Above the Quidditch pitch, Harry looked around from his Firebolt to see Ron flying towards him. "Yeah?"
"I'm heading back to the castle. You coming?"
It was a beautiful evening late in May of their sixth year. The sun shone red on the horizon, and a cool breeze swept through Harry's hair. He considered a moment, then shook his head. "You go ahead. I want to stay out a bit more."
Ron smirked, indicating his Prefect badge. "Well, don't be too late. I might have to give you detention, you know."
"More like Hermione would give him detention, don't you think?" spoke up Ginny, pulling up next to Harry on her broom. "And then you'd have to put her in detention, too." Ron gave her an odd look.
"What, for putting homework over Quidditch? She is mental about that stuff—"
"Well, for abusing her authority," Ginny said, "by punishing Harry too harshly."
Harry snorted. It was true he should have been in the common room revising for his exams, which were due to start in a few weeks. He was worried about Defence Against the Dark Arts in particular, as he was still was not particularly good at wordless spells, and Snape himself had reached an all-time level of vindictive unfairness. Faced with so much work and so little free time, he and Ron had decided to take the evening off completely to play Quidditch, and Ginny had joined them. Hermione, of course, had elected to remain in the library.
"Yeah right," said Ron. "We really did need a night off, but you'd think we're throwing away our futures, just having fun for once." He shrugged. "Well, I'm off, mate. Mind you two behave yourselves, now," he grinned.
Harry saw Ginny roll her eyes in amused exasperation as Ron descended to the ground and began to make his way back to the castle. He turned to face her, still hovering next him, her hair swaying gently in the wind. "How late do you want to stay out?"
"Not too late," Ginny replied with a small sigh. "I really ought to look at my Transfiguration notes before I go to bed, at least. The OWLs are getting really crazy." Harry nodded, remembering all too clearly the mania of OWL revision.
They spent the next ten minutes playing with the Quaffle. Ginny seemed to enjoy throwing him more and more difficult passes. He was having to work hard to catch it each time.
"What was that?" he demanded, glaring at her as he returned from an especially steep dive after the Quaffle, which she had apparently hurled as far from him as she possibly could.
"Just making sure our star Seeker stays on his toes," she replied impishly.
"Oh yeah? Why don't we see how you do catching the Snitch against me?" he shot back, trying not to smile. He was baiting her, not really expecting her to take him up on it—they both knew he was the better Seeker, after all—but to his surprise Ginny merely raised an eyebrow.
"You're on, then," she said, eyeing him appraisingly. "But you'd better give it your damnedest. Don't make me go easy on you, Harry."
He laughed at that, marvelling at her brazen confidence, at how unfazed she was by his challenge. It was one of the things he liked most about her.
"All right then," he said. "Since you put it like that." He pulled the Golden Snitch he'd nicked out of his pocket, letting go and catching it again before it could get very far. Ginny stuck her tongue out at him.
Harry grinned. "Ten second head start?" She nodded, and he released the Snitch, counted aloud to ten, and then they were off.
He had half-expected her to follow him, in hope of deflecting him once it had been spotted, but instead Ginny tore off in the opposite direction, circling the goalposts before soaring away to sweep the middle of the pitch, clearly intent on finding it on her own. Several times she darted by him with a grin, and he felt his heart beat faster. He wondered if he were trying deliberately to distract him.
After a few minutes of fruitless searching, a sudden movement caught his eye. He turned to see Ginny diving in a nearly vertical plunge towards the ground, her brilliant red hair trailing behind her as she went. She had seen the Snitch! Quickly he leaned low on his Firebolt and sped down after her. He could see a tiny shimmer of gold just over the ground.
Ginny was closing in on the Snitch. He urged the Firebolt onward—he was pulling even with her now, the wind rushing through his hair. The Snitch was right in front of him, and he reached out to grab it—
Seemingly out of nowhere, a hand reached in front of his face, and his own hand was knocked away. "What the—" he started, swerving wildly to avoid a collision, nearly unseated from his broom. He turned to see Ginny alongside him, firmly grasping the struggling Snitch. Harry stared at her in shock.
Ginny smirked at him. "If you want the Snitch, Harry, you'll have to come and get it!" she called cheerfully over her shoulder, zooming away across the pitch at high speed.
