I. At the Burrow

It was a summer day like any other at the Burrow. The morning sun shone brilliantly through a patch of high, fluffy clouds. The rolling fields surrounding the ramshackle house drew a sharp, emerald contrast to the impossibly blue sky. In front of the homely dwelling, chickens clucked about busily, pecking their way around the well-trodden grass. Inside, the Weasley family was just starting to wake up. Molly Weasley, the portly matriarch, was shifting hastily about the kitchen, humming as she directed a symphony of magical cooking and cleaning. Ron was first to stumble down the crooked stairs, his red hair askew. He sat down at the worn kitchen table, yawning.

"Morning, mum," he said, squinting at the bright sun. The house seemed awfully empty to him these days. Three of his brothers had left the Burrow over the previous year. Fred and George were busy with their new shop at Diagon Alley, and Percy was no longer talking to his parents. He missed all of his brothers in strange ways, but he didn't mind being the only son that his mother doted over.

"Where is that sister of yours, Ronald?" Mrs. Weasley asked in a voice filled with mock concern. "Let's hope she hasn't nibbled on one of Fred's new Hibernating Humbugs!" Ginny had always been a late riser, but this summer, Ron was often sitting down for lunch when she finally came down the stairs. They expected that she was just a night owl, but nobody at the Burrow really understood what was going on with Ginny. Unbeknownst to her family, she was up with the rising of the sun most mornings. The little sleep she had been getting since returning from Hogwarts was fleeting and restless. As a result, most of her days were spent lazing around the house, listening to the Wizard's Wireless and goading her brother into an occasional game of exploding snap.

Ginny's fourth year at Hogwarts had been a trying one. Between the trouble caused by Professor Umbridge, the temporary Headmaster and High Inquisitor, and the rising concern over the return of Voldemort, her hands were quite full -- much too full for a girl who had only just turned 15. Though she had to contend with aches and pains from lack of rest, Ginny wasn't overly concerned about her inability to sleep. After all, she had faced a pack of Voldemort's notorious Death Eaters only weeks before. She was quite relieved, in fact, that images of the Department of Mysteries didn't return to haunt her brief dreams.

So far, Ginny had been enjoying being alone. Apart from the occasional owl from her boyfriend, she was quite isolated from the Hogwarts world. Serene days at the Burrow were a wonderful change of scenery, far removed from the bustle and drama of school life. Ginny felt like she was making the right decision by isolating herself, but she couldn't be sure. She had transformed from a girl into a woman at such a rapid pace that she scarcely understood herself at all these days. In the past year alone, she'd had a handful of boyfriends, but nearly every relationship came to a swift and messy end. Would it always be this way?

The initial flame of each relationship captivated her. For a time, it felt like she could spend every spare minute with her new boyfriend; but alas, flames are soon to sputter and die. From what she had learned, the price of a boy's attention was a few kisses, a little heavy petting, and a touch of adoration. It was never long until Ginny and her boyfriend were eyeing new prey. Dean Thomas' owls were slowing in frequency, and his frantic scrawls were becoming increasingly terse. She knew that the relationship was soon to be over, and she didn't care.