Careful Observation

A ficlet by sweetmelody

Summary: Throughout the course of Harry's sixth year, he finds himself watching a certain redhead… H/G, of course, abound with fluff.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling and her publishers… Scholastic, Warner Bros., and whatever other company is affiliated with Harry Potter.

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The first time I notice is during Quidditch practice. The sun brightly lights up the field, but not so much that we are blinded. A slight breeze rustles our hair.

"Perfect conditions for Quidditch," you remark as we make our way onto the field, laden with our brooms.

I nod, glad that you are not giving me a hard time about scheduling a practice during a Hogsmeade visit. I've had everyone on the team angry at me for a week, but what can I say? We need the practice. Our match against Slytherin is in three days, and the Slytherins are none too generous about letting us have the field.

I believe even Ron is angry at me, at least a little bit. Hermione has decided to go to Hogsmeade without us, and I'm sure that Ron thinks that somehow she'll meet Viktor Krum in secret. Poor boy.

Ron shuffles beside me, not saying a word and wearing a distinctly disgruntled expression.

You cast an exasperated look at your brother. "Relax, Ron. She's not cheating on you."

Ron looks alarmed. "Cheating on me? What are you talking about, Ginny? We're—we're not going out or anything. I mean, she's Hermione—I don't know what could possibly give you that idea. There's nothing going on between us. She can't cheat on me if we're not even together."

His ears are turning pink. You and I share a smile.

During practice, I watch as you glide through the air on your Cleansweep Seven. Your hair escapes from its ponytail and sails behind you, a fiery comet in the blue sky. You wear a determined, focused expression as you catch the Quaffle and, in one smooth motion, toss it into a hoop. You fly away from the hoop with a sort of fluidity, grace, and self-assurance I've never seen from anyone else. You are now close enough for me to see the sparkle in your brown eyes, and a feeling I can't quite explain wrenches my gut.

Why have I never noticed before? Why have I never stopped to look at your flaming red hair and your bright brown eyes? Even your light sprinkling of freckles seems suddenly endearing. Why have I never noticed how beautiful you are?

Why now?

We practice a drill in which we throw Quaffles to each other at full force, improving our arm strength and reflexes. You throw the ball at me, but I do not see it. I only see you.

The next thing I know, I am staring into your face.

"Harry? Are you all right?" You move away slightly, but the small crease between your eyebrows tells me that you are worried.

I test out my limbs. Nothing seems to be broken. My head feels heavy, and your face swims in my vision for a moment. I close my eyes, then open them. "What happened?"

"You took a Quaffle to your head," says Ron, edging closer to my bed. I finally register the fact that I am lying in the hospital wing.

"I dunno how it happened, but Ginny threw the Quaffle to you and you just let it hit you on the head. You didn't try to catch it or anything. You okay, mate?"

"Yeah… yeah, I'm fine."

Bloody hell. How downright embarrassing.

Well, at least the rest of my team members are enjoying themselves at Hogsmeade now.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

That night, I dream that I am at my parents' wedding. James stands at the altar, his hands folded. He cannot seem to keep still. He fidgets, and smoothes his hair (which only makes it messier), and wrings his hands. Then he sees her beginning to make her way down the aisle. Lily. His Lily. Her lovely red hair frames her face, and she gives him a tentative smile.

James smiles back at her, the smile radiating to his green eyes.

Wait a minute. Green eyes?

And then I realize that it is not James that I see, but myself. And the woman walking down the aisle is not Lily.

It is you.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I sit down at the Gryffindor table the next morning, right across from you.

"Hi," you say brightly. "How are you?"

"I'm fine," I say. "Thanks." I can feel my cheeks start to burn, and I wonder what you must think of me after that episode.

You look at me and smile. "You're blushing."

This, if anything, makes me turn redder. "Am I?"

You nod the affirmative, but thankfully do not pursue the subject. I watch you as you spread butter onto your bread, and a thought enters my head. I blurt it out before I have a chance to judge the appropriateness of my comment.

"I remember, a couple years back, when you put your elbow in the butter dish."

You freeze. You stop the movement of your butter knife in midair, and you stare are me. I feel like an idiot and open my mouth to apologize, but then I see you relaxing.

"I remember too," you say, a trace of laughter lingering in your voice. "That was back when I had a huge crush on you."

"And you don't anymore?"

You shake your head and continue to butter your bread.

I know this, of course. I knew this last year, when Hermione told me that you gave up on me, and you were dating Michael Corner. Yet seeing you express it in such clear terms makes me feel as if someone is wringing my intestines out.

