambling. It's nerves."
"Me too," he said, holding out his hand, which she could see was trembling slightly. "I can't say I'm looking forward to this, Ginny, but there is one good thing. I just dropped in to see McGonagall to let her know we were here and she lent me a mouse from today's Transfiguration lesson to practise on. So if I get it wrong first time, at least it's not on you."
Ginny retrieved her wand from under the desk, and made her way across the classroom to where Harry stood with the glass tank containing a small white mouse scurrying around. She stared at it in fascination.
"You know, I've never seen this done before. Moody must have thought we were too young."
"I'm not promising I can do it," replied Harry apprehensively. "Surprisingly enough, I've never done an unforgivable curse before."
He rolled back the sleeves of his robes, and looked at Ginny. They nodded gently together, and Harry pointed his wand at the creature, who scuttled back into a corner of the case trying to escape.
"Imperio!" he cried. A flash of light shot out from his wand, and to Harry's amazement the mouse raised itself onto hind paws and began to pirouette gracefully across the floor of its tank. Harry removed his wand, and just as suddenly as it had started the enchantment stopped and the mouse dropped back onto all four paws again.
"We don't have to do this. Let's just go back to the common room and play chess or something," Harry said, looking at her stricken face. He made to pick up the mouse and his Firebolt.
"No!" said Ginny firmly, holding onto his arm. "I need to. Tell me what it feels like when the curse gets put on you."
Harry explained how he himself had felt; the light floating feeling inside his head, the total release from the pains and aches of his own body, and the way it would have been so easy to accept the suggestion and do as he had been told.
"What you've got to do it think your way through it. Your own mind is in the back of there somewhere and once you can hear what you think you can break the curse," he reassured her. "It took me a while to get it right though, and Ron still hasn't managed it, so don't expect too much at once."
"Do it!" Ginny muttered through clenched teeth. "Same as the mouse."
Harry looked at her with renewed respect. She stood in the middle of the classroom, completely determined, but he could see her trembling with fear. He suddenly found his mouth dry and swallowed, lifted his wand, saw her close her eyes and…
"I can't do it, Ginny," he croaked, shaking his head. "I can't."
"Please," she whispered. "I trust you."
Barely able to bring himself to look at her, he aimed again with his wand and took a deep shuddering breath.
A few minutes later the pair were sitting at a desk in the classroom discussing the curse.
"Well at least I know what it feels like. Harry, don't look so traumatised about it. I'm fine!" Ginny exclaimed.
"What was I thinking of?" he mused out loud. "I could have hurt you."
"You will keep on helping me, won't you? I'd rather trust you with this than anyone. There's no telling what Fred and George would do to me if they had the chance to curse me!" She giggled slightly, and Harry managed a weak smile back at her. "Oh Harry, I'm fine!"
Suddenly and completely unexpectedly she hugged him; a gesture he had seen her use so many times with her various brothers, and which made his stomach fill with butterflies.
"Thanks Ginny," he stammered, blushing furiously. "I'd better get the mouse back."
They walked slowly together back to the common room, discussing how to proceed with the curse breaking, when Harry suddenly remembered something.
"What was Hermione hiding this morning at breakfast? I've hardly seen her since. She's up to something."
Ginny grinned, her brown eyes twinkling at him,
"Oh that would be telling!"
They climbed through the portrait hole and the first sight that greeted their eyes was Ron and Hermione having a blazing and quite spectacular row.