For a moment he could do nothing but stare after her, completely floored by her audacity. Then a grin spread over his face. Well, two can play at this game, he thought. With his Firebolt's superior speed and manoeuvrability, he ought to be able to catch her in seconds... He leaned forward and sped after her.
She saw him coming, of course, and must have known she couldn't match him. But a moment later he was surprised to see that she was leaving the Quidditch pitch entirely, heading directly for the Forbidden Forest. Harry hesitated, then flew after her. What was she doing? Was she really willing to risk detention or worse just for the sake of their competition?
As he entered the forest, Harry lost sight of her. He inhaled sharply, trying to suppress a rising sense of alarm and worry. It would be getting dark soon; it wasn't safe in the forest, and they had to be getting back to the castle. There was no sign of Ginny. Where was she?
There—he spotted her, weaving through the trees off to the right. The look of challenge on her face drove the worry from his mind as he tore after her in pursuit. Ginny cut her altitude, dodging between the large branches nearer the ground. The Firebolt's speed was becoming a disadvantage in the confined space of the forest, for there was little room to manoeuvre. Thought she'd play tricky, did she? Well, he could do that. He'd surprise her...
Angling his broom down and away from her, he descended to skim the forest floor. Ginny slowed, looking around to see where he had gone. As her eyes found his, he aimed the Firebolt right towards her and sped upwards. They were going to collide—
Wide-eyed, Ginny tried to move out of the way, but Harry changed course to follow her with lightning speed. Right next to her, he reached out to grab her, his arm encircling her waist, but he had overextended himself: she shrieked in surprise and tried to pull away, and the two of them went plummeting from their brooms to the forest floor below.
It was not a long drop, fortunately, or they might have broken their necks. But even so, they hit the ground with a thud and went rolling, both of them laughing aloud at the sheer absurdity of it all—and coming painfully to a halt against a large tree trunk. Harry soon became aware that he was lying directly on top of Ginny, her hand clutched in his; he could feel the Snitch beating its wings in their grip. He looked into her eyes. She was breathing rather heavily, and there was a small cut on the side of her face.
"You caught me," she whispered, gazing up at him, her brown eyes shining with a light he had not seen before. Her hair was dishevelled and tangled with leaves, and her face was smudged with dirt, yet Harry thought he had never seen anything more beautiful. His breath caught in his throat.
"Yeah," he said softly, his voice sounding odd in his ears. He continued to stare at her, increasingly aware of her breath fluttering lightly on his face, of her heart beating rapidly against his, of the way her lips were parted. A low murmur escaped him, and his head was lowering slowly towards hers...
"So, you just making yourself comfortable, then?" she asked. Her tone was teasing, but her voice was breathless and tinged with something else Harry could not identify. He started at her words.
"Oh, er, sorry," he mumbled, suddenly realising how awkward their position was. Somewhat clumsily, he pushed himself up and off her, moving to sit against the tree they had crashed into. Ginny groaned softly, getting unsteadily to her feet and perching tentatively on a tree root by his side.
They spoke at the same time, then stopped. Their eyes met. For a second there was silence, and then they burst out laughing. There were no words, none were needed at all; her laughter was the most wonderful sound in the world to him, pure and gold the way it spoke to his heart.
"So who won, then?" Harry asked, as their mirth died down and Ginny moved to sit next to him.
"It was a tie, really," she answered. Still holding the Snitch, she put her hand in his. "We both got it, after a fashion."
"What is it with you and catching the Snitch from under people's noses, anyway? That's the third time you've done it at least."
Ginny grinned. "I dunno, maybe I see things that other people don't."
"Hell, next year I'll just let you run the Quidditch team, seeing as you obviously don't need me anymore..."
She swatted him on the arm. "Very funny. But I can think of at least one thing I still need you for."
"And what would that be?" He looked at her with raised eyebrow.
"Just this." She leaned forward and kissed him, and he responded, losing himself in the feel of her lips on his. The Snitch was still fluttering in their enjoined grip. This was surely the best thing ever, kissing Ginny; at times like this the rest of the world seemed to disappear and there was nothing but her, this beautiful, charming girl who could make him feel like a different person, and that all was right with the world.
Some time later, she pulled away, eyes still closed, and he took a moment to savour her expression of pleasure. She opened her eyes, saw him watching her.
"You have a very intense look on your face," she said with a smile.
He flushed slightly. "Must be on account of you. I sort of enjoy being needed."