I'd like to believe that we're friends. We smile and greet each other when we pass between classes. We sit close to each other during meals, and sometimes we study together in the library. Since last year, when you've decided to talk to me, I've gotten to know you a lot better, and I now know that you are not the timid little girl I thought you were. Quite the contrary. I value our friendship, and I'm grateful for the times we shared together.

But now, for the first time, I feel a sense of dissatisfaction growing inside me. I struggle with this new feeling for a while, trying to make sense of it. It does not take me long to come to the conclusion that I want something more.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The next day, I decide to discuss my plight with Hermione. I find her (where else?) in the library, buried in a book bigger than the slabs of chocolate at Honeyduke's. With a sinking feeling, I realize that you are sitting next to Hermione.

I try to slip away, but you spot me. "Harry!" you call, waving.

Madam Pince glares at you, but you don't seem to notice.

I can't leave now—that would be completely rude. I walk to your table and slide into a seat next to you.

"Harry!" Hermione says. "I'm so glad to see you. Ron is a nightmare, he really is. He's been glaring at me all day and I finally decided to go to the library to escape him. This is the one place he'd never voluntarily go in."

I laugh. "How was Hogsmeade yesterday?"

"Oh, it was all right. I was buying a birthday present for Ron—"

At this point, you laugh out loud. "Ron seems to think you were with Viktor Krum, Hermione."

Hermione wears an expression of complete, innocent shock. "What? Why would he—why would I—"

"You were being so furtive," I explain. "Ron thinks you're cheating on him."

Hermione looks at me incredulously. "Idiot," she mumbles. I notice that she is blushing, and I suspect that she is flattered.

A silence ensues. Hermione buries her face into her book again. You pick up your quill and work on an Astrology chart. I am left empty-handed, with nothing to do, and I feel like a complete idiot. I stare at the ceiling. I count the windows in the library. I read the titles of the books on the nearby shelves. Then I look at you. Your wand is stuck in your hair, keeping your hair out of the way, but a few thick strands fall into your face. You bite the end of your quill and stare at your paper, completely focused. You turn a page of your book with your left hand. Your hand brushes with mine, and you look at me and catch me staring at you. I look away quickly. You withdraw your hand and return to work. I can feel my cheeks growing hot. Then I look across the table at Hermione. She is smiling at me, having seen the whole exchange.

I've been finding myself doing this a lot lately. Staring at you, I mean. Though of course, I don't call it staring—I call it careful observation.

The awkwardness becomes overbearing. I stand up and announce, "I'm going to go…uh…get some work done in the common room. I'll see you two later."

Of all the excuses I could have made.

I push my chair back, and it falls with a clatter onto the floor. Students in the library lift their heads to look at me curiously. I can feel Madam Pince's death glare. I clear my throat and pick my chair up, then push it into the table hastily.

"Harry, you just pushed your chair into my leg," you inform me calmly.

If I was not blushing before, I certainly am now. I wish I have my Invisibility Cloak with me.

"Sorry," I say. I bend down and move the chair out of your way. I stand up again, and successfully bang my head onto the table.

Your eyes widen. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." I look up, make sure I'm not about to bump into the table again, and stand up. "Er… I'm going to leave now."

I walk swiftly across the room. Once I'm more than fifteen feet away from you, I rub my hands over my face, hoping against hope that you didn't notice anything strange about me.

I promptly walk into the doorway.

I am an idiot.

My shoulder hurts.

I uncover my face and run out of the library, not daring to turn around to see your reaction.

It used to be you, tripping over things and knocking plates over when you're around me. I cannot believe this is happening to me.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I have formulated a plan. I will avoid you like dragonpox so that I will not make an utter fool out of myself in front of you again. I will also avoid Hermione, since talking to her will only result in myself being further embarrassed. I have my dignity to protect.

This plan works quite well. The first time I see you every day is at breakfast, and I avoid you by either going down to the Great Hall at the ungodly hour of seven, or by grabbing breakfast ten minutes before class starts when surely you have already finished your breakfast. This results in me being late to class several times, but I don't mind. Detention is a small price to pay for the preservation of dignity.

I follow the same procedure for lunch and dinner. I keep an eye peeled out for you between classes, and if I see a flash of red hair, I quickly head the other direction and duck behind a statue. One time, I mistaken Ron for you, and of course Ron comes running after me, demanding to know why I am avoiding him. I tell him that I thought he was you, since we are playing a game in which I am trying to hide from you. He accepts this story without question.

This is not to say that I think you look excessively manly. You are, in fact, quite pretty, but when I look for you in the halls, I only look for red hair because that is the quality you possess that stands out the most.

I am happy to say that I have black hair, and am able to slip away inconspicuously.

