Chapter One: Toil and Trouble

A/N: Title is inspired by the title of Sherylyn's 'Love You Till Forever'. I'm going to call this 'flangst' – fluffy angst. This plot bunny attacked me in the shower. Had to beat it off with a loofah. ;)


She could have laughed. It was so close now. The recipe seemed complicated and some of the ingredients had been difficult to get hold of, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. She'd already proven that last night as she narrowly escaped Filch after an illicit trip to Snape's office, lugging a bag containing a vial of snake blood, an Ashwinder egg and a paper bag full of chipped amber. Other more specialised ingredients, such as shredded Yohimbe bark, she had had to owl-order in especially, but it would be worth it. It had to be.

She arranged the ingredients along the stone bench of the abandoned dungeon and then took out a ripped and faded page, torn from a book in the Restricted Section. She perused it carefully, though she already knew it by heart. Then she double-checked the list of ingredients one by one, knowing that they would all be there, donned a pair of dragon hide gloves, lit the fire and got to work.

Bring goats' milk to the boil, and add skin of horned toad and vervain roots, finely chopped, stirring constantly widdershins with pliant willow wand, the recipe began, and the instructions got more complicated as she diligently followed them one by one. Hours passed and her hair was damp with steam by the time she had followed the final direction: cast rose into solution and allow to dissolve undisturbed until a blood-red colour is achieved, then remove from heat and allow to cool.

As the cauldron cooled, steam curling off it in long tendrils, she collapsed onto a bench, taking the weight off her feet for the first time all night. She'd had a dozen scares throughout her night's work, unease making her jumpy, so that every whistle of the wind or drip of damp sounded like the approach of Filch or Snape or Mrs. Norris. She dreaded to think what would happen if she got caught. To be out of bed and out of bounds at three in the morning was bad enough, but to be found making a forbidden potion with stolen ingredients would probably get her expelled.

Steam had stopped rising from the mouth of the cauldron now, and she padded over to cast a few cooling charms. It was blood red all right, like the book had said, but was it supposed to be so dark, like dried blood? Maybe she had put too much rose attar in after all. That wasn't a healthy colour, she mused as she decanted the now cooled solution into a crystal flask. Still, it probably made no difference. Just as long as it worked.

Now all that remained to do was to administer the potion, arguably the hardest part of her plan, and the most dangerous. But if anyone could do it, it was she. She allowed herself a thin smile. He would never know what hit him. And if he did – it would be too late.

"That'll do for today!" Ron yelled to the team, touching down his sturdy Keeper's broom, and Harry felt a little disappointed that the Quidditch practice hadn't gone on longer. Flying his Firebolt today had been more exhilarating than usual, though Harry couldn't tell why. Perhaps it was because he hadn't flown in days, but Harry's gravity-defying stunts and Seeker tricks had made his head buzz with excitement. Ron had spent the past hour and a half drilling the team on their barrel roll, starfish and various feinting manoeuvres, and from the rest of the team's relieved expressions it was obvious that they at least were glad it was over.

Harry enjoyed the feel of the wind rushing past him as he went into a dive so fast the other team members became nothing but a blur of scarlet and gold. Pulling out of the dive just feet from the ground, he landed lightly and grinned at Ginny, who had just touched down nearby. Feeling a little light-headed, probably from flying so fast, he gave himself a moment to find his feet before he joined her in walking to the changing rooms.

"Think Ron's feeling the strain of captaincy?" Ginny asked wryly as they watched him lose his temper with a fifth-year Beater for carrying his broomstick by the bristles.

Harry chuckled. "I think it's the strain of meeting Slytherin next week."

"Yeah, I just wish he wouldn't take it out on us."

Harry caught sight of Hermione sitting with a book in the stands. "Fancy missing out on Ron's little post-practice rant?" he asked.

"You kidding?" laughed Ginny, seeing Hermione. "Let's go."

Hermione looked up and closed her book as they approached. "How was it?"

"Great," said Harry.

"Well done, by the way," Ginny said to Harry as they sat down. "Your rolls were amazing."

"Thanks," said Harry.