She laughed at that. "Do you now?"
He said nothing, giving her a you know you want me sort of look, and she swatted him again, moving to sit closer. "Git."
A silence descended over them, punctuated by the call of an animal somewhere in the forest. Ginny shifted, wincing slightly. "Well, I'm exhausted from all this. You sort of wore me out, you know." Her tone was casual and yet slightly suggestive. "Had enough of being needed for one night?"
"Let's wait a bit to head back. Ron won't miss us right away."
"Not when he's got Hermione to occupy him, no."
They did not speak for a few minutes, sitting comfortably together. Ginny laid her head on his shoulder, her long hair spilling onto his robes, and he put his arm around her.
"Do you think those two will ever snog and have done? Ron and Hermione?"
The question came seemingly from nowhere. Harry blinked, sitting very still. "Um..."
"It drives me mad the way they argue sometimes. Any fool can see they like each other. Drawing it out is kind of pointless, isn't it?"
Harry did not like to think about his best friends in these terms, although he couldn't really deny the truth in what she was saying. "Sort of sad that it took Ron being poisoned just to get the two of them to speak to each other again," he grunted, uncomfortable. He glanced at Ginny, saw her frown.
"I reckon. That pretty much put everything in perspective," she sighed. Her own dealings with Ron had been strained this year too, and he knew she wished it had been otherwise. Fortunately, there was nothing like a brush with death to clear up the mess resulting from a lamentable descent into git-itude. Perhaps he'd have to try it himself some time.
"Reckon the whole world would have to be ending before they actually do anything about it," he said, and Ginny snorted.
"You could fill Witch Weekly with the saga of those two, honestly."
Harry looked at her. "Is this what all the Gryffindor girls are talking about these days? People taking bets on when and where those two will snog?"
"Hardly, although I wouldn't know, seeing how I've stopped listening to gossip. Romilda Vane's annoying enough without the rest of them screeching on." She paused, then went on, "Do you know, she's always pestering me with questions about you? It's like she just won't get over it that we're together, already." She said this nonchalantly, but Harry thought he saw her glance furtively at him.
He shuddered. "Seeing as it was her love potion that led to Ron being poisoned, I don't think that's a ship I'm likely to sail any time soon. Why I put it in my trunk instead of Vanishing it on the spot, I'll never know."
"Ha. Poor Ron, having to think he fancied her. Who do you think she'll set her sights on next, since she can't have you?" He noted with some amusement that Ginny seemed reassured he was not planning to ditch her for Romilda. Wisely, however, he refrained from mentioning this.
"What, are we starting a Romilda Vane gossip column now?"
"No, though I'm sure she'd love that. Go on, who do you think she'll try to ensnare next?" Ginny grinned wickedly at him, taking no heed of his less-than-enthusiastic reaction.
"Hell, I don't know. Neville? Dean? Hagrid?"
"Hagrid? Oh, I see, well if we're playing it like that... how about Slughorn? I'm sure she'd like to be in the Slug Club. Or maybe... Snape?"
"Snape?" Harry burst out, appalled. "That's... Merlin's bollocks, I can't imagine anyone ever fancying him..."
"She'd need a love potion for sure," Ginny laughed. "The idea of Snape being in love with anyone is horrific—I think I'd die, honestly. Although Katie Bell told me once she had a dream about snogging him in detention last year."
Harry gargled a noise of disgust in his throat. She went on. "Just imagine! 'O Professor, I love your greasy hair, it's so sexy! Won't you let me run my fingers through it, Professor?'" She broke off, giggling. "I bet he's even got grease on his—"
Harry held up a hand, cutting her off lest he vomit. "Let's just leave it at that, shall we? I think I may never eat again as it is..."
Ginny smirked. "Oh, you know you love it," she said cheekily. He gave her a look of mock-disdain, perching his glasses on the end of his nose and looking over them, and she stuck out her tongue at him.
They fell silent once more. Harry smiled to himself at her antics, relishing being alone with her. It wasn't often they could spend this much time together, for between school work and his detentions with Snape he had barely any free time. He'd probably regret this tomorrow, for he'd have to do Snape's entire essay in one go, but it was worth it.
The greasy git, he thought idly. This was something Snape had surely never had, this... whatever it was you called his relationship with Ginny.