As for evenings in the common room, I usually do my homework up in my dormitory. Every once in a while, I peek from the staircase to see if you are still in the room.

Ron demands to know why I am being a hermit. I cannot think of a lie quickly enough, so I tell him the whole story, cringing and hoping against hope that he won't make a big deal out of it.

He blinks several times after I finish, then bursts into raucous peals of laughter. He laughs until tears are running down his cheeks, and he claps his hands and whoops.

So much for him not making a big deal out of this.

"Are you drunk?" I ask him. "I can't imagine Butterbeer having an effect like this, but maybe you managed to sneak some firewhiskey in here."

Ron finally calms down enough for him to speak. "You and my sister," he says, rubbing his hands together gleefully. "I can't believe it's taken you so long, Harry."

I sit up, alarmed. "What?"

"I mean, it was obvious."

"What?"

"You and Ginny. Glad you've finally made a move, mate."

"What? I did not make a move!"

"Well, you like her."

"And that constitutes as me making a move?"

"Yes."

I glare at him. Ron grins cheekily at me, then turns quite serious.

"Look, Harry," he says. "You're my best friend. Ginny's my little sister. If you want to… uh… pursue my sister, by all means, go ahead. You…you have my full support. I might even help you if you ask nicely. You're probably the only guy I'd trust with my sister. That Michael Corner guy was a…" And he uttered a word I will not repeat here, though you are no stranger to foul language.

I look at him and open my mouth wordlessly. Ron had just given me permission to "pursue" you. He supports this. I open my mouth again, then close it yet again, realizing that there is only one thing I really need to say.

"Thanks, Ron."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As it turns out, you pursue me first. I am sitting on my four-poster bed, quill in hand, studying and being a hermit. I had just taken a shower, and I hate putting on clothes right after taking a shower, as this makes me feel sticky and dirty again. So here I am, sitting on my bed with a towel wrapped around my waist, and this is the precise moment you decide to storm into my dorm and begin yelling at me.

"Harry Potter! Who do you think you are?"

I jump up about ten feet and clutch my towel. "Ginny, I don't have clothes on!"

You look at me from head to toe, quite unabashed, as if nothing is out of the ordinary. I suppose this comes from living with six brothers—you must see half-naked boys rather frequently.

"You've been avoiding me for the last two weeks!" you continue angrily. "Look, Harry, I'm not blind. I see you running away every time you see me between classes."

Okay, so maybe my plan didn't work as well as I had expected.

"You've been avoiding me at meals, you've been avoiding me in the evenings in the Common Room, we're never in the library together anymore—what has gotten into you? Is it something I did? Tell me, did I do something to offend you? Why would you, all of a sudden, with no apparent reason at all, start avoiding me?" You take a deep breath and come to your point, saying, quite eloquently:

"Harry Potter, you are a jerk."

I don't know what to say. I stare at the ceiling, around the room, anywhere but at you.

"Well?" you say impatiently.

I look down at my feet and at the floor, acutely uncomfortable.

"Harry," you say more softly. "Tell me. I want us to be friends, Harry. I don't want our relationship to be so awkward…"

This is what brings me to look at you. Without thinking, I say, "You want us to be friends?"

"Of course I want us to be friends!"

"You don't want us to be anything more?"

Your eyes widen, and you look quite terrified.

I take a deep breath, wondering that if I take my wand out and say, "Accio courage!", that I could finally confess what I have been feeling these past several months. Finally, I come to the conclusion that I'd gotten myself into this mess—I might as well say the rest of what I want to say.

"Ginny. The reason I've been avoiding you is that every single time I see you, I manage to look like a fool. I…" Here I pause, trying to think of the right word. "I'm interested in you." I cringe, feeling my face grow hot, but plow on recklessly.

"I'm attracted to you. Looking at you makes me… well, you've seen me—push my chair over, bang my head into the table, walk into the doorway…" I swallow and take your hand, staring into those lovely brown eyes of yours.

"Ginny, the more time I spend with you and the better I get to know you, I…" Tentatively, I draw you a bit closer. You don't offer resistance.

My heart is hammering in my chest, and I think it's about to smash open my ribcage. This is different from anything I have ever experienced before. So different from last year, when I was making googly eyes at Cho Chang. I had a crush on Cho, but this isn't a crush. This is something so much more, so much deeper.

I lean even closer to you. Our faces are millimeters apart. Just as I am about to close the distance between us, you pull apart. You yank your hand from my grasp and run. The last thing I see before you disappear is a sparkle of tears.

I stand in my dorm, dumbfounded, wondering what I had done wrong.

