Disclaimer: It all belongs to J.K. Rowling. I'm just playing in her wonderful pond.

Straining Upon the Start

Prologue

" I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry "God for Harry! England and Saint George!"

Shakespeare, Henry V (1599) Act III, Sc. I.

He was coming.

Ginny could hear him behind her, thrashing against the remains of a tree she'd used a Reductor Curse on. It wouldn't hold him for long, and she knew that she was going to have to use those few extra seconds to hide. But where? She looked around the glade frantically. The closest trees were smooth and young, unclimbable. It was a desperate thought anyway, because she knew now from previous bad experiences that a tree often left you with no escape route. The rain from the night before had left the ground soft and malleable and she knew her footprints would be visible on the main path. Maybe if she used an Obliteration Charm she could erase her trail-

"Mobilusarbus!" The echoing sounds of the ruined tree crashing into the dense undergrowth and a jubilant shout told her that he was through. There was no time. She had counted-forty-three steps from the tree to her present location-she had moments, at the most. Out of sheer desperation she threw herself down and rolled under the closest shrub. She curled against the base of the bush, trying to ignore the small stingers that dug into the small of her back.

'Be still.' The words ran through her mind over and over. It took all of her strength not to move, to lay still and make herself blend in with the brush as much as possible. 'Wait. Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue.'

Someone must have heard her silent plea because she watched as his large feet ran past her hiding spot. She held herself still for a second or two longer and then rolled back out onto the path. Leaping to her feet, wand steady in her hand, she surveyed the area just in case he decided to double back.

Silence. Safe. For now.

Unfortunately her problem now lay in the fact that he was ahead of her, and in all likelihood laying a trap. She couldn't go down the path. She was going to have to find another way round and the only option appeared to be through the dense thicket that lay on either side of the path. Grimacing, she began to ease through the tightly woven brambles. She gasped loudly as a thorn sliced through the sleeve of her shirt and cut into the flesh of her arm. She stopped, hoping against hope that he hadn't heard her exclamation.

Silence. Still safe. For now.

Ginny gritted her teeth-above all she needed to be quiet. Slowly she began moving again, pushing the thicket aside as silently as possible. Her long hair caught on a particularly nasty bunch of thorns and she twisted around, trying frantically to free herself. Her eyes watered as she yanked at the hair, trying to untangle the largest chunk. She set her jaw and pulled as hard as she could, ripping the strands from her head. Tears ran from her eyes at the pain, but she pushed on, leaving a few ginger strands trailing from the knot of thorns.

She found if she stayed close to the ground, flat on her belly, the brambles were thinner and so she inched along the forest floor, staying within eyesight of the path, but out of view of anyone on it. Her progress felt agonizingly slow, but she didn't dare go any faster.

The thicket was becoming thinner on the top as well and she knew that soon she would be visible. But it also meant that she was coming to the edge of the forest and the edge of the forest meant the house. Safety. If she could just keep out of his sight until the edge of the glade-

CRACK!

He appeared suddenly in the corner of her eye and she didn't stop to think, didn't stop to breathe. She just ran as hard as she could, paying no attention to the thorns that slapped at her face and tore at her clothes, she just ran through the thicket until the cool green light of the glade was replaced by the sun.

She vaulted over the mass of fallen branches that lay before her and stumbled when her feet hit the uneven soil of the field. She knew he was hot on her heels and without looking pointed her wand behind her and called out "Stupefy!" She threw the spell again and again until she heard him grunt in pain and the sound of a body hitting the dirt.

But she didn't stop running. Now she could see the house, she was almost there and-

"Impedimenta!" She heard him shout the spell behind her a second before it caught her in the leg. The curse lifted her up, and she spun in the air before crashing to the ground. Her ankle twisted underneath her, catching in the soft mud. She prodded the throbbing ankle gently and whimpered. An angry purple and black bruise was already forming. She tried to stand and screamed as the white-hot pain shot through her leg. A despondent sob ripped from her throat and she felt utterly defeated. She had lost. She waited for the sound of his footsteps, waited for him to find her.

But they never came. And she felt a small flicker of hope. Maybe her Stunner had gotten him after all. Cautiously she raised her head, and searched for signs of her pursuer. There were none.

She could still make it. But she would have to move.

Ginny dragged herself to her feet, almost collapsing at the pain in her ankle. But she began to move forward, dragging her useless leg behind her. Moving the broken ankle over the lumps of freshly tilled soil was agony but she wouldn't let herself stop.

Almost...there...

Slowly, painfully, she reached the edge of the yard. Just a few more feet...she just had to reach the door.

She reached out her scratched and bloodied hand and grasped the handle.

Her hand tightened on it and she felt the familiar tug at her stomach as the Portkey activated.

She had won.