"Yes, well done," echoed Hermione, looking over Harry's shoulder. "Where's Ron going?"

"He's probably going to the changing rooms to dissect everyone's performances. Technically, Ginny and I should be there too."

"But he's turned into such a slave-driver, what with the Slytherin match coming up, we thought we'd try to escape," added Ginny.

"He'll be after us later, you know," groaned Harry.

"How does he dissect the girls' performances when they're in a different changing room?" Hermione asked.

Harry laughed. "He stands outside the door with his eyes closed and yells in what they did wrong. You should have seen the expression on his face last week when Mena Selari burst out in a towel to tell him exactly where he could stick his Porskoff Ploy!"

Ginny began to laugh, remembering the look on Ron's face. It had been somewhat akin to his expression the summer after fifth year when he came downstairs one morning at the Burrow to find Hermione in the kitchen eating toast in tiny shorts and a tank top.

She caught Harry's eye and they both looked at Hermione, at which point their laughs trailed off. Her lips were drawn into a thin line which reminded Ginny very much of McGonagall. She didn't seem to find it very funny.

Ginny rapidly changed the subject. "Your Firebolt must be brilliant for moves like the Wronski Feint, Harry, with that handling and acceleration."

"Yeah, it is. You ever tried it?" He glanced at Hermione, who looked distracted.

"Which, a Firebolt or a Wronski feint?"

"Either."

She laughed, and couldn't resist an admiring glance at the beautiful streamlined handle of the broom in his lap. "You must be kidding. Where would I get my hands on a Firebolt? And if I tried a Wronski feint you'd be scraping me off the pitch for days."

"I bet you could do it if you tried," said Harry. "You're not bad on a broom, though your brothers never seem to give you the chance to play at the Burrow."

"You noticed that too?" Ginny cried triumphantly. "Though I think being a Gryffindor Chaser this year may just count in my favour when it comes to picking teams for the Annual All-Weasley Quidditch Championships. Mind you, they'd never let me be a Beater, no matter how good I got."

"Beater?" Harry tried not to smile at the thought of the delicate Ginny wielding a hefty Beater's bat. He failed.

"Oh, think it's funny, do you? You just wait till I get a Beater's bat in my hand and a decent broomstick between my legs, then we'll see how funny it is," she threatened. Just then she glanced at Hermione's blank face and realised that this was hardly a conversation she could join in. Way to change the subject, genius, she chastised herself.

Ginny turned the conversation to her OWLs, which she would be taking this summer, and the lack of revision she had done. This at least was a subject at which Hermione excelled, and Ginny was pleased to see her dark expression had lifted as she tried to convince her that it was never too early to start revising.

"…And then there's Quickleton Winceworthy's OWL revision guides, which I can't recommend highly enough if you're like Ron and can't even read your own notes. Not that you are," she added. "But you can have mine if you like, I won't be needing them again…"

"Knows them by heart," Harry muttered, grinning. He noticed Ron had finished in the changing rooms and was making his way up the stands towards them.

"It's all very well to mock, Harry, but the OWLs are no joke. I had no end of trouble convincing you and Ron to do some revision, but it paid off in the end, didn't it?"

"Only because you intimidated us into it," retorted Ron genially as he sat down next to Hermione, who jumped.

"And all this," said Harry to Ginny with a smirk, "You have to look forward to."

Hermione smiled. "Yes, Harry, she does. And think what fun we'll all have revising for our NEWTs next year. You have all that to look forward to."

Harry winced, Ginny laughed, and Ron muttered "sadist" under his breath. Hermione glared frostily at Ron and Harry suddenly wished he were somewhere else. It felt like the temperature had just dropped a couple of degrees.

Ginny jumped up. "Anyway, great practice, Ron, but I have to go now, I've got some Charms to do."

"I should get changed," said Harry, getting up with equal alacrity. "I'll see you two later."

"See you, Harry," said Ron. "Oh, and while you're there, could you empty my flask and bring it up to the common room when you come?"

"Sure," Harry replied.

"Well, that was awkward," said Harry as soon as they were out of hearing distance.

"I know, I completely forgot Hermione hates Quidditch conversations."