Well, that isn't a hard question to answer. I've done everything wrong. I let myself fall onto the bed numbly and run a hand through my already tangled hair.

I wish I had noticed sooner. I wish I had discovered what a wonderful person you were when you were still interested in me. I'm too late. Seems like I'm always too late. I was too late to ask Cho Chang to the Yule Ball when I fancied her. I was too late to save Cedric. I was too late to save Sirius. I'm too late, Ginevra Weasley. You've already moved on.

Perhaps you aren't attracted to boys with nothing on but towels wrapped around the waist?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There's nothing else to do. I need Hermione's help.

"Hermione," I say, finally catching her alone after Transfiguration class, "I need to talk to you."

She looks at me while putting her books into her bag. "Is something wrong?"

"No. It's just—yes."

She looks amused and worried at the same time. "So talk. What did you want to talk to me about?"

I swallow hard and said in voice softer than a whisper, "Ginny."

"Pardon?"

"Ginny," I mumble. I can feel my face turning red.

"Sorry, I didn't hear you."

"GINNY WEASLEY!"

"Ah." Hermione plays with the straps on her bag and smiles mischievously. "About time."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you fancy her. You have for a long time." She says this very matter-of-factly, and I am inexplicably angry that she knows this.

"How did you know?" I demand.

"It's obvious, Harry. I see you staring at her like a lovesick puppy all the time—"

"I do not!" I protest indignantly.

Hermione only laughs. "And you're constantly tripping over things around her—"

I glower at her, but am powerless to defend myself.

"And lately you've been avoiding her, and I know exactly what happened that day, involving a half-naked Harry."

I gape at her and groan. "Ginny told you?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Girls tell each other everything."

I sink into a chair, allowing myself to absorb this piece of information. "So… can you tell me what else Ginny told you? Like… what she thinks of me?"

"No, that's her business," Hermione says coolly. "If you want to know, why don't you ask her?"

"I can't ask her something like that!" I say, scandalized.

"And why not?"

"That's—that's not—" And here, I am at a loss for words.

There are a million things I want to ask Hermione about you, and I know she won't tell me a single thing. Damn girls and their promises.

"Talk to her," Hermione says, very seriously. "She'll listen."

And with that, she slings her bag over her shoulder and walks out of the classroom. I follow her wordlessly.

"Harry?" Hermione says suddenly, turning around to face me.

"What?"

"I heard you the first time, when you said you wanted to talk about Ginny."

I scowl at her. "Oh, thanks a lot for torturing me and making me say her name over and over."

Hermione grins. "Sorry."

After a few more steps, Hermione calls my name again.

"What?"

"Ginny thinks you're hot."

"What?"

But Hermione only smiles and walks away, no doubt in the direction of the library.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You're avoiding me, Ginny. I never see you at meals anymore, or in the common room. When I do see you, you break eye contact immediately, pretending that you haven't seen me. And every time you do that, I feel like the world is crashing down on me.

Now I know how you felt when I avoided you… though maybe you didn't feel as strongly because you certainly don't feel the way about me that I do about you.

You can't avoid me forever. I will seek you out, corner you, and talk to you.

Yeah, right. I would rather face Voldemort than take Hermione's advice. I do, however, grudgingly admit that she has a point.

So one night, when I see you rushing past me after dinner, I summon up my courage and call after you, "Ginny!"

You ignore me and walk faster. I start to run after you, but somewhere in the crowd of people, I lose you.

I try to talk to you several times after that, but it's always the same story. You always pretend that I'm invisible.

There's no other way for it. I have to trick you. After a Quidditch practice, I inform everyone on the team that the next practice is on Wednesday, at four o' clock. The next day, I tell everyone that the time of the next practice is changed to five o' clock. That is, I tell everyone except for you.

On Wednesday, at quarter to four, I make my way to the Quidditch field. Upon arriving, I find that it is completely deserted, and instead of mounting my broom, I climb to the topmost bleacher and sit there, feeling the wind ruffle my hair.

And then I see you, your red hair and scarlet cloak standing out like a neon sign in the Quidditch field. You look around the field and, seeing that no one has arrived yet, clamber onto your broom and rise into the air. I follow suit, flying behind you until I am close enough to tap you lightly on the shoulder.

You turn around and scream. "What the hell are you doing, Harry?"

I hastily retreat a few meters and keep my mouth closed until I regain my composure.

"I'm trying to talk to you," I say at last. "But as you've been ignoring me for the past couple days, I've been having trouble."

"You didn't have to sneak behind me and scare the hell out of me," you say, evidently still angry. You glance around again. "Where's the rest of the team?"

