He pressed his hand on the trunk of the oak tree beside him, the lone oak tree in the area surrounding the lake. The crescent moon glistened over the water, which rippled as the cold breeze swept by. Further beyond, the moon illuminated the castle, lit by pinpricks of orange light from torches and fireplaces.
And there was Gryffindor Tower. A dim orange glow pointed at it for him, beckoning.
The elation burning in Hermione's eyes betrayed her calm voice. Beside her, Ron gazed up at the castle; his eyes were narrow with what seemed like nostalgia. The three of them, he knew, were coming home. The familiar grounds somehow dimmed the knowledge that they would have to leave before sunrise.
"Professor McGonagall must be waiting."
"Right," said Ron. He followed Hermione, who had begun jogging towards the castle.
Harry remained for a moment longer. He took a deep breath, taking in the dampness in the air. Yes, it was the same air. It was here. It had been noontime, however; the sky had been a beautiful blue dotted with clouds and the breeze had been warmer against his skin. He had wanted the moment to last forever.
Wasn't it what he had said? "I wish it would always be like this." And a pair of brilliant brown eyes had smiled down at him, crinkling at the edges, wondering and at the same time understanding.
"I wish it would always be like this."
He was lying on the grass with his head on her lap. Her fingers were stroking his hair, almost lulling him to sleep. He did not care if he did fall asleep then and there in the shadow of the oak tree by the lake; for some reason, he knew he was, and would be, safe. It was bliss like he had never known before.
"Are you talking about the weather, or something else?"
Harry looked up at her. She was grinning. Teasing him again.
"The weather," he deadpanned.
"Oh, right," she said, nodding vigorously. "Wouldn't it be nice if the weather was always like this? People sweating like pigs all the time…"
Harry grinned back. "Yeah, that would be nice."
A breeze blew, sending tendrils of flaming red hair floating around her face. Harry reached up and tucked them behind her ear.
She was still smiling, but there was also a question in her eyes.
She looked at him closely for a short moment. She seemed to be studying his face. And then she said, "Nothing."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Ginny."
Ginny shook her head, breaking into a grin. "Nothing. Just that…yeah, it would be nice if it would, you know, always be like this."
For some reason, he sensed a tone of—was it foreboding?—in her voice. Before he could speak, however, she bent her head down and pressed her lips on his forehead, where his scar was. Then she lowered her lips to his, and kissed him deeply. And all other thoughts flitted out of his mind.
He sat up, their lips never parting, and slid his arms around her. She was small and pliant in his arms, yet warm as her laughter and intense as her zest for life. He was vaguely aware that he was out of breath; all he knew was that, yes, he could live like this forever. He'd do anything for this.
Much to his displeasure, Ginny pulled away and rested her forehead on his. She sighed. "We really should be going back."
Ginny chuckled. She released herself gently from his embrace. "We can just say, 'I wish it could be like this most of the time' instead."
Harry made a face. "You're kidding, right?"
She was quiet for a moment, gazing at him.
"That was just me being practical," she finally said.
"Well, you know I don't care." He leaned closer to her. "Potions can wait."
She rolled her eyes. "You're hopeless, Harry."
But she was smiling back at him, and Harry took that as a good sign.
He told Ron and Hermione that he was going to Gryffindor Tower.
The two's eyes met, a knowing look passing between them. They had probably foreseen this, long before Harry had asked Professor McGonagall for the password to Gryffindor Tower. Hadn't they caught him stare into empty space one too many times? Hadn't he admitted it to them, once? "I miss her," he'd said. "Like mad." They let him go, but not without warning.
The shortcuts were deserted; he didn't even need his Invisibility Cloak. Every step he took sent his heart racing faster. He didn't know what to expect; for all he knew, she could be in her room. But still, he ran, hoping against hope that it was she who was still in the common room.
Harry climbed into the portrait hole and into the common room. A painful force crushed around his heart as his eyes swept the place: the old tapestries, the threadbare couches and armchairs, the study table littered with parchment. A banner which said, "GO GO GRYFFINDOR!" hung over the fireplace. Quidditch, he said to himself, and ached at the very thought. We won.
He heard a moan coming from the couch. Taking a deep breath, he crossed the room.
At the sight of the crown of red hair, he stopped.
Ginny was curled on the sofa. An arm was dangling from the edge of the sofa, and her fist was clutching a motionless Snitch.
She looked pale, so pale. Her forehead was creased, as though her sleep was troubled and a nightmare haunted her. Looking closer, he saw tearstains on her cheeks.
He loathed himself. This had all to do with him, he knew. It had all to do with his adamant refusal, three months ago, to let her come with him; it had all to do with his coldness towards her over the summer, for, had he let go of his defenses, she would be in danger as he always feared.
It had all to do with what he had to do.
He knelt before her and traced a finger on the streaks left by her tears.
The creases on her forehead disappeared. Her eyelids fluttered open.
She stared as though she couldn't believe she was witnessing in reality what she had been seeing only in dreams. She promptly sat up, releasing the Snitch, which quickly darted towards the ceiling. Her tousled hair, he realized with a pang, looked as they had when they kissed on that day by the lake.
Ginny bit her lip. Her eyes were hard and bright. "You shouldn't be seeing me while you're here, right?"
"No," he said. "But I needed to…see if you're all right."
She smiled bitterly. "I am. Somehow. But not when I think about you all the time. You should have caught the Snitch for Gryffindor today."
"I...I'm doing something else. You know that."
She blinked several times, and he knew for sure that she was near tears. "Of course. It doesn't change anything though, does it?"
He loathed himself even more. There was, he knew, no other way to placate her. But he had to let her know.
"Remember that day when we spent lunchtime by the lake, and I said that I wanted things to last forever? That…that's what I'm working on. So we can hang out by the lake again for as long as we want to."
"Then let me work on that with you."
"No...I'm sorry, but...you know now's not the right time."
He took her hands and she held onto them tightly. He almost wished she wouldn't let him go, but there were things to be done, things to be finished, not only for the two of them, but simply for her. So she could do all that she wanted to without him having to worry, so that she could win Quidditch matches and laugh hard about it afterwards.
Her smile was shaky and lopsided. "I'm hopeless, aren't I?"
"No," he breathed. And he couldn't help himself anymore—he couldn't hold back what he had really wanted to do since he broke up with her. He stood up, cupped her face in his hands, and pressed his lips on hers.
He let go of her quickly. He knew that, had he lingered for a second longer, he wouldn't be able to stop himself. He grabbed his Invisibility Cloak from the floor.
"Keep safe," he whispered.
"Especially you," she whispered back.
He gazed at her for a moment, taking in her eyes, wide and blazing with the reflection of the fire from the hearth, and with something else.
He slipped into his Invisibility Cloak and disappeared.