He breathed in her flowery scent, holding her close. How lucky he was to have her as he did! It was something precious, not to be taken for granted. Let no thought or talk of Voldemort spoil his happiness with her; this was something for him alone, something he'd never before dreamed was possible.
As if sensing his thoughts, she looked at him then, and smiled to see him watching her. He leaned in to kiss her again—
"Harry!" A loud voice cut through the silence, and they pulled away, startled. Harry looked around for the source of the interruption, which was not hard to find.
"What do yeh think yer doin' out here?" boomed Hagrid, towering over them as he approached. Fang came trotting alongside him, making a beeline for Harry and licking his face affectionately. Harry tried to push him off. "An' you too, Ginny! The forest's not a safe place for yeh to be, especially this time o' night. What would yeh've done if a ruddy Acromantula'd found yeh here?"
"Er, sorry Hagrid," Harry said quickly. "We didn't mean to be here, we just sort of... ended up here." Ginny nodded in confirmation.
"All right, all right, I'm not givin' yeh detention or nothin'. But I'll be takin' yeh lot back to the castle; it's after yer curfew an' all. I don' fancy yer chances with that idiot Filch at this hour."
"Thanks, Hagrid," said Harry, sighing inwardly at this abrupt end to the evening. He would probably not get to be alone with her again until after the exams, if even then. He and Ginny retrieved their brooms and followed Hagrid out of the forest and to the castle.
They were fortunate enough not to encounter Filch, as Harry would not have put it past the spiteful caretaker to try to give them detention, even with Hagrid there to cover for them. But his hopes of being able to talk to Ginny alone were dashed upon entering the common room, for they were immediately set upon by Hermione, who was distressed that they had been missing for so long.
"Have you two been playing Quidditch all this time?" she demanded. "I'm surprised you didn't get detention from Filch. Don't you have that essay of Snape's to finish still? And Ginny, you have your OWLs to think of—"
"Hermione," said Ron, quietly interrupting this telling-off speech, "Give it a rest. They're back. It's not like they went wandering around in the forest or anything."
Ginny and Harry exchanged uncomfortable glances at this. Hermione eyed them shrewdly, taking in the sight of Ginny's dishevelled and leaf-ridden hair. "Have you been in the forest? What were you doing in there?"
"Just a short detour to chase after a Snitch that got away," Ginny soothed. It wasn't quite a lie, Harry reflected, but rather stretching the truth.
Hermione huffed in displeasure. Fortunately, however, she did not pursue the subject further.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to do any work tonight," Ginny said with a yawn. "Too tired. Think I'll head up to bed."
"Er, all right then," said Harry. "Have a good sleep. I'll see you later."
"Good night," said Ginny, smiling. She walked up the stairs to the girls' dormitories and out of sight; Harry watched her go.
He didn't think he'd be able to do any work tonight either, but not only because he was tired. He took a seat next to Ron, who looked at him and said, "You've really got it bad, mate."
"Huh?" he said, startled. Hermione looked up from her Arithmancy chart to listen.
"You're really head over heels for my sister, aren't you?" Ron laughed, giving him a friendly shove. "I don't know if I should be happy or appalled, the way you look at her."
"Ron," frowned Hermione, "Don't tease him about it, for goodness' sake. I thought you were okay with them going out."
"Oh, I am. Doesn't mean I can't take the mickey, does it? It's so romantic, flying through the forest late at night—"
Harry cuffed him. "Shut it, you." He stood and stretched. "I'm going to bed as well. See you tomorrow."
"Night," said Ron. Harry slowly climbed the stairs to his dormitory. He could hear Neville snoring faintly as he entered the room. Feeling exhausted but somehow restless, he changed and got into bed, his mind still on Ginny and their evening together.
How wonderful it was to feel normal, he reflected, looking up at the ceiling as he waited for sleep to take him. How blissfully removed from peril and danger he felt, when he could take refuge in her arms, and lock himself away from the morbid destiny that hounded him. Though he knew it was not possible, in her presence he could let himself believe, momentarily, that he was not a marked man, and that there could actually be hope of a happy ending to all this...
If only Hogsmeade visits hadn't been cancelled, he could take her out on a date, do the thing properly. He'd be sure to stay away from Madam Puddifoot's, though; she would probably hex him for even suggesting they go there.
Laughing to himself at the thought, he turned on his side and let himself fall into the peaceful nothing of sleep.