"And I should never have mentioned Mena Selari in a towel." Harry ran his hand ruefully through his hair as the sound of Hermione shouting drifted towards them on the breeze.

"Still, it sounded pretty funny," said Ginny. "Just maybe not the best thing to say in front of Hermione."

"It was funny! He came back in, red as a beetroot, muttering about scarlet women and Chasers who thought they knew better than their captain. Then he wouldn't say anything for a full ten minutes."

Ginny snickered. "Sounds like Ron, all right."

Harry stopped and turned in time to see Hermione storm off, with Ron in hot pursuit. "Anyone would think they were an old married couple, the way they bicker," he said wryly.

"I made the unfortunate mistake of telling Ron that last month."

"What did he have to say to that?"

"I don't think I should repeat it," she replied, chuckling. "Needless to say it's not the sort of thing Mum would like to hear him say."

They reached the entrance to the changing rooms. "See you, Harry," said Ginny with a half wave as she continued to walk on.

"See you." Harry had just propped up his Firebolt by the door when a thought occurred to him. He grinned. "Hey, Ginny!" he called after her. "Could you do me a favour?"

This wasn't a favour, Ginny reflected from a hundred feet above the Quidditch stadium. This was a dream come true. The Firebolt handled like no broom she'd ever flown before. She'd learned to fly on a succession of old Cleansweeps and she'd once flown a friend's Nimbus, but nothing could compare to this. It reacted to her slightest touch like it could read her mind. She did a neat roll and could have laughed at the ease with which it was executed. No need to force the tail down to stay stable like with a Cleansweep, and there was so little drag that were it not for her hair being whipped back from her face she could almost have forgotten about the heavy headwind.

She made a wide circle of the darkening pitch. Whatever had possessed Harry to give it to her? He was notoriously protective of his Firebolt, to the point that a rumour was circulating amongst the younger Gryffindor girls that he actually took it to bed with him. But then again, maybe that was exactly why he'd given it to her – he didn't want to leave it alone for even a minute. "Could you look after it for me while I have a shower and get changed?" he'd asked, accompanying the request with a smile she couldn't have refused if she'd wanted to. "Have a fly around, get the feel of it. Just don't try any Wronski feints, I don't want to have to explain to Ron why I had to scrape you off the pitch." She smiled involuntarily at the memory and did a spontaneous upward spiral followed by a steep nosedive, marvelling at the broom's sheer manoeuvrability. This was a model that would really age well, she thought. It would probably still go for thousands of Galleons years after it went out of production.

Ginny loved broomsticks. She wasn't a bad flyer, but what really interested her was the work that went into making each broom skyworthy. Most Quidditch players never realised the intensive research and testing that went into perfecting the balance of charms that allowed them to fly. One charm out of place, one wrong calculation by the arithmanticians, and an ordinary manoeuvre could turn into a disaster. A highly powered racing broom like the Firebolt would have hundreds of different spells on it and must have taken years to develop, each new charm having to be meticulously tried and tested before it could be used.

She'd read in 'What Broomstick?' that four new acceleration regulation charms, eight new stability charms and a dozen others had been developed especially for the Firebolt series and patented by the makers. It was a well-known fact that they were already working on plans for other Firebolt models, although the whole thing was shrouded in secrecy. Everyone working for the company had signed strict non-disclosure contracts, although it was rumoured that the next model was scheduled to appear on the market in three years' time. How Firebolt enthusiasts would be able wait that long was anybody's guess.

Ever since she was eight years old, all Ginny had wanted to do was make broomsticks. Up until then, she'd been sure she wanted to go to Africa like Bill and kill mummies and bring back treasure, but then Dad took her and Ron to see the local broom-maker and she had watched him turn a dead bit of wood into a responsive instrument of flight before her very eyes. That was when she'd first become interested in what made brooms fly. She'd gone right home and braved the ghoul in the attic to find her old play-broom, which never went more than a few feet above the ground. Then she'd spent ages poking and prodding it with Mum's wand until eventually it had shot into a high tree, taking her with it, and she'd been stuck there for a good half-hour until Mum found her and gave her the scolding of her life.

