"Harry, you're going too fast!" Ron's voice echoed over the whir of air whipping against his ears. Harry turned his head about and grimaced when he realized his straining pursuers were falling farther and farther behind. Reluctantly, he reduced his pace to allow them to draw closer, then led one more twisting and turning loop around the white landscape. When Harry stopped in the middle of the frozen field, six witches and wizards in scarlet and gold robes landed in a circle around him.
The group hardly made an intimating sight standing there in the snow, steam rising from their sweaty faces into the frigid air, but Harry could sense rebellion building in the silence. He was not surprised when the smallest of the six spoke.
"By Merlin, Harry! Don't push so hard... ow..." Ginny grumbled, rubbing her sore backside with one hand while hefting her broom to her shoulder with the other. "That was brutal!" The others moaned their agreement.
Perhaps a two-hour practice first thing in the morning had been harsh, but Harry wasn't going admit that now. "That was some excellent flying though," he said instead. "If we keep going like that, Hufflepuff will never know what hit them. Now, go warm up and get some breakfast. You've earned it. We'll get some more work in on Friday."
On such a frigid February day, Harry expected his teammates to rush back to the castle, but instead they lingered. This time it was Ron who seemed to speak their collective thoughts. "Um … Harry … actually, some of us were expecting there not to be practice on Friday. We kind of have … other plans."
"Other plans?" Harry said, shooting his Quidditch-obsessed friend a dumbfounded glance before looking down at his watch. "Two weeks, three days, four hours, and nineteen and one-half minutes. That's how long we have before the match. We need to be ready."
"I know, Harry," Ron replied with a frown. "But Friday's Valentine's Day."
"Valentine's Day?" Harry wondered aloud. He'd been so caught up in trying to prepare for his fated role in the war raging outside Hogwarts -- not to mention Quidditch training and schoolwork -- that he had quite forgotten about the impending "holiday." Not that he had much reason to remember. It was the day that celebrated the one thing he was most lacking -- people who loved him. Harry knew practice would be the best way to distract himself, but he couldn't ignore the pleading look on his best friend's face.
"All right," he agreed. "No practice Friday. I'll try to book the pitch for Saturday instead. I hope you all have fun."
There was a chorus of thank yous, and the side hurried back toward Gryffindor Tower with Ron in the lead, no doubt eager to tell Hermione the news. Harry, left to put away the equipment, couldn't hold back a grin despite his rueful thoughts. ‘You'd better have fun, mate. I know I won't.'
Fifty-eight hours later, Harry's prediction was proving accurate. His day had been mercifully free of encounters with singing dwarves and Cho Chang, but that didn't mean he couldn't see Valentine's Day playing itself out around him. All through classes -- even Potions -- he noticed the furtive glances certain pairs of students kept trading. At lunch, the post had been filled with roses, chocolates and letters in red envelopes that were definitely not howlers. At dinner, it was impossible to miss the way certain hands and feet playfully interlocked under the tables.
As he sat down in one of the armchairs before the hearth in the almost-deserted Gryffindor common room, Harry just wanted the day to end. He didn't want to be reminded of all the loved ones he had lost in the war with Darkness. He didn't want to think about Cho -- his first and only girlfriend -- or the disaster of last Valentine's Day, their first and only date. Instead, he planned to occupy himself with Quidditch.
Just days after he'd been named captain, a package had arrived from Oliver Wood containing the maniacal former skipper's playbook. The massive, holographic volume was nearly 1,000 pages long and each sheet of parchment was enchanted to illustrate a play. Six months later, Harry was only halfway through and tonight was his chance to find tricks for the impending match.
Harry had only begun to study the "Right Hook Defense," when smacking sounds caught his attention. Looking up, he saw Seamus and Lavender exchanging gentle kisses on the sofa. The sight was nothing new -- the pair had been a couple for more than two years -- and Harry tried to ignore them, expecting Hermione to quickly settle them down. But 10 minutes later, they were still at it and Hermione was nowhere to be found. In fact, Harry hadn't seen Ron or Hermione since dinner. A shocking image of his best friends together, doing the same things Seamus and Lavender were in a more discreet location, popped into his mind.
"Ughhh," Harry groaned, shuddering at the thought. He sprang from his seat and through the portrait hole, determined to find someplace free of the day's unwanted distractions. Yet at seemingly every turn, he ran into blissful couples walking hand in hand: Jack and Victoria, Padma and Justin, Hannah and Ernie. Finally, completely disgusted after encountering Crabbe and Millicent Bullstrode snogging behind the statue of Boris the Bewildered on the fifth floor, Harry sought refuge in library.
Being a Friday, the room was nearly empty and Harry sat himself at a table in the back. He was thankful there were no couples present to remind him that he had no one to share his holiday with, that he was alone. It was only then he remembered there was one person with whom he was intimately connected. Voldemort.
Harry winced at the thought and attempted to shake it from his head. With a sigh, he opened Oliver's book and tried to read. He didn't get far before a pleasant voice interrupted him.
"Harry?" He looked up to find Ginny standing beside him.
"Hi," he replied blankly.
"What are you doing here of all places tonight?" she asked, sounding concerned.
"I don't know," he muttered. "What about you? Shouldn't you be with Dean?"
Ginny's face reddened and she took a second before she answered. "There is no Dean and I. … There never was. I just said that to shut Ron up."
"Oh," Harry mumbled in embarrassment, lowering his head onto the playbook. That must have brought her attention to the massive volume.
"Harry," Ginny said, perplexed, "where on earth did you get that?"
"From Wood. It's his book of tricks. I … I thought it might take my mind off, you know, today."
For what seemed an eternity, her eyes bored into his. Somehow, despite his skill at Occlumency, she seemed to read his thoughts. "You're not alone, Harry. You know that, right?"
He barely had to think to recognize she was correct. "It doesn't always feel like it. But you're right. When it comes down to it, I'll always have Ron and Hermione."
"You'll always have me too," Ginny added in a voice barely above a whisper.
That sent Harry's thoughts racing. Was she merely pledging camaraderie or did her words carry a hidden, more significant meaning? Yet his mind had barely posed the question before the answer became obvious. The holiday revelry must have, however briefly, deluded him as effectively as the strongest Confundus Charm. This was Ginny: brave, strong, intelligent, fun, pretty and caring Ginny. She symbolized everything he, the Boy Who Lived, could never hope to have or deserve. He knew in that moment he was truly lucky just to have her support. "I know, Ginny," he said. "You're a good friend. … Thank you."
Her lips quivered, as if trying to mouth a response, but soon bent into a slight smile. "You're welcome," she answered finally before sliding onto the chair beside him and pulling Oliver's tome between them so they could study. Together.
Exactly how long they were there -- alternately discussing tactics and laughing about Ron and Hermione's incessant rows -- he wasn't sure. It didn't seem long though before the sound of Madam Pince clearing her throat drew his attention. It was 9 o'clock: time to leave.
When Harry looked back at her, Ginny was already on her feet, her bright brown eyes gazing down at him intently. She nodded a quick goodbye and turned to go, but made it just a step before she froze and whirled about. Before Harry could react, she took his hand in hers and gave it a light squeeze. "Happy Valentine's Day, Harry," she said. Then, releasing him and giving a brief smile, she walked away.
Harry watched in astonishment as she disappeared out the door. It was only then that he somberly whispered a reply so soft that only the rack of books at his back could hear. "If only…"
<A/N: A huge thank you goes to Kagome for prebetaing this. Without her comments and support, I would have given up after my pathetic first attempt. Or worse, submitted it! Thanks also to Lady Chi and Promethean Alchemist for the betas. I really appreciate your efforts!>