Instead of the Quidditch match between the Holyhead Harpies and the Wimbourne Wasps being the perfect day Harry had imagined, he landed in the hospital.
Harry came to awareness slowly. His mouth felt like it had been stuffed full of cotton, his head throbbed viciously with his every heartbeat, and he thought that if he moved his head even an inch, he would vomit. It was almost like a hangover, but worse, and he could tell from the rough sheets and the strange lighting that he wasn't at home in bed, but at St. Mungo's.
Before he even attempted to open his eyes, he tried to piece together what happened. The Quidditch match. Sitting in the top box with the Weasleys, instead of hiding in a different seat, pretending like he was just another bloke, watching a match. The Beater from Puddlemere United targeting Ginny, finally knocking her off her broom when she was a hundred feet in the air--
"Ginny," he said through dry, cracked lips.
Someone thrust a straw in his mouth and he swallowed gratefully.
"She's fine, thanks to you," Ron said, his voice raspy.
Relief suffused his limbs, making him realize that he'd unconsciously tightened all of his muscles. He blinked his eyes open, wincing at the light. Squinting, he tried to make the room come into focus, but all he could see was a blob of red (Ron's hair), and bushy brown (Hermione's).
They were the only two in the room.
Ginny isn't here.
He shouldn't have expected her to be. And he told himself that over and over again, but with every passing moment, he grew more and more indignant. He'd jumped out of the top box, trying to protect her from a fall from that height, and she couldn't even be here when he woke up?
"The Prophet is having a field day," said Hermione. "They, of course, think it was a sign that you're in love with Ginny -- they've been trying to get in all day, and Arthur and Bill keep having to keep them away from her--"
"She's here?" Harry asked, pressing his hands over his eyes. She was actually in St. Mungo's and she wasn't waiting for him to wake up? Stop. It isn't fair of you to expect her to be here--
"We've all been here," said Hermione. "You almost died--"
"I don't care," Harry said shortly. He pushed off the blankets, not realizing until it was too late that he was completely naked underneath them. "What the hell?" he asked, momentarily distracted, pulling the blanket around his waist and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "Why am I naked?"
"Er," said Ron. "Don't know for sure."
"You have a female Healer," Hermione said. It sounded as though she'd moved away, but Harry's head had begun to spin, and he'd had to shut his eyes to keep from sinking into blackness again. And isn't that just great, Harry thought angrily.
He might have churned himself up to a fury at the idea that a witch had peeked at his bits while he'd been unable to stop her, but he had more pressing things on his mind. Namely Ginny, who appeared to be the only witch in Britain who didn't want to look at his bits. He stood and stumbled over to the wall, letting his head clear.
"Where in Merlin's name are you going, you nutter?" Ron asked.
Harry didn't waste time on a reply, but shuffled as quickly as he could toward the door, through it, and out into the corridor. No one was about, which was just as well. "Where's the waiting room?"
"Ginny's fine, Harry," Hermione said, sounding all too reasonable.
"I'm not," Harry said darkly.
With his two best friends muttering mutinously behind him, Harry walked toward the waiting room, keeping the blanket wrapped firmly around him. I have no idea what I'm doing, he thought. But his body kept moving forward; his eyesight was becoming sharper, but his head was just as muddled.
He squinted against the glare of the lights. The sane part of him (which was being much too quiet) half-heartedly protested what he was doing. But the rest of him -- the parts that had spent years in love with one woman -- was too strongly focused.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Hermione asked uncertainly. "You're really not supposed to be up yet. You have a head wound, and you're on a potion--"
"That's turning him into an insane man," Ron finished unhelpfully.
Harry ignored them, and swung the door to the waiting room open. It was filled with people, most of them redheads, but he recognized a few of the press as well. But they didn't matter. His gaze focused on a single redhead. He only saw her profile, but could tell that her face was swollen and blotchy. Dimly, he felt guilty that he was delighted to see that his accident had made her cry.
You're being a moron, Harry told himself.
They still hadn't noticed him.
"And I already told you, you don't have to do that," Mrs. Weasley said exasperatedly. "All you have to do is thank him for saving you--"
Like hell, Harry thought.
He opened his mouth to speak--
"We have a few questions--"
"It's good to see you awake and alive after that fall--"
The press converged around him, shouting questions and talking over each other. But Harry didn't listen to them. Ginny's head swung toward him, her mouth dropping open into a perfect O. He took the time to make absolutely certain she was all right. Other than the fact that she'd obviously been crying, she looked fine. Thank God.