She'd grown up a bit since then, though her interest had never faded. If she got enough NEWTs, with very good marks in Charms and Arithmancy, she hoped she'd be able to get an apprenticeship at one of the leading broom companies when she left Hogwarts, and see what happened from there. At the moment she liked the idea of becoming part of a charm-development team, although who knew what options might lie ahead for her?

Ginny turned in a lazy arc round the north goal posts and then spotted Harry waving at her from the ground. Trying not to be too disappointed at having to stop flying so soon, she landed with ease and walked over to him.

"You didn't get blown away, then?" Harry joked as Ginny approached, holding the Firebolt reverently before her.

"Harry, that was…. bloody brilliant!" she gasped, running a hand ineffectually through her wind-ravaged hair. "The handling… the control… the sheer acceleration…" Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed as she searched for the words to describe the feeling Harry got every time he mounted the broom. "It was just… wow. Thank you so much, Harry."

Something happened to his stomach, and he wasn't quite sure what. It felt like a cross between pins and needles and pre-Quidditch butterflies. Ignoring it, he laughed, secretly pleased that he wasn't the only one who could be rendered incoherent by a ten-minute broomstick flight. "If I'd known you'd like it so much, I'd have lent it to you before now," he said.

"They certainly knew what they were doing when they made that broom," she said as she held it out, her hands rather unwilling to let go of the smooth, polished surface.

"I heard they're making a new model," he added as he took it from her. Their fingers brushed and Harry gasped as what felt like an electric shock shot up his arm.

"What's wrong?" Ginny looked alarmed as he snatched his hand away, letting the broom fall to the grass.

He looked at his hand, flexing the fingers experimentally, and then glanced worriedly at her. "I don't - know…" he trailed off as his eyes met hers, and he shivered as a wave of cold rushed over his warm skin, which was quickly engulfed by a wave of intense heat from within that inflamed his senses and quickened his heart. The tremulous rhythm of his pounding heart filled his head like the beat of a drum and a searing rush of blood to his head temporarily blinded him. He pressed his hands to his eyes, willing himself not to collapse under the dizzying vertigo that had just kicked in.

"Harry!" Ginny's voice reached him as though from a distance, tinged with panic. He was acutely aware of cool hands touching his shoulders, sending fresh waves of heat searing through his veins until he trembled.

"Is it your scar? I'm going to get help!" he heard faintly, and he could only stretch out his hands in a silent plea as her reassuring touch disappeared.

"No," he managed to whisper hoarsely through the lump that had risen in his throat. She took his outstretched hands.

"I have to get someone to help you," she said, gently trying to pull her hands away from his. But he wouldn't let go. Couldn't let go. Tentatively he opened his eyes and almost staggered as shadowy shapes filled his vision. Slowly the world came back into focus, the darkening pitch swimming into view, Quidditch hoops dark against the dying sunset, and…

… and Ginny.

She was standing before him looking upset, trying ineffectually to free her hands from his grip. "Harry, come on. We have to find Pomfrey, or… or Dumbledore or someone." But Harry couldn't have moved even if he'd wanted to. All he could do was stand and stare as fire and ice pulsed through his veins, flooding him with a bittersweet sensation that chased all rational thought from his mind.

"I'm fine," he said hoarsely, reluctantly letting go of her tugging hands. No sooner had he done so then as if drawn by puppet strings his hand reached up and cupped her the side of her face, stroking the skin of her cheek with its thumb.

Her mouth fell open in shock.

His other hand placed itself on her waist and pulled her gently towards him, his heart giving a thrill at the soft gasp she emitted. "Really, I'm fine," he murmured, his face inches from her own, as he lost himself in the depths of her soft brown eyes.

The pause that followed seemed like a lifetime.

"Harry?" Ginny eventually whispered unsteadily, her ragged breath tickling his lips.

"Yes?"

Her voice was firmer and her distress was unmistakeable as she spoke. "I think- I think there's something wrong with you."

With some considerable effort he let his hands fall to his sides and tried to steady his breathing and clear his thoughts. "You know," he said, a dull ache shooting through him at the thought that he was the cause of the pain in her eyes, "I think you may be right."


To Be Continued…