"Oh, I don't know. In the library, in the common room, in the Astronomy tower snogging… The practice isn't due to start until five."

Bad move on my part. This causes you to become absolutely furious as you realize what I had done.

"What? You—you—" You raise your hand, and before I am aware of what you're trying to accomplish, I find myself with a stinging cheek and you looking vaguely satisfied.

"Sorry," I said when I recover from shock. "But I wouldn't have had to do this if you'd been willing to talk…"

"Right," you say brusquely. "So now you know exactly how I've felt for the last four years."

This is much, much worse than a slap. I try frantically to find words to say, some sort of eloquent apology, but all I manage is, "Ginny… Ginny, I'm so sorry." I look into your eyes, hoping fervently that you'd see I'm being sincere.

"I wasn't ignoring you, Ginny, I just…"

"Forgot that I existed?" Your voice is crisp, bitter.

I swallow the huge lump that rises in my throat and very slowly, very reluctantly, nod.

You look the other way, and I suddenly realize that you're fighting back tears. Oh no, please don't cry… I hate it when girls cry. I never know what to do.

"But I don't feel that way now," I continue hurriedly. "I don't know why I didn't notice before, but… but Ginny, listen to me."

I hear you sniff slightly, and I know that you are as unwilling for me to see you cry as I am to see you cry, if that sentence makes any sense. Suddenly, I'm seeing you again as that small, vulnerable redhead that I found four years ago, in the Chamber of Secrets.

"Ginny, please. That day you found me in my dorm—why did you run?"

You finally turn around, and with a valiant effort, manage to speak. "You confuse me, Harry Potter."

"W-what?"

You give a strangled little laugh. "You. I don't know how you do it. I thought I was over you… a long time ago, when I started dating Michael Corner…"

At mention of Michael Corner, I feel an unexpected reaction. Jealousy. I wonder if you two had kissed… Of course you had. I wonder how many times… How many times you've had that sort of close physical and psychological connection that I only wish I could have with you…

"I thought that I'd moved on, that I wouldn't think about that silly little schoolgirl crush I've had," you continue miserably. "But every time I was with Michael, I thought about you…"

My heart leaps so high it lodges in my throat.

"So I've been trying to decide, this whole year, if I still like you… And that day, that day when I went into your dormitory and found you, I was so confused… I needed to get out, have some alone time. Damn you, Harry, why do you have to make everything so confusing?"

I ignore this last comment. "But then why… how come you've been avoiding me?"

"I don't know!" you burst out. "I don't know! I don't know what I'm trying to do anymore. I think I was trying to… to erase you from my mind, to avoid you so I could stop thinking about you, and obviously, it didn't work."

I blink several times, then do something I had not believed I had the courage to do. I lean in, closing the distance between us, and kiss you.

When we break apart, your eyes fly open, larger than saucers.

"Bloody hell," you whisper.

I can't help but laugh. You're probably the only person who would say "bloody hell" after a kiss.

"Are you still confused?" I ask hoarsely.

You nod dazedly. "But in a good way."

I try to resist the desire to touch your hair, wondering haphazardly if it will burn my hand the way fire would. I fail miserably and stretch out a finger, tucking a strand of hair behind your ear.

And then you lean in, and I'm in heaven, soaring above a clear blue sky… This is better than Quidditch, better than flying on a Firebolt, better than anything I've ever experienced…

"Hey, you two lovebirds, get back down here—practice is going to start!"

I am so startled I almost fall off my broom. You actually do fall off your broom, and I see, as if in slow motion, your body hurtling toward the ground, and hear your shriek of surprise and fright. Reflexes kick in—I dive sharply and catch you in my arms just before you hit the ground.

Your body is warm, and your hair is draped over my arms. I look at you, and a slow blush creeps over your cheeks. I lean in to kiss you again…

"Ahem."

Abruptly, I pull away and help you to your feet. "Okay, Ron."

Ron stands with his arms folded, looking at us. "Please, Harry, move your public displays of affection to the Astronomy tower." And yet, behind that disgusted look that he wears, I fancy I see something else—a sort of pride, even triumph. Ron winks at me and affectionately swats you over the head.

You swat back at your brother, giggling. I look around to see the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team surrounding us, watching curiously, and I find that I don't even care.

We reclaim your broom, and Quidditch practice begins. As we spiral through the air and I catch a glimpse of you, I am seized with a strange sense of déjà vu… As if, somewhere, a long time ago, I'd seen you like this. Your hair escaping from its ponytail and sailing behind you, a comet's tail in the blue sky. You turn around, see me watching you, and give me a shy smile, as a feeling I can't quite explain wrenches my gut…

FIN.

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