"You're all right," Harry said stupidly.
"Mr. Potter," said a middle-aged woman who Harry thought might work for Witch Weekly."Is it true that you saved Miss Weasley at the possible expense of your own life because you love her?"
"Yes," said Harry, shielding his gaze when a bright flash erupted in his face.
"Oh," said Hermione, sounding shocked. She and Ron stood on either side of him, obviously ready to catch him if he fell over.
Harry groaned inwardly. Of all the ways I could tell her I love her, and it isn't even to her face. He looked over at Ginny again, but she wasn't even looking at him. Instead, she was glaring angrily at the reporter. His stomach dropped.
"Don't you dare twist his words," she said loudly. "If I see one more article that prints lies, I'll hex the lot of you," she added fiercely. While Harry would normally enjoy the sight of her defending him, she had it all wrong. But before he could interject, the room spun alarmingly, and he had to grip Ron's shoulder tightly to keep himself upright.
"Everyone knows that Harry's always willing to sacrifice himself for his friends," Ginny said scathingly. "He took the bloody Avada Kedavra from Voldemort, didn't he? He did that--"
"Mostly for you," said Harry. He reached up, intending to ruffle his hair, and winced when his hand collided with the bandages wrapped around his rather tender head. It was suddenly so silent in the room that Harry could hear the portly man from the Daily Prophet breathing through his mouth. This was such a bad idea, he thought. All of the Weasleys were staring at him as though they'd never seen him before.
"You're in love with my sister?" Ron asked, sounding absolutely stunned.
"I told you that you should've just grabbed him and snogged him," George said inexplicably.
"George!" Mrs. Weasley said. "Be quiet."
"Don't be -- he doesn't even notice me -- he's obviously just--"
Harry interrupted her. "Ginny," he said, voice sounding stronger than it had since he'd woken up. "I get that we're just friends. That's what the pat-pat-pat is about," he added, patting his own chest three times. "We're-just-friends." He did it again, this time to Ron, who looked distinctly uncomfortable and still quite stunned. "And that's fine," he lied. "But that doesn't change the fact that..."
His voice trailed away, and a few moments passed before what she'd actually said hit him. His eyebrows came together, along with a particularly painful throb in his head. "Not notice you?" he asked more harshly than he intended. But his head hurt and he knew he was humiliating himself in front of the Weasleys and the press, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. "I can't stop noticing you--"
"Since when?" Ginny asked incredulously. She'd stood up, and was now eyeing him warily.
"The beginning of sixth year," he admitted. "I thought it was just a crush, but I thought of you before I let Voldemort curse me, and I thought of you when I had a choice whether to come back or not." The words were spilling out of him now, and Harry grimly just let it happen. It couldn't get worse. "And I've thought of you ever since then. You could at least acknowledge it... I love your family and everything, but I adore you--"
"And you thought I was thick?" Ron muttered to Hermione.
While Harry was glaring at Ron, Ginny stumbled forward almost into his arms. Harry strongly suspected that Mrs. Weasley had given her daughter a shove. He looked down at her, trying to read her expression. But her eyes were downcast, and her cheeks were scarlet.
"Put that poor boy out of his misery, Ginny," Mr. Weasley said implacably.
And she reached out--
"Don't," Harry said warningly, already guessing what she was about to do.
She did it anyway. Pat-pat-pat. "I-love-you," she said. Pat-pat-pat. Her voice trembled a little, but when she finally looked up at him, she was beaming. "Harry, I've been in love with you for ages..."
"Thank Merlin," Harry said earnestly. And, not caring that her entire family and the press (and therefore the entire Wizarding world) were looking on, he bent his head and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his waist and returned the kiss with such enthusiasm that Harry's head spun for an entirely different, far more pleasant reason than a concussion. He heard the sound of cameras going off, and could see the flashes behind closed eyelids, but he ignored them.
They finally broke apart, and Harry rested his aching forehead against hers before tilting his head to whisper in her ear. "I have to go lay back down," he murmured. "And I'm only wearing a blanket... will you come with me?"
"Of course," she said. Her face was still split in a wide smile.
"And you'll stay?"
"Yes," she said. "I wanted to earlier, but I didn't know if you'd want me to..."
Harry threw caution to the wind. "I'll always want you there when I wake up," he told her, softly enough so that no one else could hear.
The Hunt Continues: Ye made it this far, mateys, no turning back now! This story was a challenge between me and Andi. We both set out on the same course and ended up with stories that were too much fun. Who would have thought one little challenge would land us both deep in second year potions.